The Meaning of ‘Om’

Originally posted here for Zuna Yoga

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“For it to have its effect, the sound of AUM is remembered with deep feeling for the meaning of what it represents.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.28).

“Om,” in the yogic tradition, is chanted at the beginning and end of class or practice. It’s one of those things that’s often assumed as universally understood yet it’s rarely explained properly, if at all, by yoga instructors.

Om is an ancient sound used by various Eastern religions, including Buddhism, Hinduisim, Sikhism, Jainism, to denote the beginning and end of sacred scriptures, texts, and prayers. Many of the world’s religions indicate that creation began with sound, the vibrations of which are said to be contained within om. Each time we chant om, we connect with the eternal vibration of being that has been in existence since the beginning of all things and is the creative source of energy behind all existence.
The Om symbol consists of 3 curves, a semicircle, and a dot. The curves represent mind, body, and soul, and the semicircle at the top is maya, understood as an obstacle to achieving the highest form of enlightenment. Om is sometimes spelled “aum,” a more accurate phonetic spelling which divides the chant into its three individual sounds of a-u-m. “Aum” encompasses all possible combinations of sounds and lies at the root of all potential or pre-existing sounds. In linguistics, all sound is said to be produced between the root of the tongue and the entrance of the lips, the throat sound being “a,” the lip sound being “m,” and “u” representing the rolling forwards of all sounds until they stop at the lips. Like the letters of the alphabet, which in all possible combinations give rise to every word ever spoken, the sounds of a-u-m pass through every formation in the mouth necessary for vocalising language, making it a magnificently meaningful sound.

Om allows us to tap into the existing energy which always surrounds us but which modern distractions and lifestyles have shifted from our immediate awareness. For millennia, various names and personifications have been used by religions to represent a single all-powerful being. This placement of belief in a deity instead of in our immediate environment ignores the connection between the individual and that which surrounds us. We chant om to not only honor the beginning of all things but to appreciate all of creation that still surrounds us. The Upanishads refer to this state of collective consciousness and universal awareness as ishvara. Om is our key to accessing it.


We do not create om simply by chanting it. Instead, om serves as a medium through which we connect to these vibrations. Physically, chanting om creates a pranava or humming sound, as Patanjali describes, which stimulates the body into a meditational state, increases relaxation, and is said to stimulate the body to remove toxins and increase our capacity for self healing. Mentally, speaking om allows us to focus, shifting our attention outwards, away from internal struggles and helping us tune in to that which can provide us harmony in mind, body, and soul.
It’s common to hear the word “shanti” included after a final expression of om. Shanti means “peace” in Sanskrit and is intended as a parting wish for peace and happiness within the universe at large and within everything around us. Shanti is commonly used throughout India to express a light-hearted and peaceful state of being in casual conversation and descriptions of everyday occurrences, while om is reserved for more spiritual practices such as yoga practice or religious ceremony.
Om shanti.

“You are Beautiful. Stop looking at your phone.”

‘You are beautiful. Stop looking at your phone.’

I found a note on my phone the other morning with those words saved to it. I don’t remember saving it there, when or what even prompted me to write it, but I’m so glad I did.

When I looked up I realised that sure, all I was doing was sitting on the bus searching through my phone for some entertainment. But then I really thought, and I saw that I was sitting on the bus.
I looked around, and instead of shifting my gaze awkwardly from the searching eyes of the technologically-challenged elderly woman opposite me who had nothing but the world outside the window to pass the journey with, I looked at her full on and gave a simple smile.

Because at that moment, that was all I could do.
There was no point staring at the screen of my device and wishing I was elsewhere, or talking with someone online and losing myself in a life that’s not my own while my body was physically transported across the earth. From the past, I had inadvertently chosen to divert my attention into this present moment, and to interact with my surroundings.

And guess what the woman did?
She smiled back.
She didn’t have to, and I didn’t make her – but she smiled back.

 A short message, most likely written as a result of an inverted and paralysed moment of anxiety at some point in a public situation, had opened my mind and spurred me on to smile at this stranger. Purely because I had reminded myself of my own worth, she had then smiled and prompted a chain-reaction of positivity that would not have been possible otherwise.

Distraction

It’s so easy to look away when we feel we’re not worth looking at.
So easy to distract ourselves from our busy thoughts with other unimportant aspects of our lives, and get worked up about things that aren’t true, and most certainly aren’t worth it. We do it all the time with factors that are completely out of our control – we look away and ignore the world outside unless the sun is shining when we get up in the morning. But the world is still there, even during a storm. Even on a bad hair day, it doesn’t change the fact that I still have hair, no matter how many hairbands or hats I try to hide it with.

