Walking into a yoga class for the first time can be intimidating. People warming up in strange poses, loud breathing, strange smells…this can all seem overwhelming to someone unfamiliar with yoga.
As a new yoga student, I was really hesitant about a lot of things, like breathing loud enough for the person next to me to hear me, trying new and hard poses, and even speaking to anyone in the class. But the one thing I told myself I would never, ever do, was OM.
I thought that the chanting was so embarrassing, awkward, and just plain weird. The irony is that this part of class is now my absolute favorite. It took a long time to feel comfortable enough to join in, but once I did, I was hooked.
I get a lot of questions from new students about OM-ing, and I also know that a lot of new teachers find it difficult to incorporate this tradition into their teaching. So the question is, To OM or not to OM? I’ll share with you my thoughts on how students and teachers a like can make the call.
So what is this OM-ing all about?
The sound OM (pronounced with three syllables A-u-m) is said to encompass the vibrational energy of the entire universe. It is a sound that unites us with everything and everyone. It is a mantra used for chanting in meditation as one sits in the quest for enlightenment.
As I see it, chanting OM in yoga class, in a room full of people, takes you outside of your own body and space and makes you feel deeply connected to those around you.
The Case for OM-ing
While I did feel really, really awkward the first time I let out a meek “Om”, I started to find a lot of confidence in myself as I allowed my voice to strengthen. There is a breaking down of the ego that happens when you do something outside of your comfort zone. Making a strange sound in a room full of strangers is one of those things.
When I started to take my attention off of myself and try to match my voice with the people around me, I felt something big. I felt like I wasn't so different from everyone else there. I wasn’t comparing my yoga pants to theirs, or thinking about how they had more toned bellies. I felt totally equal, and downright powerful.
I’m someone who still has a really hard time feeling present for a whole yoga class. Sometimes, breathing alone is a challenge for me because my mind wanders on to a million other things.
However, I’ve noticed that chanting has this ability to get you completely rooted in your body and mind. It’s really hard to think of anything else when you’re concentrating on creating this deep, full sound. This is something that most people don't experience in their daily lives and it’s something really special to offer to yourself or your yoga students.
It sounds a little crazy to say that a sound creates energy, but when I’m OM-ing, I find it so powerful to feel the vibration coming from my belly, and the way it syncs with the people around me. There is always a palpable shift in the room that happens at the completion of the OM. I love to sit in the silence that follows the sound and feel this sense of oneness and contentment.
The Case for Silence
With anything in life, I don't think you can ever force people to try things or feel things that they’re not ready to. If you feel like this chanting is just not you, that’s fine! Until you feel ready, just sit and listen to the students and teacher in your class. Try to enjoy the sound they are making without the need to partake, or judge yourself or others.
For teachers, if you don't feel a sense of connection to the OM practice, it does not make sense to try and bring it to your students. Your fear, self-consciousness, or lack of authenticity will come through if you try to force it, which totally defeats the purpose. They key is to be true to yourself and do what you feel comfortable with.
Alternatives to OM
There are a lot of ways that you can create a sense of unity in your yoga classroom without chanting or making new students feel uncomfortable. My favorite way is to take three breaths together to end the practice.
I ask my students to find a comfortable seat after Savasana, and bring their hands to their heart. From there, we all take three deep inhales and audible exhales together. With that, you get a sense of connection with everyone in the room, a feeling of calm, as well as presence in the body and mind, but in a way that is more accessible to everyone.
I think that this is a really great place to start for both teachers and students who aren't ready to share their voice in OM.
As with any part of the physical yoga practice, the idea is really to connect with yourself. I always remind my students that they know their bodies better than I do and it is their job to honor and respect it. The same is true of each person’s comfort level with joining in the OM.
Just like my experience with poses that I was once too intimidated to try, it is usually our mind telling us we can’t do something—and that idea is not always true. When I got out of my own head and gave the OM a try, it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. In fact, it was downright awesome. When you’re ready, give it a try and until then, just do what feels right!
Credit Image: Aneta Gäb