If you have attended a yoga class, it is more than likely that the mantra OM was chanted at the beginning and/or the end of the yoga class. In the classes that I teach, we start the class by chanting OM three times. At the end of the class, we again chant OM once. In a previous blog post, I had written about the meaning and significance of OM.
Today I’ll be talking about another aspect of OM chanting – pranayama. When we chant OM, we take a deep breath in and while breathing out slowly, we chant the OM sound. In essence, then, OM chanting becomes a form of pranayama with a deep breathing pattern. We create the OM sound by constricting the passage of the outgoing breath. As a result of this constriction, we are able to prolong the duration of each exhalation. We can thus maintain the OM chant for a duration much longer than the natural breathing rhythm.
When OM is chanted as a pranayama, it is called the Udgitha Pranayama (उद्गीथ प्राणायाम). The word Udgitha is simply another name for OM. This word has been discussed in depth in the ancient scripture Chhandogya Upanishad (more about it a little bit later in this post).
When we chant OM at the beginning and end of the class, we usually start each OM chant together. For the most part, the students try to synchronize the chanting with the teacher. However, when we chant OM as Udgitha pranayama, we only pay attention to the sound vibration created by our own chanting. In this pranayama there is no attempt to synchronize the chanting with anyone else. In Udgitha pranayama, we get totally absorbed in our own chanting, the sound vibration of the chant, and the meaning and significance of Udgitha (OM). Because everyone has a different breathing capacity, everyone chants OM at their own pace making sure never to strain the breathing while doing the OM chant.
In my class, when we practice Udgitha pranayama, we normally chant OM for about 5-6 minutes. When we pause briefly between successive OM chants, we hear the most joyful sound that is coming from the other chanters, reverberating in the room and filling the surrounding atmosphere with the vibrational energy of the OM sound.
Padmasana (Lotus Pose)
- Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting posture. Sukhasana (the Easy Pose) is perhaps the most common sitting posture used. However, if comfortable, you may attempt the Siddhasana or the Lotus pose. Choose a pose wherein you can stay perfectly still for the duration of pranayama and meditation.
- Keep the spine upright and tall. Keep the arms and shoulders relaxed.
- Keep the eyes closed throughout the practice.
- Take a couple of deep breaths, just making a connection with the breathing pattern.
- Now take a nice, deep inhalation. While exhaling, begin the OM chant, feeling the stomach being pulled in at the end of exhalation and the chant.
- Continue the practice for about 10-12 chants. As mentioned earlier, stay totally focused and tuned in to the sound vibration of the OM sound throughout the practice.
- When you finish the Udgitha pranayama, keep the eyes closed and continue to listen to the vibration of the OM sound filling your entire being with this pulsating energy.
How to chant OM
Here is the recommended approach to the chanting of the OM sound:
- Bring your awareness to the navel center (Manipura Chakra) in the region of the navel and feel as if the vibration of the initial "O" sound starts at the point in the spine which is in line with the navel center.
- Continue the "O" sound while slowly moving the awareness up the spine.
- When the awareness reaches the throat center, at the top of the spine, convert the chant to the humming "mmm…" sound of the OM chant.
- When you finish the OM sound, feel as if the vibration of the OM sound is filling the entire area of the crown center (Sahasrara Chakra).
- After each OM, pause for a brief moment, feeling the vibration of OM as if filling the whole body.
- Take the next inhalation and continue with the OM chanting.
Udgitha pranayama fills your mind with intense peace and tranquility and can be used as an effective means of getting into deeper states of meditation.
Significance of Udgitha
Now let’s get back to the significance of Udgitha as described in the Chhandogya Upanishad (CU). In my earlier post, I talked about the significance of OM as given in the Mandukya Upanishad (MU). As you may recall, in the MU it was mentioned that OM is in fact a composite of three letters A, U and M. A represents our experiences in the waking state, U represents our experiences in the dream state and M those in the deep sleep state.
Here is a very brief gist of the statements from CU which talk about the beauty and importance of Udgitha (extracted from an article on Wikepedia):
- The syllable OM is called by the term udgitha since a priest designated as Udgātṛ starts his singing of Sama Veda with OM in Vedic yajnas.
- Udgitha should be meditated as Vital Life Force or Prana.
- Udgitha should be meditated as Sun god.
- OM is the Eternal and Ultimate Refuge (Amritam, Abhayam) and that one who meditates this way becomes himself an Eternal and Ultimate Refuge.
- One who meditates on the Sun and its rays as separate from each other or Prana and its functions such as speech etc. as separate from each other would beget many children.
- Upasana (prayer) of udgitha brings wealth.
- OM (or udgitha) should be meditated as Purusha (Divine Person) present in the right eye who is nothing but another manifestation of Sun (Aditya) who in turn is another manifestation of OM.
- Udgitha result in a Superior Divine Essence in the practitioner.
- The three parts of Sama Veda – Prastava, Udgitha and Pratihaara are sung by priests in vedic rituals.