Why do we say “Om” at a yoga class?

Om Symbol in the sand

“Bring your hands to your heart center. Take a cleansing breath inhaling through the nose, exhaling through an open mouth. If you’d like to close class with the sound of OM joining together….an inhale to begin…..OMMMmmmmm….”

Chances are you’ve heard something along those lines in a yoga class before, having been invited to chant the word “OM” with your fellow yogis. Maybe you participated and chanted it along with the roomful of yogis surrounding you, but do you really understand what it means and more importantly, WHY we say it. Maybe your teachers have defined it as ‘the sound of the universe’ or the ‘universal vibration of all living things’…here we’ll dive a little deeper.

The word itself is actually made up of three distinct syllables: A, U, and M–or phonetically, ‘aaahhh’, ‘oooooh’, ‘mmmm’. There are various takes on what these three syllables mean or represent which tie into a sacred trinity. They might represent a variety of trios: the heavens, earth, + underworld; the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, + Shiva (the Creator, Sustainer, + Destroyer); the waking, dreaming, + dreamless states — representing all of consciousness; and the past, present, + future.

There are many layers of meaning that could resonate with teachers + students, but perhaps most importantly is how we feel when we chant it. The sound itself can calm the nervous system, focusing the mind, and preparing us for a more contemplative state. Chanting with your fellow yogis can also unite you as a group. When you chant together, you are aligning your voices, your bodies, minds, and spirits with each other, but also with the greater universe around you. The silence that comes at the end of the Om is equally important–giving yourself permission to sit in the silence and observe how you feel.

Next time you are in a class + your teacher prompts the Om, take a moment to think about all of its meaning and how it connects + resonates with you. Enjoy the union and peace that follows the vibration and carry that with you throughout your practice and the rest of your day!