To “Om” or Not to “Om”

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.

suds-prayer
Definitely no “Om” occurring right here.

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.

sudsprayer

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?


4 thoughts on “To “Om” or Not to “Om”

  1. I always offer AUM or OM at the end of class. I was taught that it is a vibratory energy that travels from belly, chest/heart to head with each of the 3 sounds A, U, M.
    Sometimes with a newer group I will break up the 3 sounds for the class to feel each vibration and remove the feared religious intonation associated with the sound.
    Ultimately, there is a faith connection to the sound, which in many eastern philosophies it is equated to the sound of the vibration of the creator or as I like to say the sound of harmony in the universe!
    For me it is an act of Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender)…I surrender all that I gained from my asana and pranyama practice to the universe so that it can be diseminated for the greatest good of the whole.
    It is a choice to chant or not to chant, but like any act on the mat, if you come to it with the best intention you will get what you need (maybe not what you want)…I have had many students of all different faiths over the years that have told me how moving the experience of chanting AUM is for them.
    Keep up the great work Darcy, you are on the right path…continue the conversations and continue connecting the dots…isn’t it all beautiful? 🕉🕉🕉

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and for your insightful response, Krista! I love so much of what you note, but I particularly love your comment about the intention behind it. There are times that I feel silly chanting, for any number of reasons (valid and maybe not so much so). But it is helpful to remember that my intention in chanting “om”—sharing this feeling of unity that I find there—is far more important than my ego trying to talk me out of it when it might be somewhat awkward (in a small class or in a gym setting, for example).
      I look forward to continuing the conversations and continuing to learn from you! It IS all so very beautiful!

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  2. Hello,

    I found this blog post of yours by accident while, trying to find reasons one might not chant om. I was doing this because I recently read an article titled “Where Have All the Flower Children Gone?” by Bronte Baxter. Baxter was an instructor under Maharishi MaheshYogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation.

    I am new to meditation and while I don’t plan on doing away with it in my life, I am concerned about the power of what I chant. I like the “om” chant. However, Baxter’s article is a compelling, personal and cautionary tale about topics like meditation and chanting. In short, she explains that one can either purposefully or unintentionally give up ones life energy to the owner of the name/item chanted. That at first, good feelings arose but eventually, deterioration of both body and mind began. As far as I know, “om” wasn’t one of those her group experienced.

    I don’t know if she’s right or not and like I said I’m new to things like meditation. I don’t always believe what I read, but I do believe in learning from others as well as oneself. If I see someone walk across a bridge that flips over and drops them, I don’t need to do the same in order to learn that crossing said bridge is dangerous. So now I am looking for people with experience with “om”.
    I also believe in educating myself through research however, there are simply too many definitions about “om” out there for me to feel that I can make an informed and truthful decision just by reading. I would like to get personal accounts.

    If you do not mind answering them, I have a few questions. How long have you used “om”? Do you feel any of the negative things Baxter eventually noticed going on with those around her while, they chanted their mantras? I understand if you are too busy for a reply and this was not your intention for your original post. Thank you for your time and for teaching peaceful techniques such as yoga, to the rest of us. Maybe I will try it too someday.

    Peacefully yours,
    Jane

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    1. Hi Jane,
      Thank you for reading, and thank you for such a detailed comment! I have skimmed Baxter’s article and found what I believe you are referring to, but I have not yet read the entire article in full, so please take that into consideration with this response. I have been chanting “Om” to seal my yoga practices and classes for a few years now, off and on, and as I mentioned in my post, it’s been more “off” than “on” lately. I do, however, use other mantras for my own meditation practice. I use various mantras, depending on my intention, but I most frequently use mantras to invoke the goddess Lakshmi (a goddess typically associated with abundance, spiritual and material), as I feel a certain connection to her. I have never experienced any negative repercussions from my mantras, and it seems to me that Baxter is saying that these negative outcomes (as Baxter writes, “…things like chronic health issues, depression, irritability, arrogance, difficulty focusing, difficulty working…”) only occurred when devotees were meditating for hours at a time, day in and day out. Her article also seems to be making a comment on what she calls “the increasingly worshipful nature of the mantras.” I don’t believe that you need a guru to meditate, and she seems to be saying that the devotees were depleted not just by worshiping the gods but also by following the gurus strict instructions on how to worship, rather than simply meditate.
      I don’t see any reason nor have I had any experience that would suggest there could be negative outcomes from a well-intentioned use of “Om” as a mantra. Of course, my experience is not universal, but it’s what I have to offer you, and I hope it helps your inquiry on the subject!
      Thank you very much for reading my post, and I hope you will follow me for further discussions on yoga, meditation, and mantras!
      Namaste,
      Darcy

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