I remember when I first started going to yoga class. At the end of class, the teacher would say some funky things in a language I didn’t know and then bow to us while saying, “Namaste.” The entire class would say it back to her, except for me. I wasn’t going to say something if I didn’t know what it meant. I was hesitant to ask the instructor what the meaning was, and, to be honest, I was a little freaked out that it was part of a weird religion that I just really didn’t want to know about. Instead I closed my eyes and waited until I heard people getting up off their mats to avoid the namaste bow routine with the instructor. One day when I opened my eyes, I caught the instructor looking at me kind of funny, and I figured I’d better figure out what all this stuff meant.
To be honest, I’m still not 100 percent clear on all the teachings of yoga, but that’s what makes it fun—having so much more to learn!
Oftentimes I wonder what yoga beginners think when they walk into yoga class for the first time. Are they confused by the Sanskrit names and the teachings of yoga? Are they just a little bit freaked out like I was? I needed the yoga demystified guide and wasn’t quite sure where to find it.
You can imagine how I felt the first time I went into a class and the instructor asked us to participate in chanting om. There was no explanation given of what this meant or why we were doing it. Everyone just took a big breath and began chanting their hearts out. That was another experience that caught me by surprise, and, like namaste, it took me a while to get on the om bandwagon.
Now I love to chant om, and the louder and longer I can do it, the better!
So, what’s om got to do with it?
Well, it’s not so easy to explain. It’s a very simple sound to chant, but explaining it is a bit more complex.
The sound is the oldest, most sacred and powerful sound in the practice of yoga, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Om can also be spelled aum, and, when chanted properly, it is done in three syllables: a, u, and m or aaaaauuuuummmmm.
Typically chanted three times at the beginning and end of a yoga class, the mantra of om represents the union of mind, body, and spirit and the whole universe compressed together into one single sound.
I still don’t get it, and, to be honest, I’m having a hard time describing it, so in order to give om its due, I finally found (after an exhaustive search) this really amazing definition from Cyndi Lee over at Yoga Journal:
“Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean?
Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell.
Chanting om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.”
Thanks, Cyndi, for putting it into words that yoga beginners can like me can understand. Chanting om will no longer mystify me.
Is there a part of yoga that is mystifying to you? Let me know and I will write about it on the Daily Downward Dog.
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