Last week, a student in my Tuesday night Yin Yoga class asked me why we don’t say “Om” together at the end of class anymore. She very politely pointed out that we always used to do this, and now we haven’t done it in quite awhile, and she asked why.
Chanting “Om” together at the end of class used to be something that I felt strongly about for a few different reasons. I always did it when I started teaching, and if I was a student, I felt incomplete without it as the coda to my class. I associate sealing the practice with an “Om” with a very influential teacher of mine, Melora of Serenity Tree Yoga. Even when I took her class at the gym, she always included it, despite the fact that Gold’s Gym is about as far removed from a yoga shala as I can imagine. When I chanted it at the end of my own classes, part of it was in homage to all the amazing teachers who have influenced me in the past, like Melora.
I also felt strongly about including it because (not despite the fact) I know it pushes some people out of their comfort zones. It’s not that I want anyone to feel uncomfortable in my class, but I don’t think yoga always needs to be “rainbows and unicorns,” as Tracy, another favorite teacher of mine, always says. In practice, we are bound to come up against struggle, whether it’s a difficult pose or the pose is bringing up difficulty already within. If it makes you uncomfortable to make a sound with your breath in a studio full of others doing the same thing, it might be worthwhile to reflect on why. And then by facing this one uncomfortable facet of your practice, you’ll be empowered to face other uncomfortable things, on and off the mat.
So that’s why I always used to chant “Om.” But lately, as my student noticed, it has slipped out of my teaching, though I’m happy to join in when I am practicing and it is offered by another teacher. Though I’ve definitely felt a few pangs and missed it a few times, it wasn’t something I thought too hard about overall.
Until this week. It’s been a divisive week in many ways post election, and each time I have come to the mat—whether teaching or taking class—it has been a powerful experience, reminding me of how much love is truly all around, even when it seems the world is getting darker and more uncertain. All of a sudden, words like “Om” and “Namaste” are no longer just foreign words to be rotely repeated as we rush out of class. Now, saying these words—and truly feeling them, experiencing them, living them—feels like a prayer that I can offer up to the Universe, a confirmation of all that I believe and will continue to share, a fervent dream for the future.
The student who asked about chanting “Om” wasn’t in class this week. But still, I found myself thinking about it as we neared the end of class. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Does it even really matter at all?
When class was almost completely finished, we were all sitting up, with eyes closed and with hands in prayer, thumbs pressed to forehead, the third eye center. I found myself pausing and sharing with my students from the heart (and with no idea what was about to come out of my mouth). I explained the question that prompted this reflection, and as I spoke, I started tearing up a bit (no big surprise there if you know me at all—I cry at anything and everything). Recently, some friends of mine have posted on Facebook about a few really disgusting and disheartening examples of racism and homophobia that they have experienced since the election, and I mourned for them in that moment. And then I pictured all the beautiful faces in the room with me in that particular class; we had a big group last night, the studio full of friends and strangers.
As I explained in the final moments of that class, the sound of “Om” is all about unity to me. It’s a sacred sound, so while it doesn’t have an exact translation, it has a whole lot of meaning, and for me, the meaning of “Om” is the same as the meaning of practicing yoga: connection. Yoga might connect breath and body, but chanting connects me to my students, connects my students to one another, connects me to myself and to divine inspiration. We get out of our comfort zones, chanting with strangers, and we open ourselves up to this reality that we are truly more alike than we are different. We are one in our practice, though everything about us off the mat may be completely and totally different. I explained that this unity was why we were going to chant that night, and as always, I offered students the chance to opt out.
It certainly wasn’t the most resounding or the most harmonious tone, but it feels like that “Om” rang in my heart in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time. If you take class with me in the near future, whether you choose to partake or not, I’ll be offering you the opportunity to chant along with me. And especially if it makes you a little bit uncomfortable, so what? Be brave, be open, be connected—to your true self and to the true selves of others—and find the love that’s waiting there.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Teachers, do you end or begin class with an “Om”?
Students, do you like it/dislike it/care either way?