October 14, 2017

Searching for the Meaning of “Om.”

“There’s a full moon rising tonight… 

Warm and soft air. A June clear blue sky. Contemplating ‘om’ as I mow the lawn. Man, the fresh cut rows of grass are satisfying. Back to pondering the meaning of om. For so long now, fear has kept om in a locked box, at a distance from me. I’m tired of living in fear of a student asking, ‘What is om?’

Each time I freeze, thinking, ‘I should know what om means. It’s on my yoga school sign and I don’t know what it means. Oh no! I’m a hypocrite.’ Such paranoia I have to sit with. But now it will become a koan for me, a puzzle, a mystery, something to play with, to explore, to chew. The meaning of om needs to be discovered individually, little by little. Go ahead and wrestle with it, David. Be ignorant. Don’t ‘know.’

So what is om?

Om helps align us with our endeavor to become more loving and more peaceful toward ourselves and others. The vibration of the sound inside our bodies has healing properties. Om quietly celebrates the basic goodness of humanity and reminds us that our unique offering to the animal kingdom is conscious awareness. This gives us the obligation to work for inner and outer peace. This uniquely human attribute…awareness…consciousness…requires us to work for inner and outer peace. This cosmic vibration, represented by om, moves from within our chest, through our vocal chords, and finds expression through our dharmic deeds.”

I wrote this down in my journal almost 20 years ago. When I read it, I went through several stages of thought that I’d like to share with you:

First, I went right back to that place of embarrassment, although now—20 years later—I do have more compassion for myself.

Second, I thought it was kind of adorable that I took myself so seriously and demanded of myself that I come up with my own definition in order to teach yoga and be a proper teacher.

Third, I thought, “I bet there are a lot of young teachers today who can relate to this writing.”

Fourth, I marveled at how time and experience really does make some boogey monsters so obsolete that they vanish. Sometimes, they are replaced by new boogey monsters but, sometimes, they aren’t—and that’s a relief.

Lastly, I couldn’t believe how terrified I used to be, and I am so grateful that yoga has made me more comfortable in my own skin.

I want to leave you with one last note that can help inspire you in your practice.

Ujjayi breathing is called “sound breathing” and the seed of that sound is om.

Yoga Sutra 1:28 says that by performing japa (repetition) on om, we come to know its meaning. This means that when we do ujjayi breathing in practice we are repeating om.

In the course of one practice this represents a lot of japa—which means, eventually, we will come to realize our own personal meaning of om and all of its profound implications by simply practicing and breathing.


Author: David Garrigues
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Leah Sugerman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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