The Significance of Om

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If you have ever attended a yoga class with me you will know that I use mantra. In particular the mantra 'OM' in all of all my yoga classes! Why? The mantra Om (or Aum) is considered to be the most important mantra of yoga, widely known as the Maha Mantra or the 'great mantra'. According to yogic tradition, every 'thing' manifest comes from the primordial vibration, which is symbolised by the mantra Om. This idea concurs with modern science which states that everything - every atom and molecule in the universe - is formed out of the energy vibration. The mantra Om is mentioned widely in Indian mystical and philosophical thinking, in texts such as Upanishads, the Tantras and in the Samkhya philosophy texts. One of the oldest, Maitri, Upanishads states that 'Om is the primordial throb of the universe' and the 'sound form of Atma (Consciousness)'. This is, of course, similar to the biblical statement "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God". Om is a fundamental part of the practice and teachings of Ashtanga Yoga (The Eightfold Path of Yoga), also known as Patanjali Yoga. Sage Patanjali, the author of the classical Yoga Sutras, states that Om is a symbol of Ishwara (underlying intelligence) and advises that 'Om should be repeated over and over again whilst reflecting on its deeper meaning' and that 'From this practice, awareness turns inwards and all obstacles are overcome.' In his book, The Edge of Infinity, my teacher, Swami Nischalananda Sarawsati states that we could see common roots in Indian mystical thinking with Judaism and Christianity too. He links the word Amen to the mantra Om as well making links with Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism and the Celtic cultures too.

So, what are the benefits of chanting the mantra Om?
Well, first of all, it Reduces Stress!
A study published in the International Journal of Yoga found that Om chanting reduced activity in the limbic system, which is the portion of the brain associated with stress, emotions, learning, and motivation. By monitoring brain activity using a functional MRI machine, researchers found that Om chanting relaxed the brain, and thus could reduce stress. Another study found that it could be used to treat depression.
It Improves Concentration

If you’re familiar with meditation, I’m sure you can imagine how chanting a mantra like Om could improve concentration. Yogic texts discuss the eight limbs or branches of yoga, and the sixth one is Dharana, the Sanskrit word for concentration. In practicing concentration, one can meditate and chant mantras in order to achieve maximum concentration. In this context, this means that the yogi is fully present and thus able to slow down the mind in order to either concentrate on one subject or to completely silence the mind.

Helps to Balance Emotions

If you’re ever feeling a little down or slightly off, chanting Om can help you connect to the Self and balance your emotions. You may find that, as you chant, your mind starts to clear. This is because you’re concentrating on one thing: the sound or vibration that Om gives off. Om holds the same frequency as that of everything in nature, allowing you to connect further and look inwards.

Strengthens Spinal Cord

When you pronounce the first part of Om, making the “Aaaa” sound, the vibration is generated in the abdomen, which can help support your spinal cord. It is said that the more often an individual chants Om, the more efficient their spinal cord may become.

Mitigates Stomach Issues
A Harvard study found that meditation can mitigate symptoms of Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) and improve gut health. The study showed that by inducing the Relaxation Response, participants showed reduced symptoms of IBS as well as decreased anxiety and overall better quality of life. Chanting Om can also induce the Relaxation Response, as this is a common meditation practice. So, next time you have a stomach ache, perhaps chanting Om could help your stomach issues as well!

Improves Heart Health

In the past, meditation has been proven to improve heart health. If one practices chanting Om multiple times in a row, this can be viewed as a form of meditation, especially because an integral part of chanting Om is the silence endured afterwards. A study performed in 2006 looked at the effects of transcendental meditation (TM), a form of meditation whereby the practitioner continuously repeats a mantra, and concluded that TM can improve blood pressure and cardiac autonomic nervous system tone and decrease risk of coronary heart disease.

Improves Mental Alertness

A 2010 study looked into the effects chanting Om has on the mind. Researchers found that chanting Om resulted in a combination of both mental alertness and physiological rest. This makes sense given the fact that meditation and chanting can improve concentration!

Helps Rid Yourself of Negativity

Chanting Om creates a positive vibration in the body, which can then attract positivity into your life. Chanting Om allows you to focus on your third eye chakra and gaze inward, silencing your mind. If you find yourself engaging in negative self talk a lot or can’t seem to stop thinking, try chanting Om a few times and see if that can help your mind slow down!

In conclusion, remember! There’s no right or wrong method when it comes to chanting; everyone can do it and everyone may sound a little different! Beginning and ending the yoga class with the mantra Om helps to calm the mind and helps us to turn our awareness inward, remembering the love we all have within us. So, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try it!

With gratitude to my teachers Swami Nischalananda Sarawsati, Swami Krishnapremananda, and all the teachers at the Mandala Yoga Ashram.

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