Sanskrit Lesson Part One
|12 April 2012||Posted by Lara under Lara Hennessey, TSP Experts|
Since I began teaching, a few students have voiced concerns that they are asked to say things in class which they don’t know the meaning of. More specifically, they are uncomfortable with “om” and “namaste.” Classes often open and close with the sound “om,” and finish with namaste. But what do these words mean, and why do we say them?
Om, also spelled Aum, is thought to contain all other sounds within it, as well as being the sound of creation. I chant om in yoga class to remind myself that I am connected to everything. I am connected to my fellow yogis in class and to the world outside– to nature. I see the opening chant of om as a symbol of creation and my as yet un-manifested yoga practice. It also brings my consciousness into the room. Hearing the other om’s in the room makes me feel a small sense of community. In the Sweteshwatara Upanishad, one of the sacred yogic texts, it says, “Fire, though potentially present in firewood, is not seen until one stick is rubbed against another. The Atma is that fire. It is realized by the constant awareness of the sacred mantra om.” I feel that with this chant, we are saying that we are realizing our potential. Om signifies a willingness to affect change within ourselves, body, mind and spirit.
At the end of class the om represents that which we have manifested in our practice. We are acknowledging the work we did with our bodies to set up each pose, as well as our meditative work with our intention. Chanting the same sound before and after practice brings everything full circle. We are no better than when we started, but we are changed. We allowed ourselves to be affected by our practice. Another reason I love to chant om at the end of practice is simply the sound. Somehow while practicing, breathing, and sweating together everyone in the room is more connected and the sound reflects that. The last om is always more uniform with a deeper sound. The vibration resonates deeper in the body and extends beyond the practice room.
While there is no proper tone or note on which to chant, there are three components to the chant om. The first is the open mouth sound of “O,” the true vowel sound. Slowly our open sound fades into humming the “mmm.” Humming allows you to feel the sound more in your body. Finally, om always ends in silence. Sound is always followed by silence, as a kind of reflection. At the end of the sound, take a moment to feel how it affected the body and the energy in the room. It is undeniable that there is a slight shift and the silence allows us to perceive it.
Namaste is a greeting as well as a farewell in Sanskrit. Loosely translated it means “the divine light within me bows to the divine light within you.” It is said to simply honor the other people in the room, as well as to honor you. This translation explains why I, and most teachers, bow to my students, and why they bow back. Placing the hands as heart center in “prayer position” is meant to bring the focus to the love and respect that you are giving from the heart chakra.
The next time you are in a yoga class and your teacher asks that you join her in these words, you can do so with the knowledge of what you are actually saying. Join in, it’s not as fun to om alone!