OM. We chant it at the beginning and most likely at the end of yogasana class. We take a deep breath, bring our hands to heart center in anjali mudra, and chant OM. We may do it once, three times, or follow it up with Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Yet, as one of the most common sounds we hear in yoga class, many students don't have an understanding or connection to its meaning and history. OM is at the very center of Yoga.
To explain OM, we need to understand the "Vedas". The "Vedas" began as an oral tradition over 3,500 years ago. It is believed that around the 4th century A.D., it was written down, beginning with the "Rigveda" (Rgveda) (Chandwani, 2019). It is in the "Vedas" that we see references to OM and Yoga. From the "Vedas," we have six types of philosophy spring forth, one of which is yoga (Frawley, 2016).
Source: Kiskis, S. (2019). Om [Photo]. Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India.
A part of the Vedas, the Upanishads, describes OM from its part in the creation of the world all the way to its ultimate meaning. The "Taittiriya Upanishad" in the “Yajurveda” says, “Om is Brahman. Om is all. He who meditates on Om attains to Brahman” (Manchester and Prabhavananda, 2002).
The "Manduka Upanishad" says, “The syllable Om, which is the imperishable Brahman, is the universe. Whatsoever has existed, whatsoever exists, whatsoever shall exist here after, is Om. And whatsoever transcends past, present, and future, that is also Om.
All that we see without is Brahman. This self that is within is Brahman.
This self, which is one with Om, has three different aspects, and beyond these three, different from them an indefinable- the fourth“(Manchester and Prabhavananda, 2002).
As we learn in our yoga path, the ultimate goal of yoga is to merge with that intelligent universal consciousness that the "Vedas" call Brahman, but that which has many names. If OM is that divine consciousness, then each time we chant OM, we are inviting that awareness of the divine within until we recognize that we are that and that is us. That, Brahman, is beyond human understanding as that is beyond time, space, form, smell, taste, sound, or any label we could put onto it. OM is the name of Brahman, the sound of Brahman, and ultimately, Brahman.
OM is described in "The Bhagavad Gita" and Pantanjali's "Yoga Sutras," as well. It has been chanted for at least 3,500 years. When you chant OM, you are not only practicing yoga, but part of the tradition of chanting with millions of people spanning thousands of years.
Journal writing exercise. Explore the following inquiries.
1) What is your relationship with OM (Brahman)?
2) Do you have a sadhana practice (daily spiritual practice) with OM? If not, is this something you would like to incorporate, and if so, how?
Chandwani, N. (2019, June 13). Summarising the knowledge in Rigveda. Times of India Blog. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/desires-of-a-modern-indian/summarising-the-knowledge-in-rigveda/.
Frawley, D. (2016, June 13). Hinduism, Sanatana Dharma and yoga. American Institute of Vedic Studies. Retrieved September 20, 2021, from https://www.vedanet.com/hinduism-sanatana-dharma-and-yoga/.
Prabhavananda, & Manchester, F. (2002). The Upanishads: Breath of The Eternal: The principal texts. New American Library.