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.
You begin a yoga class with a chant OM 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. Another word that is often used at the end of a yoga class is Namaste.
Let’s take a look at these words, their meaning, the power, and the reasons we chant OM and Namaste in a yoga class.
Meaning of OM
History of OM
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.
Chanting with the sound OM
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.
Why do we chant Om Namah Shivaya108 times?
Have you heard someone say that the number 108 is important in spirituality? If not, then maybe you read that yogis perform Sun Salutation 108 times during the international yoga day, and dedicated meditation practitioners chant Om Namah Shivaya 108 times. Have you wondered why?
There are nine main planets (Sun, Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Rahu, Ketu) and twelve constellations (also known as signs or houses in astrology). When nine planets turn around the twelve constellations, they bring 108 kinds of changes.
It is believed that chanting Om Namah Shivaja mantra 108 times helps bring the light into the darkness, bring positivity, clean the space (energetically), and restore balance. Those seeking faster spiritual and physical healing also chant this mantra on a regular basis.
There are a few different ways how one can chant Om Namah Shivaja 108 times:
- using Japamala – you can find long, medium length and short malas available in the market. However, the traditional Mala, which is used for chanting Om Namah Shivaya is very simple: a long string with 108 prayer beads made from Rudraksha seeds. When used for chanting, one holds mala in one hand, holds the bead between thumb and index finger, and after chanting Om Namah Shivaya one time, moves to another bead. Chanting and counting at the same doesn’t allow to go deep into the meditative state, therefore using mala helps to keep the focus on chanting leaving the “counting” part for the fingers.
- chanting with music – without a doubt this is the most popular mantra to chant during Satsangs (Kirtan). Though there are many variations of Om Namah Shivaya chant, all of them bring the same results. You can start incorporating this chant into your yoga/meditation routine at any time. There are many chants available on YouTube. Pick the one that you like the most and chant along. If on a specific day you don’t feel like chanting, simply sit with your eyes closed, meditate and let the vibrations of the sound enter your body.
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.
Meaning of 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 Divine creations. 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.
Sanskrit language in your yoga class
When you attend a yoga class, you may encounter some very interesting and curious words that you normally do not hear in everyday life. Besides greeting you with Namaste and opening the class with a chant Om, you will also hear a few other Sanskrit words like:
Asna – yoga pose
Ujjayi–yoga/meditation breathing technique known as “ocean-sounding breathing”
Guru – Spiritual teacher
Mudra – a symbolic hand gesture, the “seal”
In addition, yoga teacher will guide you through the specific yoga postures designed to build strength in your thighs, lengthening your spine, or open tight hips and instead of English names, like Warrior Two, Downward Facing Dog, or Pigeon Pose you might hear him or her say Virabhadrasana Dve (Warrior Two), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (One-Legged King Pigeon Pose).
You don’t have to separately study the names of yoga poses in Sanskrit to be able to reap the benefits of this practice. If you show up in your yoga class regularly, you will learn by heart the chants, the names and the meaning of Sanskrit words that your yoga instructor is using. It will come naturally and without an effort.