Time to Ride the Om Waves! (Om 101)

Next to Namaste, Om is often the first Sanskrit word you’ll hear + learn (and probably chant) in a Yoga class. This one word/mantra has been spoken + studied for thousands of years (probably even longer!) and has numerous layers of meaning, which can make it feel a bit overwhelming for just two little letters.

I can still remember the first Yoga class I went to where Om was chanted at the beginning and end of our practice. For the first few classes, I didn’t Om with the other students because frankly, I had no idea what it meant + I wasn’t going to go chanting about or to who-knows-what!

Even though I wasn’t chanting, I could still feel this oddly comforting vibration when the other students chanted + I became incredibly curious about what Om was all about.

After my 4th or 5th Yoga class, I got up the courage to approach the teacher at the end of class and asked him, “What does Om mean?” Without hesitation, he simply said, “Om is the sound of the universe creating itself.”

That’s pretty freakin’ deep!

Om 101

Like many other ancient Sanskrit words, Om has various translations, “the sound of the universe creating itself” being one of the more esoteric. Simply put, Om is the sound that the ancient rishis/sages felt while they were in deep meditation. Yeah, you read that right – felt, not heard.

Just as I felt in those Yoga classes when others students chanted, Om has a unique vibration that moves beyond our body + our mind to connect us to everything outside of us. In a larger sense, Om connects you to the power of the universe – which is awesome! [Click to Tweet + Share the Awesome!]

Before we go any further, let’s address the purple elephant in the room. When you chant/sing/repeat Om, whether out loud or in your mind, you are not – I repeat NOT – reaching out to any specific God, Goddess, or spiritual being. That means you can chant Om no matter what your spiritual or religious affiliation is. Good, I’m glad we got that out of the way.

Speaking of religion, Om has connections to the “sacred words” of numerous lineages. Most of us know that Om itself is a sacred sound for Yogis, Hindus, Buddhists, and other Eastern religions. A similar sound/vibration can be found in Christianity’s “amen” and it the origin of numerous English-language words, like “omnipotent”, “am”, and “whom.”

While entire books have been written about Om, this is Om 101, so let’s keep this brief + straightforward. The last thing to really know about Om is how to pronounce it. You may have seen Om written as Aum and they are in fact the same word – Aum is simply the phonetic way to spell Om. Let’s break it down:

  • A (“aaaaah”) is said with your mouth open, tongue relaxed, and jaw soft. The sound rises from way down at the bottom of your lungs + your belly.
  • U (“ooooh”) is said as you slowly + progressively close your mouth. The sound continues to rise from your lungs + now your heart.
  • M (“mmmm”) is said with the tip of your tongue touching the roof of your mouth just behind your two front teeth and your mouth is closed or nearly closed. The sound continues to rise from your heart + now within your head. Note: this syllable is the length of A + U combined, making it the longest of the 3 audible syllables.
  • Yep, there’s also a fourth syllable: silence. This is when you simply sit + feel the vibration of the Om you’ve added the the world. Note: this feeling is even more pronounced when you chant Om in a group setting.

You’ll transition from one syllable to the next smoothly and without pausing in-between. Chanting + enjoying Om is more about going with the flow + feeling it instead of being uber-technical. It may sound a bit woo-woo as you read this, but if you go to a Yoga class where they chant Om, set your mind aside + join in – Om is meant to be felt to be truly understood. 🙂



What what your first Om like? Exciting? Uncomfortable? Somewhere in between?

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2 comments… add one
  • The first Om I had. It was in San Francisco at the very first yoga class I ever took. My girlfriend took me to try and introduce me to new things and share in a part of her life that meant a lot to her. Sadly I was to closed off to be open to the experience fully. While it wasn’t a terrible one, it wasn’t a huge one either. It was rather indifferent due to my lack of open mindedness. However I do think it planted a seed that has finally started to take root and grow.
    It only had to germinate for about 8 years before it started to grow. Now I am stumbling through a personal practice while I am on a deployment, just trying to learn the basics, in preparation for starting a regular practice under the guidance of an actual instructor. So I see in this a chance for a brand new first Om experience, and this time I wont allow my own preconceived views or ideals get in the way of it.

    • Thanks for sharing the story of your first Om! Many folks approach Om in a very reserved way, but I agree that taking that first step does often plant a seed that can bloom at any time. I hope your next Om is nothing short of delightful 🙂


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