Om is an ancient Sanskrit “word” that was first felt by rishis(monks) as they meditated. It was more about the essence of Om than the chanting of it. Eventually as the experience was shared the word came forth and people started chanting it to get the experience of it. So, you ask, what is the experience of Om?
It is somewhat difficult to describe with words but Om represents everything. It is said to be the seed of all of creation. Just like an acorn seed has the immense power and beauty of a mighty oak tree. This seemingly small word contains all the power of the universe. It is the beginning, middle and the end of it all or the past, present and future. Chanting Om brings into your awareness the physical reality of this world and your body, the subtle impressions of the mind and emotions and the thoughts and beliefs of your life and this world.
As the Mandukya Upanishad tells us the perfect state or super conscious state and all that precedes it are a part of Om. The sound can also be displayed in its more complete form of AUM. When written this way it appears as if the sound has three parts. In actuality it has four.
The A (aahhh) sound represents the creation aspect of the universe and all of the gross objects within it. Ahh is the beginning of all sounds (this is the most common letter that starts alphabets). It connects us to our sense of self, the ego. With this syllable you experience the existence of the world through the activity of the senses. When you chant this sound notice that it is produced in the throat and back of the mouth where the tongue is rooted and resonates in the lower abdomen. The first sound embodies “Sat”, the sound that starts to bring you back to unity, to the truth of your existence.
The U (oooh) sound signifies the maintaining energy of the universe and the subtle impressions of the mind. It connects us to an inner sense of something greater than that which we can see and feel with our senses. Oooh lets in lightness, clarity, balance and goodness. When you chant this letter the sound moves forward between the tongue and the palate up to the lips and vibrates in the solar plexus. The sound denotes “Chit”, an illumination of knowing, pure wisdom.
The M (mmmm) sound characterizes the transformative energy of the universe and the thoughts and beliefs of your beingness. This sound unites you to the awareness of oneness. It allows you to slow down in order to feel the connectedness of all that is. The sound “mmmm” is produced by closing the lips and it vibrates the crown of the head. The sound symbolizes “Ananda”, to be at one with bliss everywhere with all things.
The fourth sound is silence or anagata. It is the vibration which is beyond verbal pronunciation. It is pure consciousness of the Self or the Atman. The unity of Sat Chit Ananda (I exist, I know, I am blissful) is experienced here.
As you can see the experience of Om is multifaceted. It truly is an experience of all in everything. It is said that the sound of AUM includes the entire process of sound and all other sounds are included within it. Therefore, Om is called the seed sound (bija), the original sound from which all other sounds and worlds come from. This is why Om is said to represent God, Bhraman, Source, Universal Consciousness. Because it has the power to create everything.
Many yoga classes begin and end with the chanting of Om three times. This mantra allows the energy of the group to begin the process of harmony by breathing together and sharing in this mantra. It tunes each person into themselves and reminds the body and mind to set aside worldly concerns and to turn your attention inward to the everlasting joy yoga can bring.
Most people are unaware of this, but there is a bit of a conflict when it comes to putting om symbols on yoga mat. When traveling to India, foreigners are encouraged not to use yoga mat with OM symbol unless they understand its meaning and history in yoga and Hinduism; this is because om is considered to be so sacred.
But also in indian yoga culture the feet as the most unsacred part of the body and they literally pray every morning to say sorry to God for stepping on the earth with thier feet. So putting Om on a yoga mat is the most disrespectful thing!