My first om happened on January 1, 2009 at Gaia Flow Yoga. I’d been practicing the physical poses of yoga in gyms for years, but nobody had ever omed in front of me, that I could recall.
Oming is a common occurrence in yoga studios at the beginning and/or end of a practice. All it involves is inhaling deeply, opening your mouth, and allowing the single syllable, pronounced “aum” to come out, steady and rhythmically, and then holding the note, with everyone else in class. Some teachers belt out long loud oms, while others practice a more soft and subtle om.
Sting wrote the forward to a book called “Yoga Beyond Belief”, which one of my teachers (Chinook Wudshu) is currently reading for a training he’s going to. Sting said: “Admittedly, I don’t sing (in the shower) what anyone would recognize as songs, per se, nor do I use the shower fitting as a fantasy microphone, but instead limit myself to vocalizing long resonant tones. I will sustain an om for as long as my lungs can hold out, and advance semitone by semitone of the chromatic scale…”
When I first starting practicing om, it made me anxious, and I didn’t want to do it. Being prone to analysis paralysis, and after a lifetime of being told I couldn’t hold a note to save my life, oming made me feel exposed and inferior. I’d find myself in a comfortable seated position, pressing my hands together at my chest as tightly as I could, squeezing my eyes together to keep them shut, and then letting out whatever noise I could, just hoping my voice wouldn’t croak and disrupt the class. Afterwards, I’d notice an increase in my heart rate. What? But I’m supposed to be relaxing?
So what is om, anyways? My first teacher, Chrystal Rae Almeida, explained that “om is the sound of the universe spinning into creation”. I read recently in an article in Yoga Journal that om is “the audible expression of the transcendental, attributeless ground of reality.”
OK. No wonder I was nervous. Not only am I singing in front of a room full of strangers for the first time since childhood, but I’m singing about a subject as meaty as actual existence. Whatever that is.
But something cool happened by facing my OMxiety head on and moving past it. About a year later, I started singing. In front of people. On stage. For the first time since middle school. And I love it. After that, I started writing lyrics, which I also love. And after that, I started successfully learning to play an instrument for the first time in my life, despite a two decade desire to learn.
There’s a field of psychology that deals with anxiety called “cognitive behavioral therapy” which seems to assert that anxiety is caused by a lack of understanding of the nature of the way that things really are. One of treatments is called “exposure”, in which the therapist exposes the patient to whatever it is that they’re anxious about, and thus avoiding, in order to help them get over it.
Invariably, we avoid that which we are anxious about. But, by facing our fears head on, we can eventually come to realize our misconceptions about things, and then we can start actually living the life we dream about.To me, this seems right in line with the aims in our practice of yoga, as far as using meditation and other techniques, such as breathing and exercise, in order to become more clear about what’s going on. As they say, it’s a practice.