Described as the sound of the Universe but what does that mean? You have probably experienced the sound Om at the start and at the end of your class, but why do we do it?
Ommmmmm. Many yoga classes' first and last sound. But what does it mean and why do we use it?
Often described as "the sound of the Universe", the sound Om is a big and nebulous concept that is quite hard to explain. Om is one of the most important symbols in Hinduism, and is first mentioned in the Upanishads -- ancient Sanskrit texts of spiritual teachings and ideas, and the sound is often used before and after spiritual texts and incantations for ceremonies such as weddings and meditative and spiritual activities, like yoga.
Why is Om considered the sound of the Universe? Well, perhaps because scholars define it to mean almost anything. "Om is the universe(...)the past, the present, and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be is Om" (Mandukya Upanishad). A big concept indeed. The sound of Om, although sounds to rhyme with home, is actually made up of three syllables: A, U and M - ah, ooh, mm. Some scholars say that these three syllables represents holy trinities such as, Heaven, Earth and Hell; the Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; and waking, dreaming and the dreamless states -- representing all of consciousness.
"Stemming from sacred Sanskrit texts, Om is used and crosses over many different religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It is a spiritual sound rather than a religious sound"
That's just a start of the many layers of Om, and depending on who you talk to, everyone will have their own philosophy, yet the sound has increased in popularity within spiritual activities such as meditation and yoga practices simply because of its vibrations -- the feeling within the room and within us when we chant it. It has been suggested that the sound itself seems to calm the nervous system.
And this is why we use it in our yoga practice. This calming but powerful sound gathers and focuses the mind. It also unites the class as a group. Through sounding om, you are aligning the body, spirit and mind within yourself, and with one another. You are also aligning yourselves with the universe through the universe's sound. It is grounding and peaceful, traditional, and shows respect for the practice and each other.
Many people feel uncomfortable chanting Om and some teachers do not use it to make their students feel at ease. Many fear that it is a religious prayer or that somehow it changes their religion, or is appropriating another culture. It is none of these things.
Many gurus and practitioners such as Baba Ramdev would say that yoga is not a religion, nor a religious practice, but a secular and universal practice. It is available for everyone to use and experience as long as it is used with respect and understanding.