A lot of beginners and experienced yogis alike can find it uncomfortable and a little bit strange when they are invited by their teacher to chant ‘om’ at the beginning or end of a yoga class. For many people who go to yoga for the more physical benefits, it might be tempting to completely dismiss this aspect of yoga. But when you understand the meaning behind it, you might find a whole new depth in the practice of saying ‘om’ with a class full of your fellow yogis.
From a spiritual sense, ‘Om’ is translated from Sanskrit to mean ‘source’ or ‘supreme’ as it is said to represent the vibration of all life in the universe and therefore to connect us to everything around us. That may resonate with you, or it may not but there is no denying that chanting can completely shake up how you feel in your body and make you feel more connected to yourself and more peaceful. Plus, the vibrations linger for a while long after you finish chanting.
From a practical sense, there are 4 components to ‘Om’ which is pronounced more ‘Aum’. There is the ‘aaah’ which starts at the back of the throat with a deep belly breath. Then there is the ‘ooh’ which moves the vibration of sound from the back of the throat to the palate. Then there is the ‘mmm’ sound which vibrates at the lips and is felt throughout the head and face. Finally there is silence which follows the chant where we allow the energy to settle and be felt.
Chanting ‘om’ as a class can help to unite everyone and symbolise the completion of the practice in a way that helps to calm the mind and the body. Whatever has happened in the class, chanting can help to end the class with a sense of deep calm and unity. The reason for this is that singing / chanting requires deeper breathing and ‘om’ generally is quite a long exhale, which oxygenates the blood and sends signals to our central nervous system to feel calm and safe. Singing or chanting as a group also feels much different to doing this on your own – as a group, you can all feel connected and mindful as you focus on this breath together with the feeling of the sound vibration to which you are all contributing.
If you are one of those people who feels uncomfortable or self-conscious chanting ‘om’, then you are not alone – I felt really self-aware when I started this, and my ego got in the way with my mind jumping around with thoughts… “I’m not a good singer”, “This sounds weird”, “Oh man I’m way off key here”… but when I stopped focusing on what I might look or sound like and started focusing on what I felt like when I chanted, I knew there was something deeply calming in the practice and I was really curious to learn more and practice more.
It might just be the same for you as you continue your yoga journey! Like everything, it takes a little while to fully wrap your head around, so give it a go and see how you feel and take it from there.
As always, please share your experiences and how you feel about chanting ‘om’ so we can all learn from each other.