Why Om?

It’s the beginning of a yoga class. The teacher asks you to draw your palms together in Anjali mudra and chant the word om. Distinct tones resonate from each individual in the room, melding together into one melodic (or perhaps somewhat discordant) chorus of voices.

It’s a beautiful, intriguing practice, but why do we do it? What is the meaning of the word “om”? And why do so many things yoga-related contain the word “om” (including this web site)?

In Sanskrit, “om”, or “aum”, is known as a bija, or seed, mantra. Scholars consider “om” to be the primordial sound from which the whole universe originated. It is known as pranava, the salutation mantra, hence its appearance at the beginning and end of class. This seed mantra is the building block of other bija mantras, and contains all aspects of the divine.

Aum encompasses all three forms of the Hindu deity: Brahman, creator; Vishnu, sustainer; and Shiva, destroyer. Although there is no academic evidence to confirm these words originate from the same root, “aum” is similar to the word “amen” in Christianity, the word “amin” in Muslim, and the word “hum” used in Buddhism. It’s also interesting to consider that, from a Judeo-Christian perspective, “aum” could reflect the Alpha and Omega, or the creator, son and holy spirit. Or, if you don’t follow a particular religious faith, “aum” can simply be experienced as the seed of universal consciousness.

No matter how you choose to interpret it, aum is a beautiful vibration with the power to unite, heal and transform. The next time you chant it, you might stop to consider the quality of energy you are sharing with those around you. And then, as your voice blends into the chorus, take the time to acknowledge the community that surrounds you. Listen to the sound of each individual voice as it flows into one big, beautiful sea of “om”s.

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