Monday 18 February 2013

The Transformative Power of OM

For a number of years now, I have been leading an in-house yoga class at a corporate office in Paris.  It's a one-hour lunch time class designed for fitness and relaxation, a needed break in the day of a large Anglo/French law firm.  

When the class started up, yoga wasn't as wide-spread in Paris as it is today, and definitely not part of the corporate culture.  It was a little break-through class and I began very carefully, introducing Sun Salutations and warrior poses, we did breathing practices and I explained how the bandhas work, gave a guided relaxation and before you knew it the hour was up, everyone was smiling, we thanked each other and we were on our way.  As a newish teacher I was reluctant to add anything else to this arrangement, no OM, no chanting.  Not in corporate culture and especially not in sect-wary France.

But, after years of integrating more Sanskrit names and yoga philosophy in class-and with people still coming, I realized I still didn't OM with them.  When I chatted about this with a friend she had asked why not, and indeed, why not?   What happened?

Then, a few weeks back, with three students out of the 10 in the room harking back to the very first class, 8 years ago, I felt it, I OM'd us out.  The resonance in the OM that floated back to me, almost made me tear up.  They Om'd like they couldn't wait to make this beautiful sound.  Three Om's and the silence, it was gorgeous.  And, instead of everyone packing up their things, this time they lingered, they walked over to each other and asked how the other was doing.  They spoke in soft voices, not wanting to break a spell in the room and not wanting to rush off.  They hadn't done it like this before.

What is OM?

In the wisdom of ancient India the universe came forth from the invisible and unchanging, a sound and the sound was OM, a vibration here long before anything else existed.
As a scholarly record it is recorded among the 10 principle Upanishads by an 8th century mystic named Shankara.  It is named the Chandogya Upanishad, the sacred song.
Om is the essence of every created thing that ever was and that ever will be.  And this same essence is our real Self, in that each one of us is a particle of the universe that sustains us.

Repeating Om or thinking OM goes beyond ritual and does not need ritual in that it does not need to be mediated.  It is available to each of us anytime, because it's us.

This realization bubbled up from my students without any hesitation or shyness or even knowing what it is.

The senior class started up at the Centre de Yoga du Marais this year, with a handful of inquisitive, open students, albeit with a dash of skepticism.  I am offering the class for free so they will come.  They come because they want relief from their aches and pains.  Their favorite part of the class, just after a few weeks is the meditation and the OM.  In the beginning, they kept a polite and courteous space between each other, before, during and after the class.  The week we began chanting and I began explaining the benefits for them, they too lingered after the class in a very special way, in a circle, talking to each other for the first time.  It was a particularly cold snowy week in Paris, that time of year when you ache inside  for the homeless shivering on the side walks.  They shared among themselves that day all the hotline numbers they had and the agencies they had particular success with vis-a vis speedy relief to the particular person in need.  The streets are patrolled, but a telephone requesting attention is the fastest way to get to someone.  The impression on the group that situations are still this dire in this day and age in a world capital, was unconscionable.  They left class with a mission.

This is what Om does, it creates something from nothing.  Om draws us toward each other in the realization that we are the other, there is no separation.  Om is everything and we are Om.