A number of years ago I went to a yoga conference in California for yoga instructors. The conference had extensive offerings. There were sessions on anatomy, teaching techniques, meditation, the business side of yoga, and more. At the time I was a newly single mom working and going to school. I remember the frenzied pace at which I prepared for this extended weekend as I rushed to submit assignments to classes a few days earlier than they were due. This made for some late nights and I was exhausted by the time I arrived at the conference. But it’s a yoga conference, right? A morning yoga practice and (I thought) I’d be good as new.
The first workshop I took was a two hour lecture on the business of yoga. By the time I got to lunch, I felt achy, worn out and had a terrible headache. I worried that I was starting to come down with something. The person who sat next to me at lunch suggested I take something more relaxing for the next track, instead of the other lecture class I had planned. The options on the schedule were so extensive that they overwhelmed me, so I decided to stay right where I was and take whatever class was in the space I was already in. Lucky for me, that this class explored the practice of chanting AUM (commonly known as OM). We learned about the meanings of AUM, practiced various ways of chanting, and listened to others as they chanted. When the class was over my headache was gone and I felt refreshed and relaxed. I felt like I’d been through a miracle cure!
It turns out that chanting AUM has physiological health benefits. Some of these benefits are stimulation of the vagus nerve, calming the limbic system. regulation of heart rate, and a decrease in blood pressure. The vagus nerve is a nerve in the brain that regulates many internal organs and body functions. One job of the vagus nerve is to send a signal to the limbic system to respond to potential dangers to the body. The limbic system is in charge of behavior responses to stress or fear. This includes the “fight or flight” response that helps us deal with trauma. When our limbic system is stuck in the “on” position it causes emotional and physical stress. When I was at that yoga conference I believe my limbic system was in overdrive, which caused unnecessary stress and manifested into physical symptoms.
Chanting AUM slows the breath and creates a vibration in the back of the throat. This vibration helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, which then sends a signal to the limbic system to calm down. As the limbic system calms down stress is reduced. Then physical symptoms (such as mine were) can also be resolved.
Much like meditation, chanting AUM also has a positive effect on the cardiac system. The breath slows as we chant. This regulates the rhythm of the heart and increases blood flow. Because of increased blood flow and stress reduction, there is also a reduction in blood pressure.
Chanting AUM is a lovely and simple practice. It’s important to note that the chanting of AUM is a blend of three sounds, followed briefly by silence. The first sound is Ah, second is Ooh, and third is Mmm. As you chant try pronouncing each part of AUM. Then blend each sound into the following sound. After the Mmmm sound take a brief silence before starting the next AUM or finishing the practice. Try to notice the shape of the mouth for each sound and the feeling in the throat. Here is a breakdown of what this might look/feel like:
|A||“Ahhh”||Mouth is open
|Vibration in back of throat|
|U||“Oooh”||Lips partially pursed (like blowing out candle)||Vibration in throat and/or heart|
|M||“Mmm”||Lips closed (Like humming)||Vibration in lips and/or throat|
I encourage you to try chanting AUM at home! If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.
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