Power to Change

How often have you found yourself avoiding the mirror and leaving the house with a frown because of something you can not change at that present moment– be it your hair colour, height, weight, outside influences or thoughts about tasks you must complete within a given day?
By establishing mental boundaries and accepting the environmental factors that are both within and outside of our control, I find that my mind calms somewhat, with the knowledge and reaffirmation that although I am strong in myself, that there will always be things outside of my control. It’s a grounding and empowering realisation all at once, which places me firmly within my own body, and aware of both the potential and the limitations of it.

Everybody Gets It

We’ve all been in positions where we wish we could disappear or change certain aspects of our appearance. In grounding yourself in the moment, letting go of ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’, and coming to terms with the you that is in the minute right now, reading these words, it allows a lot of these preoccupations with beauty, perceptions and opinions to become irrelevant. We can begin to finally accept ourselves for what we really are.

So look away from that phone screen, close the laptop, and turn off the television for a mere few minutes – a fleeting moment in which you can think about where and what you are, and meet yourself there.

Just look up.

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31 Obvious Things We All Know Are Important To Remain Balanced But Generally Tend To Ignore

Let’s face it: we all know the things that are good for us.

In some deep-rooted corner of our stomach or diaphragm, or wherever you feel your instinctive urges, we know that staying up that extra hour binge-watching Netflix is going to result in googly eyes until lunchtime tomorrow.
But still we do it, because it’s easy to give in to the urges and not think about the future in those terms—wanting to prolong the feeling of contentment as long as possible, and at whatever cost.
But balance is something that only you can find for yourself. Health service and medical advice aside, you are ultimately the only one who can know your own body and mind, feel your own emotions, hear your own thoughts, and heed what works and doesn’t for yourself.
Listening to your body’s needs and being able to heed them accordingly are two very separate things, however, and too often we let things slip purely out of laziness or for simplicity’s sake.

Sometimes it takes a subhuman strength of will to haul my mind out of the gutter of magical, idealistic thinking, and into the simple reality of what is. Because reality is simple. Here and now, right here, right now, with no thoughts preoccupied with the future or with the past, I have a sense of peace and serenity that stems only from my situation in this present moment, and only this present moment.
There are certain things and environmental factors which I’ve noticed help me to achieve this sense of self and make it more accessible in times of distress.

So, in order to further promote this balance and help myself return here when it becomes necessary again (because even the most balanced person stumbles every now and then), I’ve compiled a list of things that help me personally to maintain balance in the midst of mental, emotional, or environmental chaos.

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1. Rise early. You may not catch any worms, but you’ll certainly get a headstart to the day and a chance to spend some time with yourself and thoughts in order to properly be able to figure them out before the day begins.

2. Eat well. (An oldie, but a goodie.)

3. Drink water—this speaks for itself.

4. Get enough sleep.

5. Listen to your body.

6. Wear sunscreen.

7. Spend time with yourself.

8. Spend time in nature.

9. Breathe.

10. Read books while travelling.

11. Read books in bed.

12. Just read books.

13. Travel often. Movement is key to living—“If we were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet.”

14. Lock your door and dance around (bonus points if it’s in the dark).

15. Sit in a bar or restaurant alone, and enjoy your own company.

16. Drink coffee.

17. Write things down.

18. Write yourself well.

19. Stretch daily.

20. Yoga poses soothe. You know this.

21. Exercise to feel your heart beat in your chest—to feel and stay alive.

22. Indulge in chocolate.

23. Make playlists of songs that make you feel.

24. Do things that make your eyes light up when you talk about them.

25. Spend time with people with whom you can laugh and feel alive, yet who will also remain steadfast and supportive in times of need.

26. Feel your emotions. They’re there for a reason.

27. Take care of your body. You are the only one with the power to do so.

28. Wear what you’re comfortable in. Nobody (yourself included) needs or wants to see you pull up your tights again.

29. Cleanse and moisturize daily—physical freshness can help to have & fall back on in the case of an unexpected mental shift during the day.

30. Give your full attention to someone if they’re taking the time to speak to you—even if you’ve no idea or opinion on what they’re saying.

31. Wherever you are, be all there. Mindfulness and being present in the moment is one of the most straightforward ways to be at ease with yourself and situation, yet ironically is generally the last thought to occur to us in times of stress.