light and Om this year.
Chanting, which is merely a vocalization of prayer, has long been a significant part of the yoga tradition. Likewise, singing and chanting are hallmarks of worship rituals in many world religions. Because our modern-day American society is (more than slightly) disconnected from the ancient Indian culture that birthed the practice of yoga, my students are often initially uncomfortable with chanting in yoga class. However, the reverberation of sacred sounds does not need to be daunting. It can be a profoundly moving experience if approached with an open mind and willing breath.
Modern day science substantiates that sound can be a healing modality. Neurobiologists are currently experimenting with sound as therapy for healing cancer (google search Dr. Fabian Maman, this is really incredible) and cardiac specialists will agree that the heart is the largest electromagnetic transmitter in the human body. Science also substantiates that all matter contains movement: electrons are constantly in motion even within particles that appear still and solid. Living beings, then, each resonate at their own movement and sound frequency. To paraphrase Dr. Jay Kumar of Loyola Marymount University, when the biological body is in harmony with the resonance of the emotional body, then the whole body is in health. “If we begin to heal as individuals, the planet begins to heal as whole,” Kumar explains, “Union within self manifests as union out into the world.” Harmony = Health. Harmony = The aspiration of yoga. Chanting is one way that we can attune our vibrational frequency to the frequency of health.
To examine our relationship with chanting, we approach first the sound of Om, which is used at the beginning of class to set the tone for the yoga asana practice.
Chanting Om is chanting the sound of creation. All living beings resonate at a specific vibration, but the vibrational frequency of the sound Om is the underlying frequency of ALL creation. You may think of it as the hum of the universe before matter was created from First Light.
Most of us have seen the Sanskrit symbol for this sound, but know little about its meaning. I have this image of Om tattooed on my right foot:
When I was teaching first grade, during story time I’d cross my knees in my ‘teacher chair,’ leaving my foot dangling precariously close to the face of my front row student. Two or three times a week, my story was interrupted: “What’s on your foot? Are you 30?! Ms. Ash, you’re OLD!”
Me: “No, it’s a different word. It’s not written in English. It’s a special sound in a language called Sanksrit. It’s another word for God.”
My first grade friend: “Oh. So are you 30? I’m only 6. My mom is 31, she tells me not to tell anyone that, but I don’t think she’ll care that I tell you. When I have a birthday I’m going to ask for a PlayStation and then I’ll be 7!….<and on and on and on>”
Eventually we’d get back to the story. (Eventually.)
The Om symbol, written in Sanskrit, which is the language of the ancient Yogic Texts, does look like the number 30 written in Hindu-Arabic numerals, but each stroke of the Om symbol has a specific meaning. There are three main strokes, or arcs, in the symbol. Each stroke represents a state of consciousness (thought pattern) which is explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The first stroke represents waking consciousness, the second represents dream consciousness, and the third represents the deep-sleep consciousness. The sound of Om combines the vibration from all three states of consciousness in order to realize the potential of the fourth state of consciousness, which is beyond words and concepts—it is true unity with all creation and with the God of your own understanding. I don’t have this symbol tattooed on my foot because I’m 30 years young (30 isn’t old, Jen). It is tattooed on my foot as a permanent and gentle reminder that every moment of waking consciousness (or every moment of sleeping consciousness, for that matter) can be spent tuning into the frequency of love. The resonance of unity always manifests as love and healing.
Chanting Om is acknowledging that you are one tiny-yet-important drop in the ocean of humanity, and that you can overcome the illusion of separation (often manifested as desperation) from an infinite source of healing. Chanting Om is a Sacred gift of health and unity.
“When you come to chant Om, then, believe and know that you are chanting the most sacred syllable, one that corresponds to the most intimate and holy sound of the cosmos. Believe and know that you are chanting at once the sound of your own inmost Divine Consciousness, the sound that the entire creation is always resonating to, and the sound that the Godhead makes as it creates reality… Rest in the great joy and peace that this recognition brings.” -a. harvey, The Hope
When you need a moment of ease in your life, savor the sound of Om. Chanting it (even once) will ‘tune’ your thoughts into a state of health and happiness. Vocalizing a prayer for health, happiness and wholeness is a powerful practice to embrace. We will continue to uncover the power of Sanksrit chanting and vocalized prayers over the next several weeks in these blog posts. For now,
Light and Om to you.
Harvey, A. (2009.) The hope: A guide to sacred activism. Carlsbad, CA: HayHouse Publishing available from http://www.andrewharvey.net/