What's Up with OM?


So, here you are in your first yoga class and so far everything seems to be going okay. But suddenly, you’re sitting in meditation and the teacher tells everyone to take a deep breath and then all together they chant OOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM.

Um. What just happened?

We commonly field questions about why in the heck we chant OM. Is this a religious thing? A cult thing? If I chant along with the group, am I going against my own personal beliefs and I don’t even know it?

Never fear! I’d like to take this time to clear the air on chanting.

Number one. If it freaks you out, you totally DON’T have to do it! Easy peasy. There is value in simply sitting and listening to the vibration and sound created by your fellow students.

Number two. There is also value in joining your voice with your fellow yogis! Chanting together unites us all in voice and in the intention to practice together. And potentially to support one another on our yogic paths. 

Number three. Let’s talk about OM. 

The sound OM is considered a primordial sound in the yogic tradition. It’s the sound of the hum of the universe. For some, this may connote a godhead or a spiritual experience. For others, it may simply be physics. The ancient yogis believed that the universe hums at the sound of OM. 

In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, he suggests that OM is the pranava (the sound) of Ishvara (God). Though Ishvara can be translated as God, it can also be understood as simply a force greater than ourselves. Or a higher power. Or the willingness to accept that we do not have control over our lives, that there are greater forces at work. So, we could say that when we chant OM, we are calling on great forces outside of ourselves to guide us in practice.

Number four. I like to consider OM simply a call to consciousness, a call to awareness. By chanting together, we are committing to presence within the practice, to sustained attention and to the full experience of yoga — that which develops the body, mind and the heart. 

From Living the Sutras by Kelly Dinardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden “If chanting isn’t for you, there are other ways to meditate on OM. You can listen to other people or recordings of OM. You can write the word out. You can draw or color the symbol. Studies show that silent repetition does have an effect. One study showed it can improve subjective mood, and others have shown that even imagining performing music strengthens nerve connections. The power of OM is greater than the aural sound.”

Gabe Hopp