Some may call it ‘udgita’ – the uplifting chant – Omkara or Shabda Brahman – supreme consciousness – but whatever you call it and whether you practice Iyengar, Vinyasa, Hatha or any other variation of yoga, it is likely that your teacher will begin or end your class by chanting OM.
I like to think of OM as the equivalent of saying ‘Amen’ at the end of a prayer: it cements that segment of your day, harnesses all the power that you have produced during your practice and sends it out into the universe. It feels like both a release and an enrichment, letting go of any last remaining tension in the body and allowing, in its place, deep nourishment.
But what is OM?
In actual fact, OM isn’t really an OM at all but an AUM and the Mandukya Upanishad, one of the Hindu scriptures, tells us that each of these letters carries a deeper symbolism:
- The first sound of the ‘A’ symbolises the waking state.
- This shifts naturally into the rolling ‘u’ which signifies the dream-like state of consciousness between waking and deep sleep before the…
- ‘M’, representative of deep sleep, bringing the Om to a close.
Our chant fades out into a pregnant and deep silence as we feel the phantom vibrations of the chant and this fourth sound (or ‘turiya’) represents the state of bliss when an individual acknowledges their identity with the supreme.
Chanting OM is a representation of the natural hum of energy that existed before the world as we know it came to be; it is the sound of the universe coming into fruition, the vibrations that existed as the very idea of ‘existence’ took shape. This hum, or vibration, lives inside us as well and is referred to as the ‘antar-naada’ or ‘inner sound’. If you truly connect with your purest inner self it is this that you will hear. So, given that these vibrations exist both inside and outside of us, it is little wonder then that this little word has so much power on both the person chanting it and the world around them. we are creating a bridge between the two.
The Benefits of Chanting
By chanting we are connecting to everything around us on a symbolic, physically and distinctly pure level and acknowledging our place within the universe. Many of us can feel this in our chest, and lips, as the vibrations flow up through our bodies and into the air. Even after we are no longer making a sound, the vibrations can be felt and even heard in the air, mirroring the pulsations of our world – everything is always moving, changing and evolving. In fact while you are chanting OM it is vibrating at 432 Hertz, identical to the vibrations found throughout nature – so you are truly at one with nature!
Not everyone connects with OM in the same way, though it is good to be mindful of its origins when chanting, some of us may find that we focus largely on the profound physical effects our chanting has on our body or our mind. The rhythmic chanting deepens and slows our breath, calming down the nervous system and easing our mind into a more relaxed state. In this sense, OM works much like meditation does: focusing our energy and thoughts on the pattern of our breath and clearing it of other thoughts.
Relaxing our minds leads to further benefits, ones we may not feel immediately but whose cumulative effects can have a profound influence on our health: primarily our nervous systems. Its calming effects on our mind help decrease our blood pressure which improves our heart health over time. In fact the vibrations created by chanting have also been known to relieve congestion in the body and help clear symptoms of sinusitis.
What OM Could Mean to You
Writing this article gave me time to reflect on what it was about OM for me, why do I look forward to it? Yes it feels like a release — a spring-clean of the body — making space that can be filled with nourishing air, thoughts and perspectives but it was more than that. It was more than understanding the importance and significance of what I was doing and the roots of the chanting in yoga practices. It was something more basic and human: connection. Your yoga practice is your own, it is not competitive and everyone’s journey is different: some take to yoga like a duck to water and others will never quite be able to go into full Camel Pose, but OM unites everyone.
Whether you’ve had a rejuvenating practice or a frustrating one, everyone comes to the same point during the OM as our collective vibrations mingle in the air around us. We can pick up on everyone’s energy and send it swirling around us, encasing us in a post-yoga bliss that allows us to just appreciate ‘being’ without ‘doing’. It allows us to drop the mask that many of us may have learnt to carry around in our day-to-day lives and it makes us feel at home in a situation that may feel too vulnerable outside of a yoga class.
Some of us may repeat mantras to ourselves as we chant, some of us may fix our minds on that person or thing we are dedicating our practice to and some of us may just clear our minds and soak up the benefits of our practice – and all of us, would be doing it right. Simply by being present, we are doing it right.
So, what is it about OM? Literally everything.