The holidays can be a very challenging time for many of us, with feelings of loss or loneliness that are amplified by the seasonal imagery of full, happy families and holiday cheer. As a yoga teacher I know there is a wonderful way to manage these feelings during this season and beyond….practicing the ancient art of chanting and learning the meaning of “om”.
When I first began practicing yoga, the word Om was almost blasphemous to me. As people sat in rooms chanting it and humming it, I found myself pursing my lips shut, or giggling as if it were some joke. I was certain that I would never be one of those “weird people” who chant strange words or sit amidst groups humming. I was however, drawn to the physical practice of yoga and as a result was exposed to the words and the humming more often than not.
While clenching my lips shut one afternoon in a yoga workshop, the teacher leading the practice noticed that I was not chanting. I was sure he was going to comment, but a simple smile appeared over his lips and he chuckled at me. Later that day, I went to meet with the teacher to go over what I was learning, and true to form, he immediately called me out for my lack of chanting. I went through my rationale, “ I am a Catholic and I just don’t want to do anything against my church” and he listened intently. He then asked me to close my eyes and just sit for a moment I did. He asked me to imagine that I was on an island all alone. He asked me if I had I ever felt really alone. Had I ever experienced a profound lack of love? A lack of connection? I knew those feelings all too well and a wave of sadness washed over me as I sat there quietly. The quiet seemed to last forever and I felt like he had left the room and abandoned me.
After what seemed like an hour, I heard his voice softly say, “As you feel alone, I want you to imagine that in the air you hear a soft voice, a sweet hum of another human being in the distance.” He helped me realize that the sound, that hum is a vibration coming from another human being and in that moment you are NOT alone. He also told me that the sound is a celebration of the fact that we are all connected. When you hum alone it creates one sound, but when you join your voice with others, it creates a unique sound of everyone chanting in that moment and there will never again be a moment that “sounds like” that union of voices.
There is so much to learn about the word Om. It is sometimes spelled Aum, and often when spoken, it can sound like Amen. Depending on the reference, it can mean, heaven, earth, sky, or past, present and future. I have heard it defined as “the sound of your soul within you”, or as “the vibration of the universe”. Each definition is worth considering but at the very least, when you hear it…when you hum it…you are connecting with something larger, outside of yourself.
So if the holidays are a difficult time and you are feeling alone, a bit down, or disconnected… go ahead and join us in a yoga class… come OM!