Om is when we get loud in yoga. You may have to hold in your groans and curses in some poses but om is your chance to let all that pent up energy out.
Traditionally, yoga class begins and ends with a group chant of “om.” This means you have two chances to get loud every time you step on your mat. Use them! Beginners are often hesitant to chant because, well, it’s weird. The benefits of om, however, are real enough to be weird for.
Om has a deeply spiritual meaning – it’s the sound of creation in yogic texts – but the om chant, or “mantra,” also has practical benefits even the most cynical of yogis can enjoy. Here they are:
Being loud makes you stronger.
You’ve probably heard that guy at the gym grunting as he throws up weights and immediately hated him. He’s universally annoying, but, unfortunately, science is on his side.
The link between physical strength and vocalization is well documented in sports. From the aforementioned grunting weightlifter to the martial artist who shouts when he kicks, every form of fitness has its own mantra.
These vocalizations are sports tradition, but they are also science. In a recent study, researchers at Drexel University found that when athletes yelled while performing a physical feat they increased their force by 10%.
While we don’t om for physical force, om is the grunt of. It’s spiritual, yes, but it’s also a primal sound that makes us strong and powerful. And it doesn’t just make us feel strong and powerful – the chant literally makes us physically stronger.
Being loud gets rid of pain.
Last year, a Journal of Pain study found that vocalizing pain actually increases our tolerance for it . Making loud noises pushes us through physical discomfort and allows us to, ultimately, improve our strength and flexibility.
As a general rule, pain is bad in yoga. Any sharp pain in your muscles or joints is your body telling you a pose isn’t right for you right now. I tell all my students: if it hurts, stop. Discomfort in one or two or all poses, however, means you’re pushing yourself in a good way.
Both strength and flexibility poses leave us sore all over. It’s a good thing because soreness means the muscles are growing and because om is there to comfort us. Whether you’re beginning class sore from last time, or already feeling it at the end of class, om helps sooth your body’s soreness.
Being loud is a release.
Granted, om is a little more refined than screaming into a pillow, but chanting releases stress just like screaming. Yoga is already a great de-stressor. Combine that with an opportunity to chant your lungs out and you’ve found the perfect release.
At the beginning of class, om helps release whatever baggage you’ve inevitably brought from the day onto your mat. It helps you leave worldly worries behind, so you can focus on the practice in front of you.
At the end of class, om releases the practice. Whatever was hard, whatever you couldn’t do, whatever hurt is gone with your last om. Make sure to put your heart into it!