The Upanishads refer to om as the “sound of the soundless Absolute.” Essentially, om is the sound of God.
Until recently, I thought that om-ing was for hippies. Every time I was forced to om in a yoga class, I wanted to run for the hills or om quietly so no one would notice me. My self-conscious voice-over would tell me how ridiculous the om-ing exercise was.
I completed my yoga teacher training program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I came as prepared as I could for the training, both physically and mentally; however, I did not realize that I had signed on to om six days a week. We om-ed as a group every morning after our daily meditation session. As a group, we chanted three oms toward the ocean, as a way to send our vibrational energy into the world.
In the beginning, all the yogis’ oms sounded disharmonious, as if we were all om-ing separately into the ocean, only to lose our individual sounds among the waves. Something inexplicably beautiful happened midway through the training. As we became closer as a group, our oms became stronger. And they began to sound lovely—35 voices in near-perfect harmony, singing a beautiful hymn to the ocean every morning.
One evening, after a powerful session in which we had all shared intimate stories with one another, we participated in our first “continuous om.” This is where the group continues om-ing, each person at his or her own pace, until the leader stops.
Every time my individual voice could be heard, I felt my voice being accepted by the voices of those who were already om-ing. And every time I heard a new voice, I heard it being ushered into the group melody.
Through the power of that continuous om, I felt unconditional love and acceptance. I sensed that by accepting my imperfect om, the group was accepting and loving imperfect me. It was a powerful moment that moved me to tears.
The most powerful om story from our training, and the one that inspired me to write this post, belongs to my friend, Debra. Deb has a daughter, Tracy, who was struck by a car in Florence when she was studying abroad ten years ago. After a heart attack during surgery, Tracy suffered an anoxic brain injury, which means that both her physical and her cognitive functions have been significantly impaired for the last decade, during which Deb has selflessly devoted her life to Tracy’s care and recovery.
The yoga teacher training is the first time in the last ten years that Deb took a step back from Tracy’s care, the first time that Deb let others be in charge of Tracy’s day-to-day needs and the first time that Deb was able to let go of control of this aspect of her life to take a step forward in her own personal growth.
One night close to the end of training, we had a special ceremony on the beach. As the sun was setting, our group sent our three oms into the ocean. It was a gorgeous moment.
That night, Deb went home to Tracy and was practicing teaching some of the yoga postures by explaining them aloud to Tracy. Tracy, who long ago lost the power to form words, began to om to Debra. Deb and Tracy om-ed together and embraced that night, and Deb felt more connected to her daughter than she had in years.
Deb’s story taught me what I was already beginning to learn about our oms: that human connection goes beyond mere words, beyond distances, and beyond anything we can begin to comprehend with our intellectual minds.
Deb and Tracy’s connection was so deep that although Tracy wasn’t there to om with us that evening on the beach, she was there with Deb in spirit, supporting Deb in her journey for personal growth.
This might all sound crazy to someone who hasn’t experienced the power of a good om. Before my teacher training program, I was a certified om skeptic, too.
But think back to a time when you were thinking about someone, and at that moment, they called or texted you. Or you had a dream about someone and unexpectedly saw them the next day. There are things in this life that we cannot explain with science or rationalize with our human minds.
I am not promising that every om will be a powerful experience, or that the next om in yoga class will be the most amazing moment of your life. What I am saying is that we should all be open to the idea that an om can be more than just a forced group exercise.
Om has the power to help us connect with one another, and by coming together, we just might be able to connect with the universe.
Send your thoughts and prayers for Deb’s daughter, Tracy, here.
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Assistant Editor: Michelle Margaret