We’ve all heard about this word called “OM”. But, what is it? What does it mean? (I’ll get there.) Can it be translated into English? (Not exactly.) If you chant it does it somehow change you or your religion? (Absolutely not.)
Let's dispel some of the mysteries and misunderstandings about Om so we better understand its meaning.
Om is an ancient Sanskrit “word” that was first felt by rishis as they meditated. It was more about the essence of Om than the chanting of it. Eventually as the experience was shared the word came forth and people started chanting it to get the experience of it. So, you ask, what is the experience of Om?
It is somewhat difficult to describe with words but Om represents everything. It is said to be the seed of all of creation. Just like an acorn seed has the immense power and beauty of a mighty oak tree. This seemingly small word contains all the power of the universe. It is the beginning, middle and the end of it all or the past, present and future. Chanting Om brings into your awareness the physical reality of this world and your body, the subtle impressions of the mind and emotions and the thoughts and beliefs of your life and this world.
As the Mandukya Upanishad tells us the perfect state or super conscious state and all that precedes it are a part of Om. The sound can also be displayed in its more complete form of AUM. When written this way it appears as if the sound has three parts. In actuality it has four.
The A (aahhh) sound represents the creation aspect of the universe and all of the gross objects within it. Ahh is the beginning of all sounds (this is the most common letter that starts alphabets). It connects us to our sense of self, the ego. With this syllable you experience the existence of the world through the activity of the senses. When you chant this sound notice that it is produced in the throat and back of the mouth where the tongue is rooted and resonates in the lower abdomen. The first sound embodies “Sat”, the sound that starts to bring you back to unity, to the truth of your existence.
The U (oooh) sound signifies the maintaining energy of the universe and the subtle impressions of the mind. It connects us to an inner sense of something greater than that which we can see and feel with our senses. Oooh lets in lightness, clarity, balance and goodness. When you chant this letter the sound moves forward between the tongue and the palate up to the lips and vibrates in the solar plexus. The sound denotes “Chit”, an illumination of knowing, pure wisdom.
The M (mmmm) sound characterizes the transformative energy of the universe and the thoughts and beliefs of your beingness. This sound unites you to the awareness of oneness. It allows you to slow down in order to feel the connectedness of all that is. The sound “mmmm” is produced by closing the lips and it vibrates the crown of the head. The sound symbolizes “Ananda”, to be at one with bliss everywhere with all things.
The fourth sound is silence or anagata. It is the vibration which is beyond verbal pronunciation. It is pure consciousness of the Self or the Atman. The unity of Sat Chit Ananda (I exist, I know, I am blissful) is experienced here.
As you can see the experience of Om is multifaceted. It truly is an experience of all in everything. It is said that the sound of AUM includes the entire process of sound and all other sounds are included within it. Therefore, Om is called the seed sound (bija), the original sound from which all other sounds and worlds come from. This is why Om is said to represent God, Bhraman, Source, Universal Consciousness. Because it has the power to create everything.
When chanting Om aloud, the sound will naturally evolve through the tree phases corresponding tot the three letters A-U-M. Like the experience of Om as a sense of completeness and pure consciousness, the three syllables are not distinct or separate phases, but a continuous motion of the body, breath and awareness.
Now, the true power of Om lies in the experience of Om. Reading this can help the mind understand but it cannot give you the experience. Chant this, by yourself, with your friends, in your community. Allow the experience of all the words above to soak into your beingness. Feel the power each syllable has as the sound vibrations move from the low abdomen, up through the solar plexus and chest all the way to the tip top of the head. Let the vibrations clear and cleanse your energy system and chakras. Find wholeness and healing in this easy to remember mantra.
Many yoga classes begin and end with the chanting of Om three times. This mantra allows the energy of the group to begin the process of harmony by breathing together and sharing in this mantra. It tunes each person into themselves and reminds the body and mind to set aside worldly concerns and to turn your attention inward to the everlasting joy yoga can bring. Repeating Om at the end of a session, together with the traditional “Namaste”, is a declaration of respect for the practice and each other. It also allows you to carry forth the inspiration of yoga to everyone and encourage growth in yourself and others through your presence alone.
Om is an amazing tool that all people of all faiths can utilize to bring focus and awareness to the greater meaning of life.
"What is" Series video created by Brett Larkin for Yogi Times