The Meaning and Purpose of Chanting Om
Om or Aum is a sound and symbol that is sacred in Hinduism and many other Indian religions. It is often uttered at the beginning of prayers, mantras and rituals. Chanting Om is a common practice in meditation. It is also chanted while performing yoga and is a common practice in yoga classes. As a yoga student, it's important to understand the meaning and significance of Om and how it relates to yoga and meditation.
The Origin and Spiritual Meaning of Om
The belief in most religions is that initially, there was only the creator (God). So, the universe, its living and non-living things, the forces of nature and the laws that govern it, are creations of the creator.
The creator has no boundaries, is unaffected by time, is endless, omnipresent, unchanging and permanent. Everything that happens in this creation is the will of the creator, but the creator is unaffected by the creation. The creation depends on the creator, but the creator does not depend on anything. The creator is beyond our senses, beyond words, sounds or imagination.
The purpose of most religions is to make the individual aware of God, the creator, understand God’s true nature and prescribe a way of life that will help the individual experience God and ultimately, unite with God. This presents a problem. How can one meaningfully describe and experience the true nature of something that is timeless, endless and beyond one’s senses?
In Hinduism, they came up with a solution that uses a simple technique. From the creation as we know it, remove everything that we can perceive or imagine. What remains cannot be empty because everything originated from it. That is the creator. That's the main significance of Om.
Om is also referred to as Omkara or Pranava. According to many scriptures, this universe and everything in it is nothing but Om. In a nutshell, Om symbolises the creator, the creation and the relationship between the two. It is also believed to be the fundamental sound of the universe. It is also the seed mantra that forms the basis of all other mantras.
If we remove everything that we can perceive or imagine from the universe, what we have is silence. The chanting of Om begins with silence, ends in silence and thus symbolises the story of creation. The creator is in the silence. First, there was nothing except the creator, then everything originated from the creator and then finally everything fades and merges into the creator.
The chant itself has four parts. It starts with the sound aah, then shifts to ooh, then to mmm followed by silence. There are varying interpretations of these parts. The most popular one is that the ahh represents a state of wakefulness. The ooh represents a state of dreaminess or the world of our inner thoughts. The mmm represents a state of deep, tranquil sleep. This part is longer than the preceding parts and it finally fades into the last part, which is silence. This is where you are in a state of absolute peace and you experience God. At this point, there is no ego, no thoughts, just the silence. It can be equated to bliss or samadhi.
Symbolically, Om is written differently in different languages, but the most common form and the one popular in the western world is the one written in Devanagari script. It has also become a symbol of yoga and meditation.
Chanting Om Helps You Focus Your Mind
According to sage Patanjali, considered the father of yoga and the author of Yoga Sutra, chanting Om with a mental focus on its meaning, calms the mind and prepares it for meditation. In the long term, repeating that chant while contemplating its meaning helps our mind understand and become one with the creator.
The Benefits of Chanting Om in Yoga
Chanting Om during a yoga session offers many benefits. Here are some of them.
· Chanting at the beginning of a yoga session reminds us about the purpose of the session and makes it easier to keep other thoughts and worries out.
· Om focuses our mind in the present, which is necessary to perform the remaining activities without distracting thoughts.
· It reminds us about our relationship with others, the rest of the universe and the creator.
· It reminds us about the ultimate purpose of yoga, which is unification with the creator.
· It is a relaxation technique and has a calming effect on the mind similar to what happens during meditation.
· The deep breathing improves oxygen intake and alertness.
· It reduces stress by slowing down the breathing and heart rate.
· Chanting Om together creates a sense of community.
Don’t be surprised if your yoga class begins and ends with a group chanting of Om. It has a deep meaning and purpose. As a yogi or a yoga student, it’s important to understand its meaning and learn how to chant it correctly. Your yoga teacher will help you get it right.