This morning I decided to do a back-to-the-beginning yoga practice: I deconstructed each piece of a sun salutation, experimenting with modifications, and then did a short sequence of kundalini spinal exercises. Typically, when I engage in this sort of practice, I imagine that I am teaching beginners; this process reminds me that even in the most fundamental techniques lies great potential for healing, strengthening, and soothing.
The mudra and mantra that presented themselves for my meditation intuitively continued a return to basics: Yet, as with the rudimentary yoga, the power within the sounding and its accompanying gesture proved to be potent and exquisite. So, for today’s Silent Sunday, release any preconceptions you may have about the “common-ness” of these techniques. When approached with a neutral mind, the practice delivers profound benefits.
First, the sound of Om, also written as Aum: Today, I focus on the latter version, as the three sounds help to deepen and resonate the mantra. (Aum, or om, is a bij, or seed, mantra; the seed reflects the belief that Aum is the sound present at the moment of creation, and is the “hum of the universe,” present everywhere and for eternity.)
The mudra that accompanies the sounding of Aum is Gyan Mudra: This is the classic mudra wherein the thumb and index finger touch and form a circle; allow the other three fingers to be straight and together. Hands rest on the knees: If you feel a need to ground yourself, to be engaged in an earthly matter, or to “get out of your head,” allow the palms to face down on your knees. If, on the other hand, you need a break from worldly engagements, or you need to stimulate your mind, let the palms face up.
Now, in order to chant Aum, you need to be precise about your breath and jaw. To begin, inhale deeply through your nose; ensure that your breath travels down through your throat, and not just through your nostrils. The idea is to use your full lung capacity, right down to the bottom lobes. When you have taken in as much air as possible, suspend your breath for a moment as you allow the jaw to drop open completely.
You will chant Aum by breaking it down into three distinct sounds: Aah-uoo-mmm. Slowly allow the jaw to shut as you work your way through the mantra; as the jaw returns to neutral and your mouth closes completely, you will be at “mmm”: continue the hum with your mouth closed until you have exhaled all of your breath. Then begin again, inhaling fully, then opening your mouth and jaw. Repeat as many times as you like.
Fringe benefit: Using your jaw in this conscious, gentle manner helps to soothe TMJ!
This whole practice, including the subsequent quiet observation, is practiced with eyes closed, gazing inwardly at the Third Eye (point between your brows).
Special note: Especially first thing in the morning, or after a long day, the final hum tone can be broken or raspy. That’s okay: The vocal cords appreciate humming, so as you repeat the mantra, the sound will smooth out.
When you are ready to stop sounding, sit quietly with the mudra. Notice the ambient air around you. Be aware of any changes you have created within or without.