image of people with hands raised om chanting

What is Om Chanting? Uncovering the Science and Spirituality of this Sacred Sound

Om. The primordial sound. The universal mantra. A simple, yet profoundly powerful syllable that has been chanted for millennia across cultures and faiths. What, though, exactly is Om, and what’s behind this ancient chant that resonates in yoga classes and temples worldwide?

In this guide, we’ll answer the question ‘what is om chanting by unpacking the origins, meaning, and science behind Om to help you understand how and why it has stood the test of time. Whether you’re new to chanting or looking to deepen your practice, read on to discover the transformative potential of this sacred sound.

A Brief History of Om

To comprehend Om, we must first travel back in time.

The earliest roots of Om can be traced to Hindu scriptures and texts dating back over 3,000 years. The Upanishads, Vedas, and Bhagavad Gita, which form the foundations of Hinduism, all place great emphasis on Om as a sacred syllable suffused with spiritual power.

But Om transcends any single religion.

Jainism and Buddhism also incorporate Om chanting in their spiritual traditions, which emerged in the mid-first millennium BCE. The influence of Om has additionally extended beyond Indian borders, and can be found in various schools of Chinese Buddhism and Japanese Shingon.

Today, Om maintains its relevance across faiths, and is often combined with other mantras in Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh rituals. Modern yoga practices have also popularised the chanting of Om at the beginning and end of classes.

So why has this simple mantra endured through the millennia? What is it about Om that resonates so universally across geography and belief systems? Let’s break it down.

The Meaning and Significance of Om

In Sanskrit, Om is written as ॐ and pronounced as “Aum.” It encapsulates fundamental Hindu philosophies, representing the universe and our connection to it through sound vibration.

Om Represents Unity

  • The three sounds “A-U-M” are said to symbolise the Hindu trinity of gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
  • They also represent the three realms of earth, atmosphere, and heaven.
  • Thus, Om unifies these core elements into one holistic vibration.

Om Reflects Absolute Reality

  • Om is believed to be the primordial sound from which the universe originated.
  • It reflects ultimate reality – known as Brahman in Hinduism – and our true essence beneath surface identities.
  • Chanting Om connects us to divinity within and energetically aligns us to a higher state of being.

Om Aids Spiritual Awakening

  • The syllable Om contains the potentials of all other sounds and mantras.
  • Chanting Om expands consciousness, promoting deep states of meditation and spiritual awakening.
  • It opens energy channels in the body and mind, helping dissolve ego and negative thought patterns.

In essence, Om represents the infinite universal consciousness that permeates all of existence. Chanting it taps us into deeper layers of the self, promoting inner harmony and heightened awareness.

The Science of Om: Frequency, Vibration and the Brain

Modern science is also beginning to study the measurable effects of Om, adding a new dimension to its benefits. Research suggests that chanting Om produces psychological and physiological changes that enhance mindfulness, calmness and connection. Key findings include:

The Frequency of Om Resonates With the Brain

  • Om vibrates roughly between 140Hz to 280Hz during chanting.
  • This overlaps with frequencies of alpha brain waves (8-12Hz), promoting relaxation.
  • Slow oscillations (0.1-1Hz) also synchronise, enhancing neural connections.

Om Chanting Alters Brain Activity

  • Functional MRI scans reveal that Om chanting activates the inferior frontal gyrus region.
  • This area is linked to language, speech and auditory processing.
  • Changes in metabolic activity suggest an influence on executive function and emotional processing.

Om Can Induce a Meditative State

  • Chanting Om has been found to increase parasympathetic nervous system activity.
  • This rest-and-digest state counters the stress-induced fight-or-flight mode.
  • Regulating the autonomic nervous system in this way creates the physiology of meditation.

Unique Benefits From Vocalised Chanting

  • Unlike silent mantras, vocalizing Om engages the vagus nerve more extensively.
  • This cranial nerve influences heart rate, digestion, inflammation, mood and other parasympathetic functions.
  • Chanting Om may therefore have added effects on psychological well-being via the vagus nerve pathway.

