Monday, April 18, 2011

Back to the Om...

I am embracing it I think... finally, but especially in when it is in mantra form. I am admittedly still not so impressed with it in solo form, however. Specifically, I think I'm particularly unimpressed when it seems like certain teachers try to "OM" for 20 seconds longer than anyone else in the class... to the point where their voice is crackly and scratchy... and especially because I thought it was a sound to bring everyone in the room together, not practice solo opera singing!!! You know who you are, yoga teachers! I personally prefer the togetherness of the OM but even more so the symbolism of the mantras that are often involved.

The mantra I was just reading about is Om Namah Shivaya, probably the most famous (?).

ॐ नमः शिवाय

I read a bit more about what it means after a bit of chanting that I unknowingly got myself into the past couple Thursday evenings in an Anusara mixed levels yoga class that completely, 110% empowers me. Just ask Natalie and Alice because I could not shut up about it last Thursday, and the Thursday prior, Natalie got an SMS from me exclaiming that I can do anything in the world. Anyway, I embraced the OM, finally, and it was because the whole "song" (what is it called when a mantra is sung?) that my favourite Michael Lau leads us in for Anusara class. There is a lot more to it, but it does start off with "Om Namah Shivaya" and then follows a bit about gratitude to your teachers, their teachers, and their past teachers, and so on.

Essentially, the mantra, if you break it down, represents the elements that govern the chakras, such as earth, water, fire, air, and earth. Then each piece of the sounds contained in the mantra mean something as well. They each represent a part of our "body" (referred to as mayakosa in Sanskrit). For example, "Na" refers to the whole physical body (also referred to as annamayakosa). The "ma" component refers to the prana or energy (pranamayakosa), "Shi" or "Chi" refers to the mental acumen (manonmayakosa), "va" refers to the intellect (vignanamayakosa), and "ya" refers to the blissful body (anandamayakosa). Again, the "OM" or perhaps more importantly, the silence beyond the sounds of the three syllables that make up the "OM" refers to the soul or the life within oneself.

But what does this all mean? Apparently I'm not the only one who finds the ideas behind this mantra hard to interpret.... but it has been done and is perhaps what most closely resonates with me the most broad, most general, and most appropriate for me:

Peace and salutations to that which I am capable of becoming.


  1. I feel as though my time in yoga is very personal and very private. I go into myself and shut all else out, so the OM is not high on my practice list.

  2. The above comment was from my mom... not sure how she posted as me... mom, you're crazy, but thanks so much for reading and your thoughts!

    I guess there are some that do yoga by themselves, which I've not done a lot of. It's not that I like the energy I get from a group, as I do when I'm in a fitness class, weight-lifting, cardio, boxing, etc. In fact, I'm rarely aware of my neighbours' performance in yoga. It is, indeed, very personal for me too, and I am only working to better myself, be more at peace with myself, feel stronger than I was yesterday, last week, and balance out my upcoming day. I go to a yoga class instead of practicing on my own because I like the guidance and inspiration my teachers impart, which is part of what I was getting at with these thoughts in this blog post. It's interesting how comments and going back and reading this another few times gets me thinking even more. So, I used to hate the OM... but I think the bottom line here is that I've embraced it because of a teacher that I enjoy and trust. I can't say that I like singing it, but I was inspired to look more into the meaning and make that part of the practice personal to me too. So there you have it!

  3. Okay, I do understand your point of view. I also go to "class" in order to learn. I also go because when Kristin is working with others on their positions, I can be holding my position and concentrating on how it feels, how to keep breathing and pushing myself to go farther or to let up to avoid pain.

  4. I really like this post, Jodie. I have yet to attend a yoga class with any chanting/singing, but I've always been curious about OM. I love what it represents, but have not incorporated it into my practice as of yet. I also recently read about the mantra Om Nama Shivaya and have tried using it, but I find it difficult to sync with my breathing. I like using Ham-sa, which means "I am that." It just flows so well and I love the meaning.

  5. Jodie! I love your insights. The 'OM' is also a way of reaching all the senses: sound, visual symbol, and touch through vibration. I imagine you can taste the breath in an 'OM' chant as well if you are really mindful and synchronized.

    I'm offering another perspective on long lasting 'OM' chanting: feel free to take or leave. A long 'OM' may be a result of inspiration as opposed to ego: to inspire others to breath deeper and longer rather than to offend others. My thoughts are checking into the intention. If it comes from a place of love, it is not ego based.

    Hethyr and Jon: My good friend who is a Kundalini teacher meditates on Ham-sa as well. She finds it to be a very powerful symbol of unity!

    Thanks for sharing!


  6. Thanks My Story... that is such a great complement to this post. Regarding the long OM.... I'm going to ask him! No other teacher I've had lately does it so incredibly long like that. I'm just going to ask, period. I think he likes me because I'm super strong, or maybe it's because he is the only Indian guy and I'm the only N. American... we stand out! But he acknowledges me and comes to help me a lot. I'll let you all know!

    Hethyr and Jon: I've never tried the Ham-sa, but I'm going to look out for it. It's time for me to try a different class next week. I had a new teacher today, but only OM-ing. She did impart some ideas similar to the meaning of the Ham-sa, though... when we were doing tree but reaching the opposite arm over and leaning quite a bit to the side, she helped ground/balance us by saying that we are not our bodies... we are here (pointing to heart centre) and not here where our body is... it was pretty amazing, actually, as I had my own mantra in my head the rest of the time "I am not my body." Those of you who know me well know that's a pretty important step for me!

    Thanks all! I love this interaction!

  7. Jodie, I just had to comment to tell you that I had my first OM-chanting experience in class yesterday... all I can say at this point is that it was interesting. Not sure how I feel about it yet, but I can see myself embracing it the more I experience it. It was just weird to hear myself for the first time, I think. Would love to know what you think of Ham-Sa if/when you try it... I just find it really peaceful, calming and grounding. Namaste!