The mantra OM is something you may well have heard, or even participated in, at the beginning and/or end of a yoga class. You may be thinking why do we do it and what the purpose is?
OM is a combination of three syllabus “A”, “U” and “M” and four parts. OM, sometimes written as, and usually pronounced, AUM, is the most sacred and primordial sound of the universe. The vibrations created by the sound waves have been shown to have therapeutic benefit (1). OM is the Pranava Mantra, meaning it is the source of all mantras (2). It is said to be the sound of the universe when all is connected. OM was the beginning, and OM is the natural state. OM represents the connection we have with ourselves, with our surroundings and with the cosmos/universe/God (2). It can also be viewed as a holy trinity.
This ancient mantra is practiced not only in the Hindu faith, but it is also practiced amongst Buddhist and some other faiths as well. In Hindu culture OM symbolises Shakti (divine energy) and has the characteristics of creation, preservation and liberation. Through chanting OM we are linked to the universe and all who inhabit her.
Chanting is a powerful tool that brings awareness to change and thereby has an effect on our health. It allows us to focus our minds, create awareness and regulate our breathing (3). Sounds produce vibrations and each sound produces its own unique vibration (3). Chanting has been found to be an effective means in creating a sense of connection (to ourselves, to others, to All) and wholeness (4).
How do I do it?
Sit comfortably, close your eyes or lower your gaze, take a few mindful breaths in and out. When you are ready inhale, and as you exhale make the sound AAAAA, followed by UUUUU, then close the mouth and finish with MMMMMM – making a nasal sound. Allow the final MMMMM to go as long as you can continue the exhale comfortably. When chanting OM, as is when practicing any chant, the sound forms when you exhale. Those are the first three parts of OM.
The final, forth part, is to sit in stillness and silence once the sound finishes. Resume normal breathing and open your eyes when you are ready. You can place your hands together at your heart space, in a prayer position, rest one hand on top of the other, or keep your hands cupped in your lap. Really, you can take any mudra that feels right for you.
Initially you may feel uncomfortable or even self-conscious to OM out loud in class. If that is the case you can OM in your mind or whisper it quietly to yourself. Practice OM at home so that the sound and the way the sound makes you feel become familiar.
I encourage you to practice OM-ing 3 times a day. You can’t over-OM, nor can you do it the wrong way. Whilst in the privacy of your home simply experiment with it. OM creates a beautiful energy and sets a spiritual tone for your yoga practice, creating a collective vibration within the class. So, practice at home if you want to feel more confident, but I encourage you to give OM a try. Your teacher will always guide you through the OMs and you might just find that you really enjoy the experience.
- Dr Timothy McCall, (2007), Yoga as Medicine. The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing
- Ambika Chadwick (2017) The Yoga Social YTT Course Manual
- G. Mohan, (1993), Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind
- Mark Stephens, (2017), Yoga Therapy. Foundations, Methods, and Practices for Common Ailments.