Chanting mantras is a powerful way to turn inward and quiet the mind. While there are many mantras, few are as well-known as the sound of OM. But what does OM mean?
In Yoga Sutra 1.28, Patanjali reminds us that chanting the mantra and reflecting on its meaning are keys to enlightenment.
Maybe you’ve heard OM described as the sound of the universe. In some translations, it’s the voice of God or God in the form of sound.
What does OM Mean?
Rather than try to decide what OM means, we’d understand more by experiencing the chant. Still, there is a lot of meaning in OM’s simple sound.
Meditation teacher Roger Gabriel relates it to the big bang. “Science tells us that the Universe began with a big bang, whereas Vedanta says that the big bang is actually a big OM,” he says.
And it isn’t a one-time bang but an ongoing result of the universe experiencing itself as creation evolves.
Sometimes new yoga students are reluctant to join in and chant the sound of OM. It may feel strange or even intimidating, and that’s okay. Just listen until you’re ready to join in, but know that adding your voice to the chant creates a fuller experience.
Writer Yelena Moroz Alpert says chanting OM is more than an invitation to begin or end a yoga class. It’s an invitation to a collective experience that “reverberates from the pelvic floor upward through the crown of the head, filling the body with pulsating energy that simultaneously empowers and radiates tranquility.”
In other words, it’s is not just a sound. It’s a vibration. When we hit the OM sweet spot, we feel an undeniable energy. The sound connects us to our source—and to each other.
For me, chanting OM is a way to connect my practice to God. At the beginning of class, it grounds me and clears my mind so I’m ready to practice. At the end of class, it prepares me to take my practice off the mat, out the studio door, and into the world. In other words, it prepares me to hear God, then respond to God’s voice.
Repetition of OM
Sutra 1.29 makes it clear that chanting OM repeatedly with a focused mind removes obstacles to enlightenment. We won’t find what we seek by thinking about something else. The chant is a reminder to stay focused on God.
Yoga International’s Pandit Rajmani Tigunait points out that repeating a sacred mantra like OM “means filling one’s mind and heart with the feeling of God.”
The chant keeps us keep our eyes on the road as we journey along the yogic path.
What About the OM Symbol?
A discussion of OM would be incomplete without a look at its symbol. You’ve likely seen the intriguing design in art or perhaps on a wall in your yoga studio. (It’s also at the top of this page.)
The curves at the lower left, upper left, and lower right represent the states of being. They are being awake (lower left), dreaming (lower right), and being unconscious (upper left).
At the top of the symbol, a semicircle represents maya, the world of illusion. The dot above the semicircle represents the absolute state, the place of spiritual bliss we hope to attain through yoga and other spiritual practices.
So next time you’re invited to chant OM, turn your mind to God, and take a moment to ponder the nature of existence.
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!