A Beginner’s Guide: Chanting Your Way to Better Health

Think back to the first moment you heard an “om” in yoga class. If you’re like me, you kept your mouth shut (and maybe that’s still the case). Did you have a negative reaction or wonder when the class would really start? Skeptics, I get you. I’m one of you.

Nearly 20 years ago, I went to yoga classes to tackle my stress and back problems. I was not interested in chanting, but as I felt physically better, I got curious. I tried Om-ing in class, and over time, I healed so much: my back, my stress, my mind … my LIFE. Learning the science and philosophy behind this greater zen-ness, I got hooked on Om.

“Om” comes from Hinduism and the philosophical practice of yoga, but like many things historically rooted in religion or philosophy, it has evolved and can be (and is) used differently today. Considered a highly spiritual sound and pronounced Ah-oo-mmm (AUM) with silence at the end, Om represents creation, preservation, liberation, and transcendence in the silence. Repeating Om or a cluster of chosen words makes a “mantra.”

Just speak Om (AUM + silence), and you will feel a vibration rising from your seat through your upper body to your forehead and into a quiet mental space. Chanted fully, Om vibrates at a frequency of 432 Hz, which mimics the vibration of everything in the universe. You might feel more connected to others and yourself. You could feel a big moment of inspiration, able to rise above personal challenge and perceived limitations.

Science is increasingly supporting the Om chant, saying it creates emotional calm, neuroplastic transformation, and serenity—similar to vagus nerve stimulation treatment for depression and epilepsy. In one study, chanting had more positive benefits than just listening to relaxing music. The same part of the brain that causes overwhelming anxiety and depression is also able to send calming signals. When your mind is calm, your body is in a more relaxed state and better able to tap into its innate ability to heal and sustain health.

For all these reasons, Om is an essential “mantra” for any yogi. Whether you use Om as a starting point for a mantra practice, or create your own mantra, consider applying it to your daily life and see what happens.

Om can serve as a “hack” to snap you out of a family situation fraught with emotional trauma (excuse yourself, go to the bathroom, quietly Om on your own, and emerge in a different state of mind). Choose a DIY-mantra in advance of a work presentation, such as: “I am going to rock this!” Sing it to the tune of a favorite song–you’ll probably smile and trigger a release of serotonin, the feel-good hormone that induces relaxation and lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. Handle a tough relationship situation by repeating to yourself, “I love (name)” before you interact, which might remind you to come from kindness.

Today, I feel, with every part of my body, mind, and soul that my yoga practice is incomplete if I don’t Om at least once at the beginning and end of class. Think of Om—or your own, personal mantra—as a signal to yourself to stop stressing, calm down, and feel better. In other words: Keep calm and Om on.