OM - or more appropriately - AUM - is a mantra that is regularly chanted in many yoga classes, though students may often not understand its origins, and may resist joining in the chanting.
OM is a seed mantra defined as The Primal Shabda. Mantras typically begin and end with the chanting of the sacred syllable of OM.
Ancient yogis believed and understood OM to be the very sound of creation - of universal consciousness - and ultimately the very Sound and Manifestation of the Divine. All other Sanskrit mantras are generated from this Primordial Sound which exists in everything in the Universe and which the yogis taught their students to perceive and actually hear in meditation.
In the ancient Vedic texts the Divine expressed this one thought :
"I am only one - may I become the many."
This Divine desire resulted in a vibration from which all of creation sprung.
Similarly, the Gospel of John begins with these verses:
"In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God."
In her book on the Yoga Sutras from a woman's perspective, The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi notes that, "before we begin to formulate a word or even a thought, a feeling is experienced that stems from a vibration." Modern physics supports the notion that all matter is ultimately comprised of energy and vibration, including the very thoughts we have.
I remember the first time I was nearly knocked down by the sound of OM a few years ago, while waiting to see Ammachi, the hugging saint. One of the men in her retinue came out and began chanting OM and it sounded like it came from the very bowels of the earth. It reminded me of the sound that comes from the earth during an earthquake which is more frightening than the shaking of the earth itself. Everyone joined in, adding their individual voices to the chant - and the vibration in that room was very powerful - unlike anything I have ever experienced before or since.
A lot of research has been done on the power and ability of sound to heal. We know for a fact that music can be healing. We might disregard the powerful healing effects that chanting can have on those doing the chanting, or on those who simply listen and become one with the sacred sounds.
Devi asserts that OM is not only the sound of universal consciousness, but of Divinity itself.
OM, more appropriately approximates the following vowels and consonant - AUM - forming a trinity of letters - where each sound should be pronounced slowly and deliberately. Beyond the articulation of these three sounds, there is one more - "anahatha" - or the unstruck sound. This is the Unspoken Word. It is Silence. After chanting of this sacred syllable, a resonance remains, reverberating in the room and in our bodies and very cells. We become one with the Sacred Sound and with one another.
OM affirms the presence of the Divine, not unlike the Hebrew "Amen". When you chant this sacred sound - it initiates you as Shabda Yogi - a yogi of sacred sound - as one who pursues this path towards greater wholeness, balance, and higher states of consciousness. The yogis past and present have believed and known what the rest of us have not - that you can encounter and become one with the Divine through the chanting of this sacred syllable.
As someone who grew up listening to Gregorian Chants and who has chanted the psalms, hymns and antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours with some of my monastic friends throughout the years, I have always been at home with sacred sound - in any tradition. I find chanting to be very soothing. If sound is truly the manifesation of the Divine, then by chanting we become enveloped in the very breath of God. Hildegard of Bingen, the medieval Abbess who composed some of the most unique chants in Christianity, often referred to herself as "a feather on the breath of God".
May you all experience the delicious union with the Divine and one another that comes through that chanting of OM or any chant or mantra that touches your heart, especially during this Blessed Season.