What's in an AUM? (Part 1.)

What does it mean and why do we chant it?

You walk uneasily into a room full of people, they may be sat chatting, they may be rolling about flexing and stretching, hey they may even be in some sort of acrobatic posture. You’re thinking why the hell have I come to this.
Suddenly a spritely form clad in multicoloured leggings approaches the front of the room and everyone shuffles to take their place on mat. You copy as best you can, consciously aware of being an “imposter”. The teacher smiles, everyone sits and closes their eyes. Do you close your eyes? What comes next? You don’t want to be sat here with your eyes closed while everyone does the next thing. You settle for squinting and peeking occasionally whilst the smiling teacher leads you through the basics of how to breathe.
You begin to settle.
Then the teacher invites you to “begin by chanting om”.
You’re like ‘on? On what? On 3? What we are chanting?’
Suddenly the room swells in a cow like ululation, all voices joining together. You look around frantically, how do they know what to do? Is this a cult? What sound are they making?
Every week this happens till one day you recognise you are now part of the herd adding your own unique bray to the situation.
So, this may be a bit of an exaggerated fiction, but it might not be far off your first experience of AUM (or OM as you may have seen it written). We as teachers don’t always explain the significance in a way that you, a newbie to yoga, might understand. Once in awhile a curious soul will ask about why we chant, which is a brilliant little opener for me to wax philosophical!
So, what is this mysterious, crooning sound AUM?
My favourite explanation is actually one cited in a number of texts, I first came across it however in “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” where Swami Satyananda Saraswati refers to AUM as “the unstruck sound”. Usually a sound happens in reaction to something creating the vibration so an unstruck sound suggests to me a vibration that needs no beginning. A comforting hum that is always there. Often, I have heard AUM equated to the vibrational hum of the universe, or the unheard humming of atoms and molecules.
“Om represents everything - the beginning, the middle and the end, the past, the present and the future. It encompasses all sounds - mankind, nature, machinery ... it is the hum of the earth.”
- Mandukaya Upanishad
Chanting this in class is an acknowledgement of the unification of all energy, all matter and the peacefulness that can be discovered through mind body awareness. Pretty awesome thought, right?
Join me next time for part 2 in which I delve a little deeper into the meaning of AUM. Coming soon!

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