Chants are a rare form of oral storytelling – they’re passed down through repetition, carried on as a tradition through their perceived usefulness, and transferred between cultures as they assimilate or spread.
While we may be familiar with certain chants borne of ancient languages, most of us who use them have long stopped wondering why they came about in the first place, let alone why they’ve lived for so long.
We can try to understand where chants have embedded themselves into human spirits by thinking of them a bit like prayers.
They’re spiritually or religiously aligned. They’re personal yet collective. And their purpose is rooted in connection to a higher being or vibration.
And they’re everywhere – from Jewish cantillation and sea shanties to Tibetan Buddhist throat singing and the Islamic practice of Dhikr.
But one chant in particular, sweet in its brevity and accessible in its simplicity, may have physiological healing powers in its right. And it’s incredibly familiar and recognizable all over the world: The power of the mighty “Om.”
“Om,” for some, is synonymous with yoga practice or meditation. But its roots are deeper and broader than our modern uses.
Om is much more than the sum of its parts.
Retelling the Story of Creation
When properly pronounced, Om should be four syllables long (pronounced Aum) and vibrate at a frequency of 432 Hertz, which incidentally is the vibration of all things organic on this Earth. (In contrast, most music we listen to is tuned to 440 Hz.)
Translated into Sanskrit, Om means “source” or “everything and everyone.”
It’s also been described as the sound that is the genesis of all other sounds, opening the door for the creation of all things in the universe.
That’s a tall ticket already. But it only grows taller.
It’s said that Om (or Aum) travelled far and wide and evolved into the Muslim “Amin,” the Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Christian “Amen,” the “Hum,” of the Tibetans, and more.
This loaded little sound, incantation, mantra, symbol – this little noise – birthed untold spiritual connections over the course of about 5,000 years.
Part of its power is certainly derived from its status – it’s been time-tested, pressure-tested, and audience-tested for a long, long while.
In fact, some studies have shown that chanting this word stimulated more focus and prefrontal cortex engagement than chanting something neutral with the same number of syllables, simply because people are familiar with what Om is supposed to symbolize…
Peace. Stillness. Connection.
But even before its connotation became famous, Om worked wonders.
Om is a Self-Contained Power
The calming effects and neurological benefits of meditating have been so well-documented that they speak for themselves at this stage in our collective understanding.
Chanting Om has a similar effect to meditation – at least, according to the brain.
Simply verbalizing the Om word has been shown to increase alertness while easing physiological bodily stress.
Not only that, but chanting Om has the effect of producing an alpha wave in the brain.
Quick brain wave reminder:
- Alpha Waves: These waves are large and slow, and are associated with the brain’s transition into a relaxed state that is still ready to interact and perceive.
- Beta Waves: These are small and quick brain waves that are associated with mental alertness, focus, and concentration.
- Theta Waves: These waves are the second slowest, often associated with the mind’s behavior between sleep and waking.
- Delta Waves: These are the slowest waves, but the ones with the highest amplitude. Delta waves are what the brain experiences during sleep.
Elongating its pronunciation and timing it with your inhalations and exhalations helps control respiration and thus regulate the nervous system and lower blood pressure.
The best results have been seen after sustained usage of the chant – a few days or weeks. Mind “steadiness” has been achieved within several days of chanting Om, and has been tracked by calculating brain wavelets.
Whether its significant impact on the human mind began with its neurological and respiratory transformative powers, or those powers were informed by the word’s ancient spiritual pedigree is unclear.
But spiritual leaders, ordinary people, and even those who don’t consider themselves spiritually connected to a larger universal force have been using Om for 5,000 years – and its might hasn’t shrunk one bit.
If you’re an Om newbie, start by practicing making the word into its full four syllable form for just a few minutes every day – you’ll be surprised at how it starts to change your brain.