What does ‘Om’ mean and why is it used during yoga class?

Gabrielle Koster

The Om (or Aum, not Ohm) is used as mantra during yoga. Perhaps you’ve used it or heard other pronounce it. Or you’ve seen the symbol: ॐ,. So when I first heard about ‘Om’ in yoga, I thought it stood for Omega, like in from Alpha to Omega which I had learned in Latin classes in high school. I thought it meant ’the end’, the last letter of the alphabet. I was wrong. So what does it mean? Well, Om isn’t easily defined.

Born in Hinduism

Om is used in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. It was born in Hinduism, where it refers to your Self, your Soul and to Entirety and Truth of the Universe. But in other movements, it can mean something else. The sound of the universe or the past, the present, and the future, for example.

The Hindu sripture Mandukya Upanishad is entirely devoted to om and begins like this: “Om is the imperishable word. Om is the universe, and this is the exposition of om. The past, the present, and the future, all that was, all that is, all that will be is om. Likewise, all else that may exist beyond the bounds of time, that too is om.”

So why do people use it in yoga?

Officially, it’s pronounced as aaaaaaa-uuuuuu-mmmmm-*fading sound*. So four syllables, that supposedly correlate to each Chakra (energy centre in your body). Funny fact: some say even Earth makes an Aum-noise (electromagnetic waves translated into sound), which can be heard in a lot of YouTube video’s – of which I’m not certain if they’re real or not.

It’s also used in yoga or meditation because of the vibration and the relaxing feeling it can give people.

Another interesting fact: some people that don’t have a direct feeling with the word Om use the word ‘Shalom’ during their yoga practice which means peace in Hebrew and ends with the same type of sound.