Why do we chant OM, Shanti and Namaste?

Picture of Ibiza yoga teacher chanting OM before yoga practice for the blog article about meaning of OM and NAMASTE

When you attend a yoga class, you may encounter some very interesting and curious things that you normally do not experience in everyday life.

If you practice a moving style of practice, you will most likely move in and out of poses in a new or very different way than how you physically move your body daily. For example, Warrior Two, Downward Facing Dog, or Pigeon Pose are specific yoga postures designed to build strength in your thighs, lengthening your spine, or open tight hips. But the nature of the pose may feel foreign to you. Further, not only may you encounter these particular names of postures, but they are translated from an ancient language called Sanskrit. Here's an example, and you're welcome to play with the pronunciation of these unusual names:

Virabhadrasana Dve = Warrior Two,

Adho Mukha Svanasana = Downward Facing Dog, and

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana = One-Legged King Pigeon Pose.

You may never need to learn the Sanskrit names of the yoga poses you practice, but there are other ways you'll be more engaged in your yoga practice.

In some styles of yoga, an instructor may lead the opening of the class with a chant or an incantation. The reason for this is to set the mood or intention of the yoga class that is to follow.

Whether it is a meditative class or a power yoga class, a chant may be offered to begin the session. A common word that is chanted is OM.

Let's take a look at this word, its meaning, its power, and the reason we chant OM in a yoga class.

What Does It Mean?

The picture of OM sign for the blog post Meaning of OM and meaning of Namaster
For such a small word, it has a grand meaning. In fact, it has many meanings; there are many interpretations of this word and sound. First of all, it is a word that was first noted in the Upanishads, an ancient Vedic text which eventually became the philosophy from which yoga was born. It was associated with the "cosmic sound" that characterized the creation of the universe. Even though the word is over 5,000 years old, it still has meaning today. When said, it sounds like the word "home." It represents the divine energy that resonates in all things. It is believed that when the universe was created, it started with a sound, a vibration. Om is that sound. When the sound is produced, it is a symbol of all creation. It describes how all creation is unified and connected. Although Om (or Aum) is a one-syllable word, when chanted, it is given three sounds: aaah oooh mmm. The three sounds also have meaning: past, present, future; body, mind, spirit; the heavens, the earth, the underworld, creation, preservation, liberation, and other trilogy-based symbols.

When OM is chanted, it has a certain vibration, a resonance that invites peace, calm, harmony, and grace. That is why you may hear this chant at the beginning, and even at the end, of a yoga class.

It is a way to align with the intentions of the class, join with your fellow yogis, and to connect with all living beings outside of the yoga studio. In its simplest form, it has a very profound and important message.

The word can be chanted alone or accompanied by other words and phrases. You may often hear Om as the opening word and sound at the beginning of other songs, prayers, and mantras. A familiar one is Om Namah Shivaya. It is a Hindu saying that refers to Shiva, a mythological deity. He is seen as the lord of all Hindu gods. Shiva is seen to embody the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer (another reference of the number 3.) The essence of Shiva is that he represents the true human spirit. As the destroyer, he eliminates all that is a distraction in our lives. He is the creator of all that symbolizes love and is the preserver of these sacred truths. When we chant Om Namah Shivaya, we are symbolically bowing to the truth of our inner selves.

Another popular mantra is OM Shanti. You may chant this at the beginning or end of a yoga class, too. Shanti can mean calm, bliss, or peace. So, when spoken aloud, we invite the power and energy of these truths into our space.

Another word that is often used at the end of a yoga class is Namaste. In some settings, this term is used as a greeting or salutation. Just as Aloha or Shalom are used as meaningful greetings, so is Namaste. It is a Sanskrit term that is actually composed of three smaller words: nama means 'bow,' as means 'I,' and te means 'you.' When you combine these syllables, Namaste means "I bow to you." Although it may seem slightly redundant, we often bow, saying the word, with the hands in prayer formation at the heart center.

But Namaste has a deeper meaning; it is more than just a salutation at the ending of a yoga class. It can be viewed as a prayer or a declaration.

 

It is believed that there is Divinity in all of us, in all things. If we refer back to the chanting of Om, we are declaring that oneness of all things, that we are all substances of the same universe, we are all connected. We are all products of that Divine creation. So, when we bow to one another with this greeting, we acknowledge that Divinity within us and share it between us. "I share the Divine in me with the Divine in you." This is what is expressed when you say Namaste. It is fitting, then, that it is used as a closing for a yoga class. After your practice, whether it's a Restorative Yoga class or a Kundalini Yoga class, what has happened during the session is a transformation, a revealing of the truest self. We acknowledge that truth before departing the yoga class.
The word Namaste written in Sanskrit language for the blog post meaning of namaste

Remember to take these lessons with you when you leave your yoga class. Do not leave them on the yoga mat in the studio. You begin a class with a chant to bring in the energy of the universe. You practice yoga to further open your heart, mind, and soul to the powers of the universe, acknowledge that Divine power that sits in you at the end of class, then carry that truth into your everyday living. That IS yoga.

Namaste

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