Om Sweet Om

Back in 1969, the late, great Sri Swami Satchidananda took the stage in Woodstock, New York before a crowd of thousands. His message was simple; “The whole world is watching you,”’ he said to the crowd. “The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity. America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world spiritually also”. He then gathered the voices of everyone together in chanting “OM”.

It’s traditional to begin or end a yoga class with chanting OM, and I am discovering that out here in these parts, (i.e., rural eastern Oklahoma) the big OM is a bit mysterious and scary. However, there is no need to fear the OM. Let me explain.

Scientists are telling us what the old-school yogis have known for centuries – the whole universe is moving and shaking! Nothing stands still; everything is constantly pulsating and creating a rhythmic vibration. Sound is vibration and vibration is the source of all creation, according to modern science. Yogis recognize this vibration with the sound of OM, or AUM. This sacred sound is often described as the dial tone of the universe, or the sound of one’s own nervous system humming and buzzing. Since not many of us are accustomed to hearing the buzz of our nervous system, simply think of the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves, or the sound of the ocean inside a seashell.

In “The Yoga Sutras”, written a couple thousand years ago, Patanjali writes in chapter I verses 26 & 27 that “God is the first, foremost and absolute guru, unconditioned by time. He is identified with the sacred syllable Aum. He is represented in Aum.” In “Light on The Yoga Sutras”, B.K.S. Iyengar explains that the Latin word Omne and the Sanskrit word Aum both come from the same root meaning ‘all’. Both words convey the concepts of omnipotence, divinity and everlasting spirit. Another word for Aum is pranava, which means praise of the divine or best prayer. I really like that one.

The two simple letters O+M actually have 3 distinct sounds A+U+M. So, you’ll sometimes see it spelled both ways. The three sounds of A+U+M are universal and are commonly recognized as the seed for all words. Think of the first sounds from a baby’s mouth… “aaaaaaaaahhh, oooooooooooouuuuu, mama!” The three letters represent the three aspects of time – past, present, future. They correspond with speech, mind and breath and they also represent the divine trinity. The beautiful symbol represents Divinity.

So far, nothing too woo-woo, right? We’re just talking about God and Spirit.

If God and Spirit aren’t enough to get you OM-ing with the rest of us, let’s take another look at science. The sound vibration created by chanting OM may actually help to keep your sinuses healthy! Research done in Sweden found that humming helps to ventilate and open the sinuses. The researchers say that chanting “OM” produces the same effects since both create sound vibrations which encourage air to move back and forth between the sinus membranes and nasal passages.

There’s No Place Like OM

Chanting OM before the start of a yoga class brings a sense of community to the group as we bring unity into the room with our voices. Chanting OM provides a sense of separation between the hectic events of the day and the inner, calming focus of your yoga practice. Many see it as a way to invite the Great Spirit into their practice. In this manner, chanting OM provides us with the sense that we are connected to something much bigger than ourselves which invites us to practice our yoga for something greater than the yoga abs or the yoga booty.

One of my students approached me after class one evening. She said she had been dutifully chanting OM with us at the beginning of our classes and sometimes she felt a vibration tingling up her spine. “Was this normal?” she wanted to know. All I could say was, “You lucky girl!!”

I hope I have dispelled some fears and myths about this most awesome and sacred of words. Don’t fear the OM. As we yogis are fond of saying, “OM is where the heart is…”

Lisa Bracken teaches yoga at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake (www.TheCanebrake.com) as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. Chanting OM is music to her ears.

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