Welcome back, readers! If you follow us on social media, you’ll know that we took a hiatus last week, but we’re back! This week, I want to explore the meaning of a symbol that is near and dear to my heart: the om symbol. If you do yoga regularly, follow yoga on social media, or hang out with other yogis, you have probably seen this symbol all over the place. From bracelets, malas, t-shirts, yoga pants and even (quite commonly), tattooed onto bodies. I will admit, I am guilty of this myself. Before we begin to explore this famous character, however, I would just like to mention that (as in all things yoga), it is impossible to cover the full range of this topic within one blog post. So please, once you’ve read this, feel free to continue your research into it, and enjoy delving into the world of yogic wisdom…
The first, and most important thing to know about the sound of “om”, is that it is the sound of the universe. Yogis believe that this sound, and the vibrations it produces, are the sounds and vibrations of everything in this world. From the ocean, to the mountains, to the earth and its people, om encompasses everything and everyone. When we chant it at the end of our yoga classes, we are tapping into a collective consciousness of sorts. We are both connecting to each other, and to the universe. In a way, it is the sound that makes us one, or that expresses our oneness (as every person is one being, according to the philosophy of yoga). To me, this symbol is the ultimate expression of unity, and is essential to any yoga class.
The 3 Letters Within OM:
Although we commonly write the symbol as O-M when referring to it, om is actually A-U-M. The first two letters combine as a diphthong, meaning they make one sound together. The 3 letters and sounds each have different meanings:
A: This first letter represents the god Brahma, who represents creation.
O: O (pronounced: oh or ou), is where Vishnu exists. She preserves, protects, and sustains.
M: The last letter is for Shiva, the destroyer (note that destruction in this case is not seen as bad, but rather as a form of reconstruction).
These three beings combine to create the Divine. Without them, nothing can be created, everything is always sustained, and everything is always being destroyed. With them, the world is always being created, sustained, and destroyed on an endless loop. In other words, they are a representation of an endlessly changing and reproductive world. Altogether, these three sounds, letters and their representative deities, encompass the entirety of nature, creation and the universe.
Overlap with Other Religions:
It is said that Om takes different forms within different religions and cultures. With the Tibetans, it is “Hum”, for Muslims “Amin”, and for Christians “Amen”. Interestingly, the word Amen is referenced to as the beginning of the creation of the Universe, within the Bible.
Scientists have recently discovered, by testing wavelengths, that the vibrations the sound om produces are the same as those the Earth produces when it turns on its axis.
A great activity you can do at home, which I personally found helpful when first learning about this, is to feel the vibrations yourself. Sit in a comfortable position, either on the floor cross legged, on knees, with legs in lotus position, or on a chair with feet firm on the ground, and back straight. It may be helpful to bring a hand to the belly, and another to the chest; though this is optional. Chant each letter within om one at a time.
Feel which areas of the body each of these letters resonate within you. The sounds should be as follows:
A: Stomach area, perhaps deep down.
U: Chest area.
M: Neck, head, and mouth.
This whole body experience is yet another fascinating aspect of om. It comes from deep within us, and rises. Our prana (energy/lifeforce), does the same as we chant this. Repeated chanting in large groups is where these effects become the most obvious. Om is meant to be chanted with others, and not alone.
I want to give a special thanks to SS and PG for their help and knowledge.
Please feel free to comment below with anything else you think is interesting about the om symbol below, and interact with us on social media!
Creator and Writer @ MAP Yoga
RYT-200 Certified Vinyasa and Hatha yoga teacher
**The following links provide some of the information which I drew upon for this blog: