Om is the primordial sound of the universe. It is said that the creator chanted Om before he began the work of creation.
It is the most powerful and significant Sanskrit mantra (sacred chant) of all the mantras used to invoke the divine.
Spiritual master, Swami Chinmayananda explains that “Om is accepted as being both one with Brahman [the Supreme Reality or Truth that is the underlying support of creation] and also as the medium that connects the human being to God.”
Are AUM and OM the same?
You may have heard Om being referred to as AUM. Are they the same thing?
In Sanskrit, the vowel “O” is a diphthong that is made up of the vowels, “A” and “U”. So the word Om can be broken down into A, U and M.
When pronounced together, the letters A—U—M make the sound, Om.
So, they may be spelled differently, but AUM or Om are the same.
Sound and Silence
If you open your mouth slightly and make a sound without putting in any effort to move your mouth, tongue, or lips, “aaa” will be the sound you make. It arises from the root of the tongue.
When the “aaa” sound is sustained and brought forward into the mouth, it results in the “uuu” (as in “boot”) sound.
The sound ends by putting the lips together, and producing the “mmm” sound.
Since all sounds can be produced only in the space of the mouth from the root of the tongue to the lips, the sound symbols A, U and M represent the emergence, sustenance, and dissolution of all possible sounds.
From the standpoint of the creation of the entire cosmos, AUM symbolizes its emergence, sustenance, and dissolution
The creation of anything must have a cause or source. Taking the example of the creation of sound, the “aaa” “uuu” and “mmm” emerge out of silence, are sustained in silence and merge back into silence. Underlying all sounds is silence, their cause and support.
Similarly, Om represents the cause and underlying support from which all things and beings are born, in which they are sustained and into which they all go back into. Like silence that is inherently present in all sounds yet remains untouched by them, Om is present in all of creation and transcends it as well.
Om comprises not only the A—U—M sounds but also the silence that sustains them. It represents God or the Ultimate Cause of creation. Chanting Om is invoking that divine source
Its vibrations are powerful and uplifting. They positively affect the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels of the personality.
The three sounds A, U and M can be chanted separately or as Om for different benefits.
Chanting the three sounds separately has a relaxing effect on the body.
The “Aaa” sound resonates with the body from the waist down.
The “Uuu” sound resonates with the body from the waist to the neck.
The “Mmm” sound resonates with the head.
To experience first-hand how to relax your body through the sound and vibration of AUM, lie down on a yoga mat in the corpse pose.
You can get into the corpse pose by lying on your back, and resting your hands about 12 inches away from your body and your feet about 18 inches apart. Keep your body still and relaxed.
Begin chanting “Aaa” loudly, feeling the relaxation of your body below the waist. Do this for 3-5 minutes.
Then, put your attention between your waist and neck and chant “Uuu” for 3-5 minutes.
Finally, focus on your face and head and chant “Mmm” for 3-5 minutes.
By practicing in this way for just 10 to15 minutes, your entire body will feel totally relaxed and your mind will be at ease.
You can do this practice anytime you need to relax. If you do this before bedtime, it can help you fall asleep.
Here’s how the three sounds are chanted separately:
Chanting OM for meditation
Om is a powerful mantra that represents our goal (oneness with the Ultimate Cause or God) and it is also the means to that goal.
When chanted correctly, it produces a long resonating sound like the pure musical tone of a tuning fork or large bell.
Chanting Om has a profoundly calming influence on the mind. It eliminates restlessness and helps to make the mind focused and peaceful.
Before meditation: Chanting Om before meditation is a powerful way to prepare the mind to turn inwards.
Sit comfortably on a chair or on the ground with your head, neck and body all in a straight line. Begin your practice by chanting Om audibly for 5 to 10 minutes. Think of the divine with full feeling and pour your heart into the chanting.
Feel the vibrations coming from the base of the spine (root chakra) and extending to the top of the head (crown chakra). Imagine that you are one with the Supreme Cause or God.
You can synchronize the chanting with your breath. Breathe in, and then chant Om audibly as you breathe out.
Over time, chanting out loud prepares you to chant Om mentally. You can then incorporate it into your meditation practice.
While sitting for meditation: Mentally chant “Ooo” when you breathe in and “Mmm” when you breathe out. Try to slow down and elongate the length of the breaths. This will quiet down your mind considerably.
When you breathe in, hold the breath in momentarily before exhaling. When you exhale, hold the breath out momentarily before inhaling again.
These silent pauses between breathing in and breathing out are where you arrive at a thoughtless meditative state. It may be for a fleeting few seconds, but this is being one with Om, the divine cause of the world.
The spiritual masters tell us that we are that divine essence expressing in human form.
By gradually incorporating the chanting of Om in your meditation practice, you not only gain mental quietude but also glimpses of the silent presence (inner witness) that you really are.
Here’s a demonstration of the chanting of OM:
Om uplifts the vibration of every atom in the physical body and awakens the spiritual power inherent in it. It can transform your body, mind and spirit.
Om has great depths of meaning, far more that what I have shared here.
But even without understanding it fully, you can easily experience some powerful results from simply chanting it.
Give the relaxation and meditative techniques in this article a try and share your experiences in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.
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- Chinmayananda, Swami. Meditation and Life. Piercy, CA: Chinmaya Publications, 1995.
- Tejomayananda, Swami. Commentary on Amrtabindu Upanisad–A drop of Immortality. Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 2010.
- Sivananda, Swami. Meditation on OM and Mandukya Upanishad. Uttranchal, India: The Divine Life Society, 2003.