Om, actually pronounced "Aum," is an affirmation of the Divine Presence that is the universe and is similar to the Hebrew "Amen."
In the Hindu belief, Om is the sound that was made when the whole universe was created. Om is a "word of power," so chanting it before and after a yoga class is believed to produce a profound effect on the person chanting, and in the world.
The symbol to the right represents Om. In this Sanskrit letter the long lower curve represents the dream state, the upper curve stands for the waking state and the curve coming from the center symbolizes deep, dreamless sleep. The crescent shape stands for "maya", the veil of illusion, and the dot represents the transcendental state (beyond thinking).
When the individual spirit passes through the veil and goes beyond thinking, they are liberated from the three states, and achieve enlightenment. Whoa.
I don't necessarily think of "Om-ing" like that - that's just too transcendental for me. I like to focus on the more physical benefits, like the rhythmic pronunciation of chanting Om slows down the nervous system and calms the mind, like meditation. If the mind is relaxed, then it will help to decrease blood pressure, which will in turn improve heart health.
It is also good for relieving congestion or sinusitis. The vibrations created by chanting Om can help clear your sinuses and ward off infection.
Also, chanting Om collectively in a group gives you a wonderful sense of community.
Want to hear what Om sounds like? Then
I'd love to hear about your good and bad experiences having to do with chanting Om in class. Tell me about it in Yoga Stretch and Tell.
At the studio where I go, we do something called Continuous Om-ing with a big group. At the end of class, we all sit up and the teacher starts saying "ommmm..." and other people join in when they are ready, and the whole group of us are following our own breath, Om-ing at different times so it sounds like one rolling beautiful sound, kind of like the Om playing up above. It's amazing and so relaxing to be a part of.