Ommm and Omming
by Julee Yew-Crijns
Before I discovered the many descriptions of om, I never questioned its origins or its meanings. It was just something I picked up as a part of my life in a Buddhist home. My first yoga teachers taught me OM as AUM (I will use aum and om in this blog just because neither is right or wrong). This is the understanding I normally share in class:
AUM is the sacred sound vibration. The first vibration in the universe or on earth at least. It is everything and nothing, everywhere and nowhere. We hear the hum of aum everywhere. When we chant AUM, we start with the vowel Aaah. We feel this vibration in our belly- the beginning. Then we start to move the vibration into Ooo and feel this vibration in our throat region- the middle. And finally we end with Mmm and feel this vibration in our third eye region- the end. And at the end of AUM there is a silence (it is not actually silence but an unstuck sound) and we get the sense of this as the radiance from the crown of our head- after the end, there is space. So in one breath, AUM contains everything- creation, continuity and dissolution- life. To me, this is sacred sound. We all feel grounded when we connect with it. And whenever and wherever I chant it, I feel it originates from deep within me and releases as vibrations. It is not religious, but sacred.
I am sharing this today because I often notice how this sound gets belted out. There is no right or wrong way to omm mind you, but let’s consider the intention behind om & omming.
When I open and close my mediation practice, or when I am doing a japa, I will never belt out my mantras or oms. The only time I do this is when I am trying to strengthen my voice when I know I have to lead a kirtan. In fact, when I am on my own, I feel my oms come from somewhere even deeper within. If you have never tried this, I invite you to take a moment, sit quietly, just for a moment and when you are ready, try 3 oms. I am quite confident that you will share the same experience. Because this is so, when we come together in a kula, it should be no different. We are not trying to be heard and not trying to create anything. I think sometimes, there is perhaps that idea that we should make an effort to contribute to the sound so as to raise the vibration- but actually, when the sound is forced, too loud, too domineering, the opposite happens.
During a yoga intensive, I also received this teaching from a lovely teacher, Ross Rayburn. He said, when you go to a class, you are there to be led, so the time of invocation is no different. Allow yourself to be led by the teacher. Don’t start before them, just be right behind them, be a little softer than them. It is also a way to show your respect, a way to let the ego go and be ready to receive. (Ego by the way- not a bad word- another blog another time).
I hope this helps you connect to why we om and makes this practice more meaningful for you. Again, a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to ohm, and this is just my practice to share with you and an invitation to try it, if this is not already a part of your experience. When AUM comes from deep within you, not as something you are trying to do or create, but rather as something you are sharing from deep within yourself which is all of yourself in one breath, one sound, the practice of chanting om becomes something sacred. And sacred- some things have the quality of softness and love. When we practice in this way, we feel like we are sharing and receiving love.
AUM Shanti Shanti Shanti