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The Power of AUM

If you’ve practiced yoga, you’re probably familiar with AUM, commonly referred to as OM. It’s also become shorthand for meditating using a mantra. What is AUM and what effect does it have on the people chanting it?

Described as a quintessential Sanskrit mantra, AUM is a seed mantra often chanted at the beginning or end of yoga classes. While it’s commonly written as OM, it’s more accurate to write it as A-U-M, since it’s made up of three seed sounds: AH-OH-MM.

"The sound AUM is the very root of physical creation. The daily utterance of AUM creates balance and stability in your body and mind," says Sadhguru, the founder of Isha. "The A represents creation, U is manifestation, and M is destruction," explains Vasavi Kumar, in a MindBodyGreen article focusing on the meaning of the AUM symbol and how to use it respectfully. "It's basically all-encompassing—the whole universe joined into a single sound. It represents the union of the mind, body, and the spirit."

In his yoga sutras, Pantanjali recommended repeating the “AUM” or “OM” sound to bypass the mind, release obstacles, access creative energy, and awaken to higher consciousness,” says Wayne Perry in Sound Medicine.

In The Naked Voice, Chloe Goodchild, one of the foremost proponents of the voice as a therapeutic instrument for healing spirit, mind, and body, proposes that we can “make the evolutionary leap from a heady intellectual ‘I think therefore I am’ and even more deeply to ‘I AM’ or AUM, the sound of the universe.”

Goodchild describes a profound singing practice she calls, “I AM—AUM Sound Practice.” She suggests sounding out the AUM a few times and listening to the silence that follows, feeling it in every cell of your body. To hear it vibrating in the room you’re in and outward into the building, surroundings, country, planet, universe and beyond. “Breathe and listen to this mysterious secret sound, the sound of who you are,” suggests Goodchild. Listen to AUM, a track from Goodchild’s album, Fierce Wisdom.

“The power of the Oh and Om sound can easily vibrate the body,” says Laurel Keyes in Toning, The Creative and Healing Power of the Voice. “From the deep, rich sound of the chest to the bright overtones in the head, the Oh has been a central sound for meditation and transformation in Eastern and Western religions.” Keyes goes on to say that “Whether it is a Big Bang or a subtle sound that starts after the breath begins, this Oh represents the primary act of creation.” Keyes points out that your “oh” can represent many things — wonder, surprise, or the deepest doubt as in “Oh really?” “Oh no!” and “Oh OOOh.” When beginning to sound “Oh,” Keyes recommends releasing all conceptions of what it should be. She suggests beginning the practice by yawning, stretching the jaw, and gliding up and down with your voice to find the easiest place to produce the sound.

If you decide to continue to explore the Om sound for a few days, she suggests visualizing your heart center and allowing the sound to radiate from the center of your body. “In the first few minutes, just get to know the sound,” Keyes recommends. She concludes her discussion of Oh—OM by noting that this tone is worthy of a lifetime of exploration. Keyes’ book, co-authored with Don Campbell, has many simple exercises allowing beginners to easily explore toning and its benefits.

Does AUM actually have any of the effects ascribed to it? According to the Isha Foundation, “The mantra activates and energizes the various sections of the body, reverberating through the whole system. Furthermore, it can bring peace and balance to the meditator's system and is known to relieve people from numerous physical and mental ailments when practiced regularly.”

One study showed that chanting AUM causes a sense of vibration which may result in vagus nerve stimulation, used in the treatment of depression and epilepsy. “Autonomic and respiratory studies suggest that there is a combination of mental alertness with physiological rest during the practice of Om meditation,” according to an article in the International Journal of Yoga cited in PMC.

To receive the full benefits of chanting AUM, it’s important to chant it correctly. Take ten minutes to watch an explanation of the right way to chant AUM.

Here’s a powerful recording, The Ultimate Om, by sound healing authority, Jonathan Goldman. Sit back, put on your headphones, and let yourself bathe in the sound. You may even want to try the power of AUM for yourself.

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