The mantra om is the most common mantra in yoga. It is often heard at the beginning and end of yoga classes. For those new to the practice of yoga, it may seem strange to chant this sound. Why is it part of class? What does the mantra om mean?
The mantra om is actually three different syllables and sounds. "A", "U", and "M" are the syllables of the mantra om and have the corresponding sounds, "ahhh", "oooh", and "mmmmm". These three sounds represent three different levels of consciousness: the awake/conscious state known as jagrat, the sleep/unsconscious state, swapna, and the deep sleep/subconscious state called sushupti. The continuous vibration of the sound om is called turiya. Turiya represents absolute consciousness.
The awake state or jagrat is the "ahhh" in the chant of om and vibrates in the lower abdomen. For the "oooh" syllable of the sleep/swapna state, the vibration in the body from this part of the mantra occurs in the solar plexus and heart. Sushupti, the deep sleep, brings the vibration of the "mmm" to our head. Turiya is the continuing vibration of the sound om or the silence after om...the unstruck sound.
Chanting the mantra om is considered to unite body, mind and soul. It can also bring focus to those who chant. When chanting this mantra at the beginning of a yoga class, it can help bring the group of students and teacher into a focused group mindset. It is also a way to dedicate ones practice to God.
A description from one of the sacred yoga texts, The Upanishads, says, "Prajapti, the Creator of all, rested in life-giving meditation over the worlds of his creation; and from them came the three Vedas. He rested in meditation and from those came the three sounds: Bhur, Bhuvas, Svar, earth, air and sky. He rested in meditation and from the three sounds came the sound om. Even as all leaves come from a stem, all words come from the sound om. Om is the whole universe. Om is in truth the whole universe." This translation from the Chandogya Upanishad 2.23.2 comes from the Juan Mascaro translation.