The sacred syllable OM is spoken about in virtually all the yogic texts. It is said to be the most essential way to express God, or the Divine-all that is together; all that is; the eternal ever-present condition, the nature of which is boundless ecstasy and joy. Some say it is the sound that came into being at the creation of the universe and that continues to resonate in subtle vibrations throughout the ever-expanding universe to this day. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, as well as the Bhagavad Gita, OM is referred to as pranava. Pranava is a beautiful Sanskrit word that means “that which is ever renewing”: ever new, ever young. A yogi cannot say it enough, because it is not something that once you say it, it’s done with. Rather, every time you say it, you are renewed, you are brought into alignment again, you are redirected toward your goal, you are closer to the remembrance of who you are and what it all is.
It is a great privilege to be able to allow sound to come through our bodies. And when we begin to understand the potency of sounding, we tend to choose our words wisely – the words that we utter out loud and the words that are said silently – because we begin to figure out through experience that the words we say, whether they be out loud or silent, create forms – subtle, elemental forms. “Elemental” meaning that these forms are made of the finest components of physical “stuff”: the elements of fire, water, air, earth and ether. Our physical bodies are made of these elements, and we can of course recognize them in their gross forms (that is, we can see, feel, smell, taste and hear our physical bodies). But there are actually also many subtle forms permeating our bodies, both inside of them as well as all around them. A yogi wants to walk in beauty, to walk with God, to be surrounded by angels – positive elemental beings – in an environment of sukh, which means “joy, comfort, happiness.” Sometimes this is not the case. For example, have you ever had a dark cloud hanging over your head, or felt a sadness permeating your whole day? Or an unexpected anger comes through you, and you say something harsh to someone; then afterwards you regret it: “Where did that come from” I didn’t mean that!” Yet you are the one who said it. Your body and the atmosphere around it at these times are suffused with negative elemental beings. Of course this can work the other way as well; for example, sometimes you may feel light and happy, even though from the circumstances around you, you might have expected to feel troubled, anxious or down.
When something is a form, it is glued together. We know that about our physical form: how joints, organs and different tissues are all connected to other things, glued together. In the subtle world, this is also true, but the glue is more subtle, more fine. And every form, no matter how subtle, no matter how gross, can be affected by sound, because sound is the actual foundation of form. These are the teachings that are found in nearly all the yogic scriptures. So the sounds we utter matter, they help create the world in which we live, our moods and our experiences of life. You can never go wrong in chanting OM; you can never go wrong chanting the names of God – whatever names resonate for you. You can never go wrong chanting auspicious words like shantih-peace. Those sounds are like medicine. They can actually dismantle elemental forms or beings that we have created through negative thoughts, words and actions; and if you developed psychic vision, you would be able to see in the actual atmosphere around you a disintegration of dark clouds.
We practice asana to help us hone in on, and ultimately resolve, certain karmas, karmas that have created elemental beings in our lives and in our bodies. We take these karmas along with us wherever we go, negative elemental beings that come from our past actions, and they constantly trip us up. Chanting the sound of OM works the same way, and it is just as potent. Try it! Chant OM when you feel physical, mental or emotional pain; it will help break up the glue that is binding the negativity together and help ease the difficult feelings. Chant OM when you are in an asana; it will amplify the work you are doing in resolving old karmas. Try to remember to chant OM even when you stub your toe or face a sudden, unexpected problem or disappointment (instead of “chanting” any of the other, more common epithets that usually flow so freely off our tongues); it will insulate you from the creation of more negative elemental beings to plague you. And most of all, try to train yourself to wake up every morning with OM or another name of God on your mind; it will start your day in a good way.