When I first started practicing yoga I took a class. We opened with sound of om and then again sealed in our practice with the sound of om. I remember thinking to myself, “what is om and why are we doing this and more importantly how can these people hold this for so long?!”. Years later I still practice yoga, and still open and close my practice with om. And yes, I can hold it for much longer now. Recently though a few people have asked me about Om. Why do yogi’s use it and what does it mean?
Let’s start with the definition of om from the Yoga Journal:
Om: the original mantra symbolizing the ultimate Reality, which is prefixed to many mantric utterances
Om is actually the Western spelling of the word. In Hindu it is spelled Aum. Aum according to ancient Indian traditions preserved in the Upanishads, is the sound from which all thought and speech are derived. Thus, it expresses the ultimate reality.
A yoga teacher once told me that Aum is the sum of all of the sounds in the universe. If you combine all of the voices, the sounds of machinery, the sound of nature, and all other sounds it would sound like the reverberating vibrations of Aum. Aum contains all sounds.
The three sounds of aum represent creation, preservation and destruction according to yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar . In his book Light on Yoga he says,
“The letter A symbolizes the conscious or waking state,” Iyengar says, “the letter U the dream state, and the letter M the dreamless sleep state of the mind and spirit.” The entire symbol, Iyengar says, stands for the”realization of man’s divinity within himself.”
Aum can also be traced through many religions. The Tibetans repeat hum, the Moslems repeat amin, and the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians repeat amen.
According to Yogananda,
“Audible utterance of aum produces a sense of sacredness…however, real understanding of aum is obtained only by hearing it internally and then becoming one with it in all creation.”
Aum begins with the sound of silence. The A sound begins deep below the throat, in the belly. The U sound is made by the reverberations within the belly. And finally the M sound is produced from the nasal noise. Aum closes with a sound of silence.
Within the chant we take ourselves from the present state, through the dream state and into the state of spirit and mind within ourselves. The silence takes us beyond that. Aum allows us to have the sight and feeling of one-consciousness in all things. In other words, aum allows us to be one with reality. Aum includes all potentialities and possibilities, it is what was, what is and what is to be. During the chanting of aum our minds move through the opposites of sound and silence until there is no sound. Our minds hold a single thought of aum until there is no thought. If aum is repeated correctly and in the correct intonation it will resonate and reverberate throughout the body so it will touch our inner selves or our souls or atman.
My yoga teacher told me that repeating aum will help to build your diaphragm and help you to learn to control your breath. As you practice and repeat aum through chants you will begin to strength your diaphragm and control your breath so that your chants can be louder and held longer. I’d have to agree with her because the longer I practice the stronger and longer my aums are becoming!
If you practice yoga but don’t open and close your practice with the sound of aum I’d suggest you try it, I find it helps to calm my mind and center me so that I can have a mindful practice!
Have a wonderful weekend! I hope you are all getting in some runs, races and yoga practices!