The practice of yoga has become so popular these days; it seems virtually everyone has tried a class at some point. Especially in the beginning, a yoga class can be overwhelming though: “Where do I put my mat? Do I really have to take off my socks? “What is that word the teacher keeps saying?” Words like “Namaste” and OM Shanti” are used like they are English words; everyone is expected to know exactly what they mean. And I’m not even speaking of the complexity of all the physical yoga poses (Asanas). Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned yogi, it is good to remind yourself of the “how and why” of your practice now and then. So here are some answers to some often asked – or silently wondered about – questions.
Why do we chant OM at the beginning of class, and what does it mean?
OM is not so much a word, as it is a sound. The sound of OM is made up of 3 syllables: AA – AU – MA (the “A” here is not audibly pronounced). When you combine these syllables, they sound like AUM or OM. OM is considered the ‘sound of all sounds’, the sound that the Earth makes when it spins around its axis, the sound of the vibration of Life, the vibration of manifestation.
When you make the sound of – or rather: chant – OM, think of it as creating a vibration instead of making as much noise as you can. The vibration originates somewhere deep inside the body and slowly resonates outward, creating a deep sound. The vibration of OM has healing power. It is said that water starts to flow in an infinity pattern when OM is repeatedly chanted. Since the body is made of at least 60% water, think of what chanting the sound of OM can do for your body!
Chanting OM together at the beginning of a yoga class creates union. By aligning your own energy as a result of making this primordial sound, you allow others to do the same. When you chant “OM”, see if you can match your tone with that of the teacher and those around you. Have you ever noticed that the “OM” at the end of class usually sounds more in tune than the “OM” at the beginning of the practice? This is a great example of how the practice of yoga creates union in our self, and results in a sense of communion as well, since ultimately there is no separation between “you” and “them”.
Why do we lie still on the floor at the end of a yoga class?
A yoga class usually ends with Savasana, or Corpse Pose. This supine posture, in which you lie completely still with your eyes closed while relaxing your whole body, is arguably the most important posture of all. It is here that the yoga begins.
While practicing yoga postures, you allow the energy channels in your body to be opened. The stretching, twisting, inverting and breathing allows for tension to be dissolved, and thus creating space for Prana – Life Force – to flow more freely through your system. Imagine a paperweight in the form of a crystal ball filled with snow and a little house in the center. See your physical practice as the shaking of this paperweight. This shaking will swirl the snow around, making the little house invisible. When you stop the shaking the snow eventually settles down. You can see the little house clearly again. When we lie down in Savasana, we give the snow time to settle down. When the snow is settled, we can see clearly again what is really inside of us, who we really are.
For many people it is challenging to completely relax in Savasana. In order to fully relax the body, we need to let go and trust. And what prevents the letting go? Tension and holding on. Going deeper into answering this question goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but take this from me: the more you practice your yoga, the more you will be able to relax and let go. Savasana will become easier over time. Eventually it will not be just a resting pose during which you catch your breath, but it will be a moment where you can be free from all worldly challenges: A posture in which you can be completely gone, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.
Marije E. Paternotte
Ps. “Namaste” is a greeting. It can be translated as “I see the Divine in you, you see the Divine in me, and we see the Divine in each other”. Offering a Namaste is a reminder that we are all One.