While more research is still needed, these findings show measurable effects that help explain Om’s enduring popularity as a tool to enhance yoga, meditation, and prayer practices.

How to Start Chanting Om

If you’re ready to explore Om chanting, here are some tips to begin:

Set the space – Find a quiet, comfortable place to minimise distractions. You may want to create an altar space with candles, incense or other sacred objects.

Sit upright – Adopt a stable, upright posture such as cross-legged or kneeling to keep the spine erect. This allows for full, deep breaths.

Chant audibly – Chant Om loudly enough to feel the vibration through your body. Let the sound resonate freely.

Start slowly – Begin with 5-10 minutes, focusing on the sensation and vibration of chanting. Gradually increase over time.

Tune in inward – Bring awareness to thoughts and physical sensations. Observe them without judgement, letting them go to come back to the mantra.

Finish in stillness – End your practice with a minute of stillness to integrate the effects before going about your day.

Chant with intention – Set an intention like cultivating patience, wisdom or compassion to bring greater meaning to your practice.

Stay open – Let go of expectations and welcome the experience as it unfolds, without attachment to specific results.

Om Beyond Chanting: Creative Ways to Explore

Chanting is just one of many paths to benefit from Om. Consider these creative ideas for a well-rounded experience:

  • Write it decoratively as art or a personal reminder.
  • Draw it mandala-style for meditation or coloring.
  • Listen to recordings of tranquil Om chanting.
  • Pronounce it silently to yourself as a grounding practice.
  • Chant before spiritual lessons or rituals to open receptively.
  • Whisper it to crying infants to soothe and calm them.
  • Teach children Om chanting as a tool for mindfulness and focus.
  • Get a mala for chanting repetitions during meditation or yoga.
  • Get Om jewellery like pendants, bracelets or rings for an uplifting reminder.

Ultimately, there are infinite possibilities to harness the vibration of Om in your own way. Experiment creatively and don’t limit this versatile mantra only to chanting.

The Takeaway: Discover Your Om

In the end, Om is best understood through direct, personal experience. No amount of reading can substitute for the insights unveiled through sustained, experiential practice.

So don’t just analyze the meaning and science intellectually. Immerse yourself in the depths of this sacred syllable – chant it, breathe it, feel it. Let its rhythms and vibrations resonate through every cell.

Om is expansive and multi-dimensional. Don’t seek to grasp it, but rather uncover what Om means to you – in body, mind and spirit. Allow this ancient mantra to awaken your consciousness to the beauty and divinity that exists within us all.

What SI Om Chanting FAQs

What are the origins of om chanting?

Om chanting dates back over 3000 years to ancient Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads and Vedas, which form the foundations of Hinduism.

What does the syllable om represent?

Om represents the universal consciousness and ultimate reality in Hindu philosophy. It encapsulates the infinite divine essence that connects us all.

Why do we chant om?

Chanting om promotes states of deep meditation, spiritual awakening, and alignment with something greater than our surface identities.

What are the benefits?

Modern research shows om chanting can enhance parasympathetic nervous system activity for relaxation, increase alpha brain waves for tranquility, and activate the vagus nerve to reduce inflammation and boost mood.

How do you practice om chanting?

Find a quiet space, sit upright, chant audibly enough to feel the vibrations, start slowly, tune inward without judgement, end with stillness, and set an intention.

Can you use chanting beyond vocalising?

Yes, you can explore writing, drawing, listening to, or silently repeating om. You can also use it in spiritual rituals, with children, or wear it on jewellery.

What is the frequency range?

Om chants vibrate between around 140Hz to 280Hz, overlapping with the alpha waves of the brain.

What does research show about the effects of om chanting on the brain?

Studies reveal om chanting activates language and auditory processing regions while altering metabolic activity in areas linked to executive function and emotional processing.

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