If you practice yoga, you are likely familiar with the ancient mantra OM. Often repeated three times at the start and sometimes at the end of a yoga practice, it is said to be the first sound from the beginning of time, encompassing the past, present and future. In yoga, it also represents the union of the mind, body and spirit and by chanting it together with others in a class, it serves to unify the group and signifies the start of your practice together.
Did you know chanting om can also have an important physiological effect? A small study from 2011 showed chanting om has a stimulating effect on the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is critical to the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest mode) and high vagal tone is crucial to resiliency and our ability to handle stress. The vagus nerve starts at the base of the skull and travels throughout the body, touching the respiratory, digestive, and nervous systems. It helps regulate all our major bodily functions.
Pranayama, in particular extending the length of your exhale, also has a stimulating effect on the vagus nerve. This is one important reason to have a dedicated pranayama practice along with your asana practice! And since the very nature of the om mantra creates an extended exhalation in the practitioner, one could combine a practice of chanting om with controlled breathing for ultimate vagus nerve stimulation. Sounds blissful.
Do you get the most out of your om? Does it serve to harmonize you, both individually and with your yoga community? Is your om activating your vagus nerve?
Since your om can have a positive effect on your nervous system and sets the tone of your practice, let's look at some tips to chant it effectively.