It’s totally normal to feel a little confused and even slightly uncomfortable the first time you’re asked to participate in Om chanting at the beginning or at the end of a yoga class. Understanding why yogis do it and its benefits, however, will probably help you feel a little more eager to chant away with everyone else next time you’re asked to do it in a class.

Why ‘Om’?

Om (or “Aum”) is a sacred mantra and sound. Despite its Hindu roots, it’s a mantra that anyone of any religious or spiritual path can chant to align their mind, body, and spirit. Om is said to represent the sound of the universe, and for the individual who chants it, it can mean almost anything to them.

Om chanting has more benefits than you might expect. In fact, scientific studies have been conducted to observe the physical effects of the sound’s vibration and meditative effects on the body. Here are just a few on their inspiring findings.

The Benefits of Om Chanting

Improved pulmonary function. In a study that looked at the effects of Bhramari pranayama and Om chanting on pulmonary function, 82 healthy subjects practiced both pranayama and chanting for five minutes each, six days a week for a total of two weeks. Significant improvements in various pulmonary functions were observed in this group when compared to a control group.

Increased mental alertness. Older research has shown that Om chanting can enhance alertness even when you’re already relaxed, noted by a reduction in heart rate. A a group of meditators who chanted Om showed a statistically significant reduction in their heart rate compared to a control group that engaged in non-targeted thinking.

Increased environmental awareness. Studies that have shown a combination of mental alertness with physiological rest during Om chanting have also revealed increased sensitivity to sensory transmission. In other words, Om chanting and meditating helps you become more present by putting you deeply in touch with your body and your environment via sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

Potential relief from stress and depression. The vibration that occurs while chanting Om stimulates nerves throughout the body and affect the brain. Researchers observed significant limbic deactivation during Om chanting when compared to observing parts of the brain in a resting state. Similar observations have been seen in treatments used for depression and epilepsy, suggesting that Om chanting could be used in clinical treatments for certain conditions.

Tips on How to Chant

As mentioned earlier, Om is often used/written interchangeably as Aum. Aum represents the three different sounds that are part of the chant.

A (“ahhh” or “awe”) begins at the back of the throat as it starts vibrating in the chest and lower abdomen the longer you draw out the sound. It is meant to make us aware of our sense of separateness as a self.

U (“oooh”) brings the lips together and moves the sound from the lower abdomen to the heart as the throat vibrates. This sound takes us beyond our sense of self to something greater than what our human senses can tell us.

M (“mmm”) involves pressing the lips and front teeth gently together, bringing the vibration to your head, as if it’s buzzing. This sound is meant to connect us to oneness.

Silence is the fourth and last “sound” made in an Om chant, even though it’s not really a sound at all. This ends the chant and allows us to become aware of our level of consciousness and to deeply feel what we’re feeling.

Now you know why Om chanting is so important and beneficial when your teacher does it with you in class. Consider practicing on your own, using the three different sounds (plus silence) to observe how it makes you feel and reap the benefits of it whenever you want.

Image (edited) via Spirit-Fire