Mastering the Om: A Guide for Beginners

Feel antsy every time you chant Om? Learn from writer Yelena Moroz Alpert’s experience with this how-to guide and demo video.

Early on in my yoga practice, I often opted out of sounding the Om. Skipping it made perfect sense: My weak vocal chords made it sound like a pathetic, whimpering whine. I could never get the timing right or take in enough breath. I simply didn’t feel it.

It wasn’t until years later, when I took up Ashtanga, that I actually started to look forward to the mantraat the beginning and the end of class—though my sound was still mangled and I felt self-conscious in smaller classes.

See also To Om or Not To Om? 

What Is “Om”?

“Om” is more than just an invitation to start your practice. It is said to be the primordial sound born with the universe. As we exhale the A-U-M, its vibration links us to the original source of creation. When done properly, the sound reverberates from the pelvic floor upward through the crown of the head, filling the body with pulsating energy that simultaneously empowers and radiates tranquility.

Quest for Comfort Chanting Om

Determined to find this cosmic energy, I traveled 2,000 miles and signed up for every Om-centric workshop at the Sedona Yoga Festival.

I started with Yoga Om, which took place into the heart of Red Rock County. Surrounded by a magnificent backdrop of prehistoric rust-colored landscape, our small group gathered on the edge of a bowl-shaped abyss to discover our inner energy. Much like fine-tuning asanas by toying with balance and alignment, calibrating the Om takes practice. Before I have a chance to open my mouth, Roxanne Wessel, the workshop instructor and hike leader for Sedona Spirit Yoga & Hiking, tells me to open up my back, which houses the unconscious. “By opening up the back with the inhale, you are welcoming the breath as a gift, and providing space,” she says. “Doing so will clear the shadowy places and tensions within.” As I take in the arid Arizona air my back expands,I immediately feel taller, mightier. We then proceed to sound the scales—do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do—to awaken the chakras. This musical plumbing preps me for what comes next: isolating the vibrations within. As I chant, “vam-vam-vam,” my stomach quietly hums back; “yam-yam-yam” and my chest fills with tribal drums. My vocal cords are strings pulled taut with every “ham-ham-ham.” “Send your energy up and out,” cues Wessel. I feel a powerful vibration—like a singing bowl—loop in my head as I sound the nasal “ing-ing-ing.”

Surprised that my body is actually working in tandem with my voice, I realize this is the first time I am not trying to emulate the elusive sound—I am the sound.

See also A Higher Hum: Breath and Mantra Meditation

How To Om: A Tutorial

Armed with newfound confidence, I head to a workshop taught by the venerable Rama Jyoti Vernon, who breaks down the Om syllable by syllable—a-ā-u-ū-m-(ng)-(silence). Rama’s Om is unlike anything I have heard before. This soft-spoken woman becomes a megaphone for the ultimate vibration that echoes through the room.

Her tutorial is simple enough: To sound the first two syllables, open the mouth wide as if you want to take in the fullness of the universe. Pursing lips together helps stretch out the next two syllables. “It’s like both sides of the brain come together to form an arrow that is sent out with sharp focus,” she says. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof your mouth to sound the last two syllables, m and ng, which symbolize the close of the creation cycle. Let the silence drape over you before inhaling again.

Beyond phonetics, the most important lesson she teaches me is this: “Exhalation is an egoless state,” she says. “I am not doing the Om, the Om is done through me.”

Watch her video demonstration>>

Finding Your Om

I put all of this into practice in Saul David Raye’s class, Power of Om, where we chant collectively for 20 minutes. I think of the Red Rock exercises and breathe deeply through my back, savoring every syllable and vibration that travels through me. Magical arias envelop and wash over me as I tune into my own Om. I am no longer afraid of my voice and instead visualize a burbling spring at the pit of my stomach, building velocity as it explores my chest, throat, and finally leaves through the crown of my head like a fountain, then gently drips into a pool at my pelvis.

“The source is within you,” says Raye. I couldn’t agree more.

See also Beginner’s Guide to Common Chants + Mantras