Om is a syllable, not a word. And though it has a lot of mythical and symbolic importance in the Hindu tradition, it has no single meaning to be pinned down to. Om consists of three sub-parts during chanting the mantra: ‘Aah’, ‘Ooh’/’Uuh’ and ‘Mmm’ abbreviated to AUM or simply Om. These are considered to be the vibrations of the fabric of the universe, as the sounds are made without the tongue striking any part of the mouth. On a more practical level, these sounds are used in Yogic meditation, or during relaxation techniques within Yoga, for an effect tangible to everyone who does it correctly.
In many Yoga classes, at the end of the final meditation session or the deep relaxation technique, one will be asked to take in a full fresh breath and (in one tone of what should be one’s own choice but tends in practice to conform with the loudest voice in the class), say ‘Aah’ for as long as the breath lasts. This is repeated a total of three times, followed by three ‘Ooh’s and then three ‘ Mmm’s. Finally one would be asked to combine all three into a single breath where the sounds merge into each other like a spectrum ‘Aa-Oo-Mmm'(AUM). An experienced teacher may also accompany these different sounds with different mudras (hand positions) to enhance the effect of each sound.
Yoga helps develop a keener awareness of our body and mind. The teacher can guide the student into this awareness by explaining beforehand what to expect, so that as one practices, one may be able to watch for and be aware of how each sound feels. ‘Aah’ will vibrate most strongly in the outer limbs and belly, whereas ‘Ooh’ will vibrate strongly in the chest region, (especially when one explores the range between ‘Ooh’ and ‘Uuh’ in the duration of the sound), and ‘Mmm’ will vibrate strongly in the head. Chanting these with a full breath and with a full voice in different postures such as Shavasana (final relaxation posture of lying flat), Padmasana (lotus posture) or simply Sukhasana (comfortable cross legged posture) can develop awareness on how different postures affect the vibrations in each area of the body. Om is an energising vibration that enhances the relaxation of the entire body. It feels like even the inner most organs of the body, every cell, and indeed, every part of every cell has been gently massaged, enlivened, and even awakened into a fresher state.
If you haven’t tried this before, I would encourage you to do so and feel it for yourself.
Some things to keep in mind when practicing;
It is useful to clear one’s throat before beginning since, if one hasn’t spoken for the full duration of the class, the croakiness of the throat can cause a jarring artefact to the purity of the sounds.
Try to use tones that are comfortable to you but that are also relatively low, since the effects felt on lower frequencies are often more relaxing and tangible. It is ok to use your own tone even if everyone else in the class is using a different one. The practice is most effective when you are comfortable physically and mentally so don’t worry about what others are doing.
It is common in a class to start the next chant or sound once the teacher has started theirs so there is some uniformity of the start and finish times. But feel free to be flexible to start earlier and end later if you are able. Feel it as fully as possible. Often group chanting can feel very powerful, a feeling group singers too can attest to.
Singers would know the joy one can feel when nothing exists except sound, and you are in total control of your breath. It may take some time to overcome one’s shyness and use one’s full voice but once you experience the freedom in letting go and chanting it as loud as you can, there is often no going back.
If the acoustics in your space is good, and your sense of awareness is heightened, you may have the sense that you can follow the sound to the full distance that it travels. Almost as though you and the sound are one and you have expanded to as loud as you are.
It is possible to practice just the Om chanting by oneself whenever one wants to unwind or ground oneself in the midst of too much activity. All you need is a space where you will not be disturbed and will not disturb others. Even if one isn’t able to use one’s full voice at this time, even just taking those full breaths in an erect posture and chanting more softly can still provide much relief.
If one finds this chanting particularly appealing, one can spend a much longer time away from Yoga class chanting many more repetitions of each sound or of the merged Aa-Oh-Mmm (AUM) as part of one’s own meditation/chanting session. It is a useful way to strengthen one’s lungs as one tries to make each sound last longer and longer. And it leaves you feeling relaxed and fresh.
Have you tried Om Chanting? Leave a comment with your experiences.