If you have been to a yoga class you might have been involved with chanting the sound Om. When a group of people chant this sound and all the voices find a resonance together a beautiful feeling is created. The benefits of chanting come through participation because it is something that has to be experienced to be understood. However, you may be wondering what this word is all about and why it is chanted so often, before you feel comfortable belting it out in a yoga class.
Om (Aum) is one of the most sacred sounds in the Sanskrit language. It is said to be the sound, or vibration, of the universe itself. Science has shown us that all of life is made up of energy (vibration); from the smallest particle to the movement of galaxies. Mind expanding adepts have passed on the knowledge that if one were to step outside of the universe and listen in, Om would be the hum or the pulsation that was heard. It is the sound of the universe experiencing itself.
Om is known as anahata, the unstruck sound; the sound made without any two things striking. It is an omnipresent vibration and is often referred to as pranava which translates into “humming”. Just as a bee hums as it goes about its business, the universe in which we live also has a hum. It is just that usually this sound is beyond our normal perception and the frequency of sounds we pick up on. It goes beyond thought and therefore Om chanting is an acknowledgment that one can indeed go into deeper realms of experience.
Om could be considered the vibration resulting from the movement of Consciousness and Energy. Science proves that the whole Universe is pulsing with energy; it is on the verge of discovering whether that energy also contains consciousness. Many Spiritual traditions have been philosophizing for thousands of years that all of life does indeed contain conscious awareness and that this in essence is God. Om is a “word expressive of God” used in the most universal sense; implying no special attribute, referring to no particular deity.
In Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the Yoga Sutras he says: “We should understand that Om was not invented by anybody. Some people didn’t come together, hold nominations, take a vote, and the majority decided, ‘all right, let God have the name of Om.’ No. He Himself manifested as Om. Any seeker who really wants to see God face to face will ultimately see Him as Om. That is why it transcends all geographical, political, or theological limitations. It doesn’t belong to one country or one religion; it belongs to the entire universe.”
If you dislike the term God, don’t worry about it — it’s just a word. Feel free to substitute other expressions that resonate with you like Source, Source Energy, The Universe, Universal Energy, Consciousness, The Infinite, The Infinite Field of Consciousness, Mother Nature or even Awesomeness whatever works for you. If you are religious it can take on whatever form of God you relate to. If you are atheist it can still work because it is not about blindly believing or worshiping some Supreme Being or Beings. It is more of a respect for the magnificence of the grand universe we live in, aware that it has a frequency tone and becoming conscious of our resonance with it.
In his book The Heart of Yoga Desikachar says… “In different cultures and different religions words are used to describe God and his qualities. It is more important that we express God with the greatest respect and without and conflicts.”
Om chanting is a form of mantra (a special word used for meditation); it is known to be the universal mantra. Mantra has been in use for thousands of years. These words are said to hold power because they have been used for so long by seekers with reverence and the belief in them to help them make their lives better. “Man” comes from mind and “tra” comes from protection. It is a protection for the mind to chant these sounds. We have hundreds of thousands of thoughts each day; many of those may not be helpful, positive or uplifting.
Often we have thoughts that loop or we say the same things over and over again; this has an influence on the mind. Imagine saying “I hate my life” over and over again all day long. It’s easy to see how you would feel bad pretty quickly. Now imagine saying “I love my life” a hundred times a day; even just saying it once can make you feel good if it’s not too far from the truth. The key is to say it with a light heart, feeling the truth of it or open to the possibility of it being true. You can not help but feel wonderful if you really embrace the meaning of these words.
Chanting the name of God (or a word that represents the most amazing thing you could imagine; or your resonance with this awesome, infinite universe we live in) also affects the mind. This type of repetition protects and calms the mind by allowing it to focus on a single, uplifting thought. Kind of like present day affirmations. These mantras are in Sanskrit; an ancient language where the words have a very specific sound or frequency that embodies the meaning. Mantra is also known to liberate conscious awareness and lift it up above mundane everyday thoughts. It can be repeated silently in the mind as a form of meditation or chanted out loud. Om can also be contemplated in a meditative state; in a very quiet, still space; in a state of listening; so that it can be experienced. You may hear a hum and it may sound like Om to you or it may not.
