The ancient syllable Om is the shortest mantra (phrase) commonly used in meditation.
Repeating the sound Om in a quiet environment can help us to feel calm and relaxed, enabling us to de-stress and find deep inner resources with which to to ease life’s problems.
Legend tells us that Om is the planets primordial vibration from which the entire universe has arisen. All other sounds are contained within it.
Om is sometimes referred to as ‘the mother of all languages and in fact is contained in every phrase that we speak: try opening your mouth and see what sound comes out – now close it gently and continue making a sound. You’ve just said ‘om’, or more correctly ‘aum’! The speech between opening and closing your mouth is the ‘life’* of the sound. Read on to see what I mean.
Om in Sanskrit (an ancient Indian literary language not spoken much today) shows that it is made up of 3 sounds A, U, M and a symbol representing resonance. So “OM” has four aspects.
Th first is A, a sound that comes from the belly, is formed in the open throat, as we open our mouths. I think of this as the ‘birth’ of the sound. As with many alphabets, the sound A is the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet.
The second aspect is the U (‘oo’ as in ‘look’), a sound that is formed in the middle of the mouth. The mouth is not as wide as it is for sounding the A. I think of this as the life* of the sound.
With the third sound, M, the mouth closes and I see this as the ‘death’ of the sound. However, the sound continues even after the mouth is closed and rises to the nasal passages, from where the resonance, the fourth aspect of “OM” happens. I see this as that time when the soul drifts away from the body. So in one simple sound, I see the whole of our lives represented, from birth to death.
Another interpretation, not mine this time, says that A represents the waking state. U the dream state and M the state of deep dreamless sleep. The fourth state sounds in the resonance following M.
We hear the sound Om in many languages: ‘amen’ (so be it); ‘amin’ (believable – Hebrew); ‘amon’ (Amon Ra – Egyptian sun god); ‘eema’ (mother – Hebrew); ‘amah’ (mother – Arabic); ‘ma-ma’. I find it interesting and perhaps obvious, that we associate Om with ideas of motherhood, god and belief.
(Acknowledgement T.K.V Desikachar – The Heart of Yoga)