What is Om and why do we chant it in yoga class? Om actually has many meanings and associations. Its primary purpose is to move beyond the mental and physical practices of yoga and into a heart-centered space where the essence of the devotional practice of yoga is invoked.
When a yoga or meditation teacher invites their students to chant Om they are asking them to acknowledge all states of being. It is the primordial, elemental sound of the manifest universe.
Breaking Down Om into 3 Parts
Om is made of three sounds, A, U, M, that when put together make the sound Om. Each of these three sounds symbolizes a creative cycle within nature (creation, sustenance, and dissolution) surrounded by the fourth quality, supreme silence.
In ancient Vedic cosmology Srsti is the word used to describe creation, meaning to bring together or add. It is the downward movement in vibration from the subtle to the gross. The Hindu Goddess that represents creativity and creation is Saraswati.
Sthiti is the Sanskrit word for sustenance, the sustaining or supporting of life, health, and spiritual nourishment. It is the energy that holds the form together and gives the appearance of solidity. It is the pulse of creative light continuing to evolve into progressively more refined and sophisticated forms, and it is the equivalent of the Goddess Lakshmi who rules wealth, fortune, prosperity, beauty and fertility.
Samhara is the Sanskrit word for the movement from the gross back into the subtle. At the height of the manifested cycle, the refined form begins to dissolve and eventually returns back to the dark chaotic sea of energy from which it came. It is then unmanifested, raw potential once again. The Hindu Goddess Kali is considered to be the master of death, time and change, and she rules the dissolution phase.
Understanding the Symbol
The first mention of Om was in the Upanishads, which is a sacred Hindu text. In this text, it says that Om is indestructible and that Om is all states of time and consciousness.
In the symbol Om, the waking state is represented by the lower left curve. The waking state is general consciousness – the part of you that is looking outwards and that uses the five senses to experience the world.
The lower right curve is the dream state, when consciousness is turned inwards and a different world is experienced through dreams.
The state of deep sleep is represented with the upper left curve. This unconscious state is where the mind is shut down and is no longer dreaming and desiring of anything.
The crescent shape above the curves denotes Maya, or Illusion, which is the obstacle that blocks the way of reaching the highest state of bliss.
The dot at the top of the symbol, called the Turiya, represents the absolute state, when consciousness faces neither inwards nor outwards, but is quiet and blissful in the ultimate spiritual state of being. It is the state where all states of consciousness meet. This fourth state is believed to be the state in which someone could truly connect with the Divine.