Om is a sacred symbol and an ancient mantra or chant representing the infinite Brahma, the absolute or all, which conveys omniscience (all-encompassing knowledge), omnipresence (always present everywhere) and omnipotence (all-powerfulness). It is believed to be the basic sound of the universe, the cosmic vibration and contains all other sounds. When repeated correctly it penetrates all and creates harmony and unity with all that exists - with mind, body and spirit and that to all others.
In honor of Yogic tradition, many yoga teachers begin and close classes with chanting Om to create harmony and unity among the students and teacher.
Depending on the teacher, it will be chanted differently. Some yoga teachers will pronounce all three syllables. While others will combine the A and the U. It is meant to create a bridge between the spiritual and physical dimensions and resonate the third eye. When all 3 sounds are chanted separately (AH – OO – MM) it connects the heart, throat and crown chakras. When chanted the sound of Om affirms a Divine presence in all forms of manifestation.
The mantra Om was first written about in the Katha Upanishad:
The goal which all the Vedas declare, which all austerities aim at, and which men desire when they lead the life of continence, I will tell you briefly: it is OM. This syllable OM is indeed Brahman. This syllable is the Highest. Whosoever knows this syllable obtains all that he desires. This is the best support; this is the highest support. Whosoever knows this support is adored in the world of Brahma.
It is described as the primordial seed from which all other sound arises and therefore all of creation. It is the reverberation, the resonance of the vibrational sound of the Universe. It is actually made of three sounds: A-U-M. These three sounds have profound meaning. They represent the 4 states of Supreme Being. The A is pronounced as in AHHH, represents the waking or conscious state. When chanted you feel the vibration in the belly. The U pronounced as in OOOO represents the dreaming state and is felt in the chest when chanted. The M is pronounced with the tongue touching the roof of the mouth and sounds more like a bee buzzing. The M represents deep sleep and is felt at the root of the nose. It is significant that U is between the A and M as dreaming comes between waking and deep sleep. The final state is the silence followed by the chanting of Om. This is called Turiya. It is in this lingering silence that exists the state of perfect bliss or pure consciousness. (It is interesting to note that these 4 states of being can be transposed onto the Sanskrit symbol for Om as well.)
People have used Om as a mantra since ancient times, chanting the sound or silently repeating it in meditation to expand their awareness of the divine. In the Yoga Sutras, the philosopher Patanjali states that the repetition of Om, along with a deep contemplation of its meaning, is a direct path to enlightenment. He writes, “Om should be repeated and its essence realized. Then the mind will turn inward and the obstacles that stand in the way of progress will disappear.”
Although Om is considered a sacred syllable, in India those of the Hindu faith use it frequently in daily life, beginning the day, a journey, or a project by uttering the sound. The symbol is also incorporated into the design of all Hindu temples and family shrines. In the Western world, repeating Om at the beginning and end of yoga classes is common, and more and more people are using the sound as a mantra for meditation and sacred ceremonies.