The Primordial Sound - Om
“Everything in life is vibration.”
– Albert Einstein
Om is an ancient Sanskrit sound and symbol. It is sacred in Hinduism and is commonly used in Mantra Meditations. It is said to be an ‘audible representation of the divine’ and the ‘essence of consciousness’. It is the sound from which all else came.
The more we read in our work and for ourselves, the more we see that all paths lead back to the concept of consciousness. Teachings from different faiths and philosophies have this at their core. When we are present in this moment and we make all our responses conscious and we are at peace.
How then can we use Om to help us improve our wellbeing?
First we need to talk about the Autonomic Nervous System which has effects on our cardiovascular, respiratory and digestive systems. This system works without conscious control. We breathe, food is digested and our heart beats without the need to think about doing it – hence the name autonomic. The two parts to the autonomic nervous system are the parasympathetic and the sympathetic systems. There is constant activity in these systems which can increase or decrease. The two systems have opposite effects and so increasing activity in one decreases it in the other and vice-versa.
There is increased activity in the sympathetic system when our brain perceives a threat, the fight-flight response that prepares us for action. This manifests as an increased heart-rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate; blood sugar levels increase and blood is diverted from the gut and reproductive organs to our muscles. We become sweaty as the body prepares to cool itself during activity and even our eyes are affected with the pupils dilating to let in more light so we can see the threat more clearly; we are primed and ready.
The parasympathetic system is more active when we are at rest, conserving our energy. The heart-rate and blood pressure decrease, the gut digests food more effectively and the nutrients that are released are stored.
Increased sympathetic activity, without any action to burn of the chemicals in the body, leaves us with a host of symptoms associated with anxiety; shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain, trembling, feeling faint, sweating, restless feelings and poor concentration. The after-effects of increased sympathetic activity are exhaustion, poor sleep, reduced cognition, gut problems and avoidance of situations.
Increased activity in the parasympathetic system results in the Relaxation Response with a lessening of the symptoms of anxiety.
The vibrations produced in chanting Om stimulates the Vagus nerve which runs from the brain, through the head and neck, into the chest and down to the abdominal cavity. It has tributary nerves which lead to the eyes, heart, lungs and gut. Vagal stimulation increases the activity in the parasympathetic system and so activate the Relaxation Response.
A brain imaging study of Om chanting showed a deactivation in the threat-response system in the body on MRI scans
Another study showed that chanting Om during negative stimulation (viewing unpleasant images) helped process the experience and feel less negative about it.
A meditation using the Manta Om is a great tool to help us deactivate the threat response and manage anxiety symptoms via the vibrations. In addition, the act of chanting is a very physical thing. It helps to anchor us in our body, in the present moment and so helps us to be mindful.
As with all meditations, focusing on the Om, keeping it clear and feeling the vibrations in the body, helps to centre us and let go of worries about the past or future. It also has an effect on our breathing. The Om can be elongated to help slow and deepen the breath which adds to the Relaxation Response.
When Om is chanted together with others there is a collective effect. We have felt this first hand. The vibrations are amplified and enhance the experience. The experience helped us to understand that everything is connected and that we can draw strength from that connection whenever we need it.
Sit in a quiet comfortable place with your spine straight and your hands lose in your lap or at your side.
Take 3 deep breaths in and out
Think about splitting the word Om into 3 parts A..U..M
The A sounds starts at the diaphragm and is almost an Ahhhh sound
You can elongate the Ahhhhhhhhh…hhh
The U is a slightly higher pitch (frequency) and is felt more in the throat
The M is the end of the Om and should end with closed lips and will resonate in the sinuses.
Focus on the vibrations you feel
Keep the chant slow and steady and even
10-15 minutes will leave you feeling centred and relaxed ready to face anything
Here is a good video guide to chanting Om https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQTenvydZIo
For more insights and a host of tools and techniques for exploring the Self and improving your human experience see our book:
 Kalyani BG, Venkatasubramanian G, Arasappa R, Rao NP, Kalmady SV, Behere RV, Rao H, Vasudev MK, Gangadhar BN. Neurohemodynamic correlates of 'OM' chanting: A pilot functional magnetic resonance imaging study. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jan;4(1):3-6.