The Meaning of Om

Below is an excerpt from the manual for the 200 Hour Teacher Training course Aham Yoga will hold in January 2016. Interested in learning more? Visit the information page here, or attend one of the upcoming open houses, starting November 21 & 22.


 

Om has thousands of meanings, making it difficult to list all of them. Generally, all mantras start and end with Om. It is considered to be the sound of existence. The Sanskrit alphabet has 51 letters and each is considered to be a seat of energy that generates vibration within the body when chanted. A mantra is formed when two or more letters are fused together.

Om has three syllables:

  • Aa symbolizes speech
  • Uu symbolizes the mind
  • Aamm symbolizes the breath (prana)

They also represent the past, present and future; mother, father and Guru; and creation, continuation and dissolution.

The symbol has three curves, one semi-circle and a dot. The three curves signify the three states of consciousness:

  • Jagratavasta (the waking state)
  • Nidravasta (deep sleep)
  • Svapnavasta (the dream state)

The dot represents Turyavasta (absolute consciousness). The semi-circle symbolizes Maya (illusion) because it opens to the top, which means that the absolute is infinite and is unaffected by Maya. Om also represents the everlasting spirit, and is a symbol of universality and peace.

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How to Begin Chanting Om

To chant Om, sit in a comfortable position, with the palms in namaskar and eyes closed to help cut out distractions and center the mind more. Take a few slow inhalations and exhalations with the eyes closed. To begin the chant, take a long inhalation, hold it for a couple of seconds and then chant Om. Tune the chanting of Om to the center of the chest, where the thumbs meet the heat center. This spot is considered to be the seat of the soul.

A mid-pitch Om chant is ideal, where the sound is neither too loud nor too soft, with the vibrations in the heart center. An Om that is too loud will reach the head and if the Om is too soft it will get lost in the stomach. The heart is the center for emotion as well as devotion and dedication, making a mid-pitch Om ideal.

After one Om chant is over, take a round of regular breath, before inhaling deeply without tension and chanting again. Do this for about five to eleven repetitions. Om should be chanted before practicing anything auspicious or special.

Do not let the chanting get monotonous and brainless. Keep alert and listen closely to the sound of Om. Maintain the erect posture throughout, with the center of the pubis, navel, diaphragm, chest and eyebrows in one line. The body should feel soft and light, not heavy and rigid. When the eyes are closed, soften the eyelids and drop the gaze toward the heart center. Try to be a witness to the breath when the eyes are closed.

The regular chanting of Om regulates the thoughts and gradually stills the mind. The breath acts as an anchor to all thoughts, and the chanting is a way to cope with stress and empty the mind. The chanting of Om also helps to increase one’s body awareness and sensitivity.