A mantra is to the mind like a comb is to the hair. A comb or brush is used to get out the tangles and bring all of the strands of hair together, flowing in the same direction. The mind is often like tangled hair going in all different directions at once. A mantra brushes the mind with a single thought allowing it to flow in the direction of ones choosing; calming and smoothing it at the same time.
Om represents the four states of consciousness: conscious, subconscious, unconscious and supraconscious; or another way of looking at it is waking, dreaming, deep sleep and samadhi (this translates into bliss or dissolution of the individual sense of separateness and a merging with the unified field of consciousness). It is considered a bija, or a seed syllable, out of which all other sounds arise because it has three syllables basic in all language: Ah, Oh and Mm.
The sound has four parts. In the first part the mouth is open and the jaw relaxed; the sound begins in the back of the throat as an “Aahhh;” it vibrates the belly and represents the waking, conscious mind. The second part moves through the mouth, vibrating the solar plexus and the heart area. The lips form a circle and the sound becomes “Oooh;” representing subconscious mind and dreaming. In the third part the mouth closes, the sound moves out through the lips and becomes “Mmm.” This vibrates the sound in the head and represents unconscious mind and deep sleep. The fourth part of the sound is the silence that follows, where it continues to reverberate throughout ones being and represents supraconsciousness or samadhi.
Chanting is just an exercise. It is a means to an end. It helps you get out of the cycle of negative thoughts or mundane thoughts. It is meant to lift up your mind to something higher. Yoga philosophy says that all of life is God; that every chair, cat, bird, person, rock and tree have consciousness, they have an awareness and all consciousness is a part of the mind of God; there is no-thing that is not a part of this unified field of consciousness. Quantum physics is beginning to confirm the validity of this concept. All are just different expressions of the one big mind; you could call it the mind of God or you could call it the unified field of consciousness; it’s just different words that refer to the same thing.
Now if you have a different concept of God I am not trying to convince you otherwise. If you are an atheist I am not trying to convert you to anything. I am just expressing my opinion, my experience and yoga philosophy with a little quantum physics mixed in. Everyone get to believe what they want to believe. Everyone gets to make up their own mind. Yet what I like about it is that the philosophy is open enough to incorporate all different religions and non-religious beliefs so that anyone can practice the postures, the breathing techniques, many of the meditations and chants and still benefit from them.
What makes yoga unique and useful is that it is a philosophy and a science; it has withstood the test of time because it is a duplicable process; it is about direct experience. No one need believe any of the philosophy blindly. There are techniques that the yogi uses to have an experience to see if this philosophy is true or not for oneself. Mantra and chanting are just one set of techniques that are used to bring about a higher state of awareness and understanding.
The important thing is not to get hung up on the technique, but on the experience that it is bringing to you, on the knowledge. Chanting and mantra bring you to a state where you can feel your unity with all of life; it is an experiential path. Yet if you do it mechanically, not fully in it, if your heart is closed to the possibility, you will never have the experience. One does not have to blindly believe; one can approach it as a scientist with an open heart, an unrestricted mind and an objective view that all is possible until proven otherwise. Then you are an explorer, a discoverer in unknown territory finding truth.
So chanting can be very helpful in the beginning but what we are really going for is the experience. The techniques of yoga help you have the experience of your awesome connection to all of life. And if you are not comfortable calling that God because of your upbringing or what you think that means I highly suggest you find a word you are comfortable with. Om is not worshiping a deity or a particular form of God. Om Chanting is an acknowledgment of life; pulsating, evolving, changing; beyond thought; beyond the reaches of our little planet and even our galaxy. It is an act of consciously choosing to experience our resonance with all of life.