Om – not just a pretty sound


As a semi-macho guy, I didn’t take easily to yoga in general.  Believe it or not, the two hardest things for me to digest were the 5 minute rest at the end of my class (savasana), and chanting the occasional om at the beginning or the end.

Lucky for me, my yogini was fantastic, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and patient.  She taught me not to grunt.  She pointed out the importance of really resting after practice, instead of bolting up and out to get back to work.  And finally, very discreetly, showed me the way to enjoying om.

The chanting of om is highly varied between teachers, classes, and even styles.  What I’ve learned however is that it helps frame the class – giving it a beginning and end.  It helps unify your class, even if you don’t utter a sound.  And it helps break the ice, as it were.

There are many spiritual aspects to om.  You can liken it to the sound that created the universe, sort of a big bang.  For those who appreciate physics, it could represent the cosmic background radiation.  Or perhaps it represents the resonant frequencies left over from that cataclysm that created everything we know.

Joseph Campbell, that genius of myth, enjoyed saying om because it contained every vowel known to man.  It resonated through time for him, unifying past with present with future.

Then there’s me, semi-macho man.  When it comes to spirituality, I’m not buying.  The fact that my main yogini has a voice that melts butter and makes even the lowly om sound like opera is a good reason to be interested, but to actually say it?  Worse yet, how is it that I’ve even come to enjoy it?

Let’s get functional.  When you say om, you’re vibrating your body.  Vocal cords, larynx, trachea, lungs, sinuses, the works.  If you say it like Joe Campbell, starting with ahhh, moving through om, and finishing on a closed mouth “mmm” you in fact go through a wide range of frequencies and resonating configurations within your own body.  And why is that good?

You shake things up.  It’s a good, clean way to warm up your body without moving major muscles.  You loosen up the old nose.  You breath a bit easier.  You listen to both the om on the outside, and how it echoes inside.  You can hear it in your ears, your nose, your lungs, and even in your gut.  It’s a nice way to give yourself a sonogram, without having to fill out insurance forms.

You do it at the beginning of class, and it helps you start.  Do it at the end of class as well, and now you have before and after notes that you can compare.  And that’s what yoga is all about.  You.  You and your body.  Yoga means coming together, and the lowly, un-macho sound of om is what brings both outside and inside together with minimal effort.

So the next time you’re stuck in a spiritual class where om is spoken, relax and enjoy the ride.  It’s just another pose, but one that reaches farther inside than you realize.