If you’re a die-hard yoga practitioner or particularly fond of meditating, you’ve likely come across the word “om” before — but what exactly does it mean, and where did it come from?
In this article, we’re exploring the word “om” to uncover its definition, origin, usage, and more. So if you’ve ever wondered about the meaning behind this sacred sound — keep reading. Here’s our complete guide on “om.”
What Is the Definition of Om?
According to the Britannica Dictionary, “om” (also spelled “aum”) is the sound of a sacred spiritual symbol that’s considered to be the greatest of all the mantras.
A Sanskrit word often used in the practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, om is is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels “a” and “u” coalesce to become “o”), which represent a number of important trinities, such as:
- The three worlds (earth, atmosphere, and heaven)
- The three characteristics of time (past, present, and future)
- The three qualities (aka gunas) of matter (goodness, passion, and darkness)
- The three sacred Vedic scriptures (Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda)
- The three deities in charge of the creation, preservation, and destruction of the universe (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva)
- The three states of consciousness (the waking state, the dream state, and the deep sleep state)
Simply put, om mystically embodies the essence of the whole universe or Ultimate Reality (Para-Brahman), which is consciousness (Paramatma). It’s the first sound from the beginning of time and encompasses both the present and the future.
Needless to say, om is one of the most important spiritual symbols known to man.
What Is the Origin of Om?
Many people are under the impression that the syllable om comes from the Buddhist faith, but it actually originated in the Hindu faith. As mentioned previously, the coveted syllable consists of the three letters “A,” “U,” and “M,” which are three characteristics of the three Vedas.
The Vedas (aka “knowledge”) are religious texts of Hinduism that were first mentioned in very ancient Indian scriptures called the “Mandukya Upanishads.” By the 6th century BCE, the symbol became highly revered by Hindu devotees.
In Hindu tradition, the aum meaning is the vibrational sound of the force behind all creation and manifests from Brahman — aka the absolute and ultimate reality (aka God).
With this in mind, om stands for the state of the highest reality where we exist only as awareness, at complete peace with not only ourselves but everything in the universe.
What Do the Parts of the Om Symbol Represent?
The sacred Sanskrit syllable of om (ॐ ) is said to hold the knowledge of the universe in its structure. When analyzed structurally, om has five parts:
- The lower left curve represents the waking state of being — the conscious
- The top left curve denotes the unconscious state
- The lower right curve is the dreaming state
- The semicircle (or crescent) at the top represents Maya or “illusion”— the biggest obstacle to spiritual development
- The top dot represents the absolute state and is the highest realm of consciousness.
The small yet important sacred symbol in its Indian, Balinese, and Tibetan forms vary slightly in appearance, but at the end of the day, they all convey deep spiritual meaning and wisdom.
Why Is Om Chanted in Yoga?
The sacred syllable symbolically embodies the divine energy — or Shakti — as well as its three main characteristics: creation, preservation, and liberation. The mantra (aka vibration) is considered to have high spiritual and creative power.
When chanted, the sound om vibrates at the frequency of 432 Hz, which happens to be the same vibrational frequency found throughout everything in nature. In other words, it’s the basic sound of the universe and can relax the body, slow the nervous system, and calm the mind.
Simply put, chanting om helps yogis to practice in a deeper way, creating a spiritual bond that is much more than just physical asanas.
How Is Om Used in a Yoga Setting?
The sacred sound “om” can be incorporated into yoga culture (such as pranava yoga) and meditation practices (as well as personal spiritual practice) in a number of ways, such as:
- To boost the quality of meditation
- To harmonize systems of the body
- To open and strengthen the third eye chakra
- To create deeper relaxation and healing for the body
- To quiet the mind and reduce stress
- To build positive energies
- To bring peace to the mind and wellness to your whole being
Additionally, when om is chanted in yoga class among friends, the sense of togetherness and community created through that shared sacred sound can be incredibly powerful.
When all the yogi’s “oms” come together to form one cohesive “om,” you find your place in the universe and become present with the now.
A Final Word
So, what’s the meaning behind our word of the day, you ask?
Simply put, om is eternal bliss. The sacred symbol represents Brahman (Ultimate Reality, truth, divine, cosmic principles, supreme soul, knowledge) and refers to the soul (soul, within itself).
Believed to be the sound that echoes throughout the universe, the syllable is chanted in yoga and meditation practices to clear the mind, reduce stress, enhance relaxation, boost focus and promote healing.
Not sure if you’re chanting “om” correctly to reach the right vibrational frequency? Consider taking a yoga class with an experienced yoga instructor who can teach you how to properly chant “om” for the best benefits.
In addition to learning how to chant, a good yoga instructor can show you how to breathe properly when meditating and getting into difficult yoga poses, which is very important to steer clear of injury!