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When a student walks into our studio, they may notice an interesting symbol located on the back wall. Or peek at a tattoo of the same symbol on the teacher’s arm. They may even notice the same swirling design on a few of the fellow students tank-tops. They know the name of the symbol is OM, but will always wonder out loud, “What is OM?”
What is OM?
Om is the most sacred symbol or chant in Hinduism. It is the primordial sound. It is thought to be the sound of the universe creating.
What? So, if in the beginning there was nothing, the first something was a vibration. That first vibration?
That is OM.
History of OM
OM was first mentioned in the Vedas, originating between 1500-1800 BC. The Vedas are devotional chants to God and the interesting part about these are that they weren’t originally written. They were chanted into existence. It was then further expounded on in the Upanishads, another Hindi religious text.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali categorized the chanting of OM in the 6th Limb of the Yoga Path, Dharana as a method of concentration that would lead to self-realization. Now there is a way to use OM as a practical method toward a more peaceful life! We’ll talk about that in a second.
Meaning of OM
The symbol of OM has spiritual meaning in all Indian philosophies. David Frawley, in his book Mantra Yoga and Primal Sound, writes “Om is the prime mantra of the Higher Self or Atman. It attunes us with our true nature. OM is the sound of the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe, who is also the inner guru and prime teacher. It reflects both the manifest and un-manifest Brahman, sustaining the vibration of being, life, and consciousness in all worlds and all creatures.”
In short, OM is everything.
OM is also sometimes written and pronounced AUM. Each syllable represents a different aspect of the Divine. The first sound, A, invokes Brahma, the creative aspect of God. U represents Vishnu, the preserver, and the M invokes Shiva the destructive force of God.
By chanting all three sounds we are reminded of the forces of the divine, and we are taken on a journey through these aspects through the primordial sound of OM.
Pretty amazing huh?
How to Say OM
The word has three phonemes: “a-u-m”. To make the sound of OM, the Ahhhh starts at the back of the throat, Ooooh moves forward into the mouth, Mmmmmm ends on the lips. Does using our full throat and mouth mean anything? Sure does! Sanskrit is pronounced in 5 different areas of the throat, mouth, and lips. Pronouncing AUM in this way stimulates all 5 areas of sound. Pretty thoughtful huh?
How to Use OM
In Yoga, we use mantra meditation as a tool to calm and focus the mind. If you use a mantra, you’re most likely incorporating the sound into your mantra, because it is often integrated at the beginning or end of many mantras.
If you’re a mantra newbie, try sitting in stillness and chanting the sound AUM while holding your focus at your third eye or at the top of your head. You can use a mala to count the traditional 108 times of chanting a mala. Before you start this practice, take note of your energetic state and be sure to spend some time at the end of chanting to assess what this mantra changes within.
Many yogis think that having a tattoo or wearing an OM necklace is cultural appropriation. And maybe it is.
However, I’m one of those yoginis with a tattoo on my arm. When I see this symbol on a regular basis reminds me to not get caught up in my ego and to remember the big picture. I am reminded that I am not my titles or feelings, and to leave those associations at the door.
These days, I think the world needs a little more positivity and a little less negative vibes, so I totally support more visions of this symbol in the world. ॐ
Exploring OM reminds us of the sacredness of life. It encourages us to keep our thoughts, speech, and actions pure and positive. And it is a constant reminder to continue peeling away the layers of our ego to tap into the essence of life.
How do you use this in your life? Comment below and let me know!