Why do we chant Om?

If you've ever attended a yoga class, you probably started or ended the class by chanting "Om". Or if you're like me 8 years ago, you may have pretended to chant Om while peeking through one open eye, wondering what the hell this was all about.

At it's most basic definition, Om is a mantra that symbolizes the universal vibration of energy. I know what you're thinking -- THAT'S basic? Let's break it down.

In terms of our yoga practice, a mantra is a phrase, sound or intention that is used during asana or meditation to quiet and focus the mind. For example, you can use the mantra "I am strong and grounded" during an active class to cultivate the strength you need. Another common mantra, most often used in meditation, is silently repeating "So" on the inhale and "Hum" on the exhale.

Let's think about Om as a mantra. As ancient yogic texts hypothesized and modern science confirms, all matter is comprised of energetic vibrations. If you could combine all vibrations of the universe, all matter and energy, you would end up the all-encompassing collective sound of Om. Pretty powerful, right?

If you break down the sounds of Om, which is sometimes spelled Aum, you can see that there are four distinct parts. Some believe these represent the four stages of our life cycle.

A (ahh) - Birth

O (ohh) - Life

M (mmm) - Death

Most importantly, the 4th section is the silence after the sound. When you can still feel the vibrations through your body and the air around you, this moment represents the space between life cycles. As with any topic, this is the belief of one school of thought and there are many ways to define the meaning of Om. But there is one thing everyone can agree on - it's an ancient, sacred and powerful mantra.

Chanting Om at the beginning and end of our yoga practice creates a sacred space and energy in the room. It unites us with other practitioners, our teachers, and the infinite energetic force of the universe around us. But if the idea of chanting freaks you out, just listen. When you are ready to jump in, allow your voice to join into the sound of the room, and know that you are tuning into the collective energy of the universe.

I would love to hear your opinion on this. Do you like it when your teacher chants Om?