Over the years a ritual of sorts developed to surround my classes. The opening and the ending stay fairly steady, supporting the possibility of creativity and surprise to arise during the asana practice. I like to sit for 5 minutes in the beginning. My intention is to allow time for settling into a deeper awareness of what we've come to class with. What does the body feel like today? What is the flavor of the mind? We pause before stepping into movement.
At the end of class, after Savasana (deep relaxation), we sit again for a few minutes.
And then the sound of Om.
Most of the time we chant Om three times. I tell people that "Om" is the sound that resonates in all things. I sometimes ask people to pause and listen for that sound in all that surrounds us in the particular moment...natural sounds, mechanical sounds, inner sounds, outer sounds, nearby sounds, distant sounds. And then we allow the sound to arise, we join in.
Why chant "Om"? It feels to me like an offering of whatever benefits we've accrued from our practice out into the world at large. It brings a recognition that we're all in this together. It re-energizes us before we get up and leave...returning home, or to work, or whatever comes next. Sometimes in the evening, if the energy of the class seems particularly peaceful and it seems like it would be nice not to disturb the quiet too much, we'll whisper our Oms.
Over the years I've noticed who is in the room and what we've been doing during the posture portion of the practice has an effect on the sound in the room. Sometimes the sound is hesitant, sometimes full-throated. Sometimes each Om seems to go on forever, sometimes there is less space for that expansion, we are unsure about our voice.
The sound also feels like a last opportunity to offer up some energy to the body and mind. If we can really relax into the sound, it seems to resonate into every nook and cranny of the body. The image that comes to mind is the sound of the strings being played on a cello being colored by the shape and depth of the body of the instrument.
Last but not least, it feels like an honoring of the event that has just occurred. What can I say? Yoga is an amazing practice. People are transformed in large and small ways. Isn't it wonderful to honor a body that feels a little more at ease and a mind that sees even a little more clearly? Even if it's your very first yoga class, isn't it worth recognizing that you've been at home in your body, just as it is, for the first time in what may have been a long time? And who knows what will come of that!
Maybe yoga scholars can give you other reasons for chanting Om that are steeped in ancient tradition. This is why I do it.