By Sherry Roberts
The crowds at Woodstock chanted it in hopes the world would give peace a chance. Paramahansa Yogananda called it “the vibration of the Cosmic Motor.” The great father of yoga, Patanjali, advised using it to overcome the obstacles and distractions in life—all those stones in the path of enlightenment.
Aum (or as Westerners like to spell it: om) is a vital part of the science of yoga. It’s a tool, a phenomenon, a mystery. To many people, aum is just a word chanted in meditation or as a closing prayer in yoga practice. However, translator and Bhagavad Gita scholar Barbara Stoler Miller notes that “according to the ancient Indian traditions preserved in the Upanishads, all speech and thought are derived from one sound aum. It expresses the ultimate reality.”
Aum is considered the all-connecting sound of the universe—one word interpreted as having three sounds representing creation, preservation, and destruction. Yoga teacher B.K.S. Iyengar devotes nearly two pages in his book, Light on Yoga, to the various meanings of aum. “The letter A symbolizes the conscious or waking state,” Iyengar says, “the letter U the dream state, and the letter M the dreamless sleep state of the mind and spirit.” The entire symbol, Iyengar says, stands for the”realization of man’s divinity within himself.”
Aum became the sacred word hum of the Tibetans, amin of the Moslems, and amen of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Christians. Amen in Hebrew means “sure, faithful.”
Paramahansa Yogananda writes of the aum as the “Word” of the Bible, as the Holy Spirit. In the Christian Bible, Sat-Tat-Aum is spoken of as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. According to Yogananda, all aspiring yogis seek to commune with aum and understand it. “Audible utterance of aum produces a sense of sacredness . . . however, real understanding of aum is obtained only by hearing it internally and then becoming one with it in all creation.”
Aum is a way of deepening the concentration of the mind, which leads to realization of the divine. The mantra aum may be sounded aloud, whispered, or repeated mentally. The correct pronunciation of aum is to pronounce it om so it rhymes with home. In The Yoga Book, author Steven Sturgess offers a technique for chanting aum. He suggests beginning meditation by chanting aum aloud for ten minutes, then chant aum in a whisper for the next ten minutes, and then mentally chant aum for ten minutes. Finally, be still and meditate on the spiritual eye (the point between your eyebrows). Surrender into the vibrations of aum. “Feel your awareness expanding still further into the field of pure consciousness, become one with om,” Sturgess says.
Healing with Aum
The Self-Realization Fellowship, founded by Paramahansa Yogananda in 1920, offers instructions on its Web site for using the Yogananda’s aum healing technique. Yogananda noted that everything in the universe is composed of energy and that the apparent differentiation between solids, liquids, gases, sound, and light is merely a difference in their vibratory rates. He maintained that by chanting the aum, the divine vibration, we can increase the body’s supply of cosmic energy and even direct it as a healing force to any part of the body, mind, and soul.
It is said that 12,000 recitations of aum remove all sins, while 12,000 recitations daily for a period of one year bring realization of the Absolute (brahman). If that seems a little overwhelming, simple try chanting aum in your daily meditation and let the incredible power of sound and vibration work for you. Aum will bring your mind to a singular (yet universal) focus. Or use it during your yoga class. My yoga teacher always closes the class by leading us in three long aum’s. I have come to look forward to those concluding meditative moments of harmonizing voices — not just because it signals an end to the torture (as practice seems on some days) but because it leaves us with a feeling of oneness.
I write Minnesota mysteries with a yoga spirit. When yoga teacher Maya Skye isn’t fighting crime, she is practicing yoga in her studio, Breathe. Read about her adventures, which are sprinkled with yoga stories and ideas: Down Dog Diary and Warrior’s Revenge.