The 4 Parts of Om [Infographic]
In preparation for this blog post, I chanted Oṁ 2,000 times with my breath on a recent hike. I wanted to connect to the essence that is always there even more deeply. Today let’s look at the four parts of Om and how they relate to our lives and our spiritual practices.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while and you “OṀ” in classes then you have probably heard that “Oṁ is the essence of all creation” ~ or something along those lines. That sounds cool. But what does it really mean? While one indivisible mantra, we will observe the individual letters to understand its wholeness.
Yogis (both ancient and modern) believe that the world begins, is sustained and destroyed with the three syllables that make up the one sound of Oṁ — A, U, and M. The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad begins with “AUM” stands for the supreme Reality. It is a symbol for what was, what is, and what shall be. AUM represents also what lies beyond past, present, and future.” (1) As a bija mantra or seed sound, it contains the potential energy of everything in this universe.
The Beginning of Oṁ
The beginning of Oṁ starts with an “aaaaah” sound. The letter “A” is the first letter in almost every alphabet and it represents the beginning. As such, it is related to the creation energy of the Hindu trinity, Brahmā. The “A” sound resonates in the lower belly, the area responsible for creation of another life in the womb, as well as digestion that nourishes the body. It represents our doing nature. When we are in a waking state (Vaiśvānara) — i.e. most of our daily life — the energy of “A” is present. Fascinating enough, it also relates to the type of brain waves related to the waking state and heightened mental activity, beta. This phase of our lives keeps us connected to worldly objects and pursuits. It is the habitat of the ego and living in the future, always planning, doing, seeking, stressing.
In the Middle of Oṁ
In the middle of Oṁ we find the “uuuuuh” sound. The “U” sound resonates in the chest cavity where life is maintained through respiration and circulation. Maintenance of all creation is performed by Viṣṇu. It corresponds to the dreaming mental state (Taijasa) and to alpha brain waves. Our past builds our present through habits and subtle sense impressions called saṁskaras. The vowel “U” keeps us connected to our own personal stories which can keep us living small or set us free to our greatness. The key is knowing all of ourselves fully through self study — svādhyāya. In this dream state we tend to be more relaxed, focused and creative. We are not so bogged down by our lives.
Third Part of Oṁ
To complete this mantra we come to the “mmmmmm” sound. When we finish something wonderful we often let out the pleasurable sound “mmmm” — at the end of a great meal or feeling satisfied with a job well done. We feel this sound up in our heads and it can be related to the completion energy of Śiva. In deep dreamless sleep (Prājna) we rest down into the theta brain waves which tap us into flashes of insight, reduced outer consciousness, deep meditation and intuition. Imagine a time when you were so deep into something — a meditation, a project, a great book — and all that was left was you and the thing. You were fully immersed in the present moment and perhaps there was a glimpse of oneness of all (depending on the circumstances, of course). When you are fully in the present with “M” you can easily let go of what isn’t You and just be.
The Fourth Part of Oṁ
The fourth part of Oṁ is not actually a sound. It is the silence after the mantra has been completed. Have you ever noticed it? The vibrations continue without the physical vibrations of sound. You can still feel it. This is the anāhata nāda, or pure silence. After repeating A-U-M several times you may notice that at the end of the sound vibrations there is more than just outer silence. There is also an inner silence, the mind is more quiet. “This sound of silence is said to be the source of creation, the fourth state of consciousness, turīya (peace).” (2) In this state of consciousness, the delta brain waves are functioning and our ordinary sense of self is absent. The body and the mind are less important and the true self, ātman, is present. We feel the reality of sat chit ananda — that you are absolute Truth, unclouded consciousness, and pure bliss.
Experience It for Yourself
The purifying effects of Oṁ are better experienced than described. Take a deep breath, open your mouth wide, slowly exhale, and release the sound “aaaaah”. Feel it deep in the belly.
Now breathe in fully and exhale the sound “uuuuuh” with your lips round, an open chamber within the mouth. Feel these vibrations in the chest.
Again, breathe in fully. With lips closed create the sound “mmmmmm” and feel it move upward towards the sinuses and top of the head — not just at the lips. Feel the energy all the way through the head cavity.
Let’s put them all together, with equal emphasis on each part. Let the sounds morph one into the other. They are no longer three distinct letters, but one resounding sound moving from the back of the mouth to the front and vertically through the body from the pelvis to the chest and head. Chant A-U-M in this way several times. Let your voice be heard. Feel the experience of all of creation moving through you through this mystical sound. Then, rest in the pure silence at the end. Relish in clear consciousness and gently experience all that is.
Oṁ is such a powerful mantra that it is said to have the ability to destroy all your sins. To do this you are to chant Oṁ 12,000 times in a single day. (3) While I didn’t quite make it to 12,000 on my hike, I felt pretty darn good with 2,000 repetitions. Even with three at the beginning and end of a class you can feel the unifying effects of Oṁ. Practice what you can, and let the essence of your spirit guide your practice.
I could talk about Oṁ for a really long time. In the effort of keeping you interested, I’ll pause here today. I love how sometimes it is the most simple practices that can be the most profound. Truly, you don’t need anything more than Oṁ — everything is contained within it.
- The Upanishads, Translated by Eknath Easwaran, Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad verse 1, The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, 2008, page 203.
- Sanskrit for Yogis: Introduction to Nāda Yoga of Sacred Sound – Guidebook, Katyayani Poole, Ph.D., Trafford Publishing, Victoria, British Columbia, 2006, page 13.