Unless the mind is absolutely sure, the voice will waver too.
I used to do yoga.
I used to do a lot of yoga. I did power yoga six or seven times per week. I was a regular at the studio around the corner from our apartment. I did it on the living room floor. I sat in lotus pose waiting for the doctor to come into the examining room. I studied the Bhagavad-Gita. I tried different styles (Bikram is definitely not for me). I turned my nose up at gym yoga classes (too much focus on the physical) and I outgrew my yoga DVDs after one viewing (too static to be interesting).
I took my first yoga class over 12 years ago. Four years ago, I moved to France for a summer to train to become a teacher. Last year, I took weekly pre-natal yoga classes.
But last month, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been to a group class. In my defense, I have tried to maintain a solo practice as I adjust to new motherhood. But the atmosphere isn’t right, and I don’t enter the meditative trance that group classes yield.
So last night, I jumped at a chance to hit up my old yoga studio. I went to a Yin class, immediately followed by a Vinyasa class. The classes were lovely and I lost track of time for the three plus hours I was there—and not just because I didn’t wear a watch and had turned off my phone.
I stopped thinking. My mind had nothing to worry about.
For the first time in over seven months I put the to-dos out of my head, and asked my mind to follow the lead of my body—knocking on the threshold of my consciousness as I waited in quiet repose for class to begin. But it didn’t happen instantly.
Meditation is all about getting onto the right wavelength.
The collective Om chant can feel awkward, especially when you’ve been out of group practice for a long period of time. But the group vocalization provides a shortcut to meditative bliss. I did 12 rounds of Om last night—three at the start of each class, and three at each end. There was a moment of self-conscious hesitation before I hummed in with the first Om, but eventually I attuned my brain waves to the group’s energy.
Collective Om-ing admits one into a palpable spirituality, the thoughtless bliss that is meditation’s aim.
Group yoga practice provides something beyond educational and social fulfillment; it offers an easy glimpse into the hard-wrought quest for meditation and mental quietude. Om-ing is like a secret door to the wave of energy that carries you seamlessly from one moment to the next. As individual voices rise and fall within this great Om, everyone’s effort joins to create this one dynamic, audible destination.
For the 10 seconds each Om lasts, it is all you can hear, feel and see, but it won’t exist if you don’t let it encompass you.
The summer I lived in France, my training required us to sit in meditation for up to 60 minutes every day. Conservatively, I sat in meditation for 75 hours. When I think back on that experience, I don’t remember the excruciating pain I would get from sitting cross-legged on a hard floor for hours; no, I recall the three clear moments when I hit the thoughtless vibration of a true meditative trance on my own.
It was so beautiful and amazing the first time that I laughed out loud with delighted surprise, interrupting my earnest entreaty for peace.
But in a group Om chant, there is a mental peace so akin to meditation, and it almost always arises immediately. You’ll know right away if it is not happening, and in my experience it is usually because my ego is too big to ignore fears of foolishness.
Genuinely chanting the sustained syllable, the individual voice becomes part of the whole. The ego is not a known concept inside the sacred space of meditation and Oms.
If you put your heart into it, your lips will tickle with the hum. You might see a flash of bright white, or colors behind your closed eyes. Your temples will tingle.
But none of this matters. It only matters that you try. It is a simple way to experience the rejuvenating aspect of meditation.
Group asana practice is a form of spirituality—and it all begins with the collective Om chant at the beginning and end. Not all teachers use this syllable in their instruction. After taking the biggest break from my practice that I have since I began, I can see why some leave it out: They’re scared.
Being the first one to let your vocal chords relax and chime out “the syllable of the universal” is like singing a solo. Unless the mind is absolutely sure, the voice will waver too.
Samantha has been working on scorpion pose for four years now, and can hold it for precisely four seconds. When she’s not practicing back bends or inversions, she takes care of her one-year-old son, six-year-old pug and loving husband of many years.
Assistant Ed: Stephanie V.
Ed: Kate Bartolotta
Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.