From the beginning of my yogic journey, I have often wondered about the chanting of AUM. In my studies of yoga philosophy, I can get lost in the vastness and depth of the subject. So I attempt to keep it on a simple level and reflect on the effect it has on my own consciousness as my understanding slowly grows. When chanting, especially in the company of others, I feel a vibration deep inside that suggests that there is so much more than I currently realize. That sparks my curiosity and I think that is what keeps me coming back to my mat.
To give an example of what the chanting might feel like, here is a video from the 2016 IYNAUS convention.
The best explanation and instruction of the chanting of AUM I have found is from BKS Iyengar himself. Below is a passage from an October 14, 2005 interview by filmmaker Mira Nair with Guruji, courtesy of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York.
All of you sit straight. I don’t want you to stand. Think that you are standing though you are sitting on the chair. Treat your tailbone as the feet – as the center of the feet. And the two buttock bones are the actual feet. So sit on the buttock bone from the back to the front, the center like an arch – reverse arch – touching your seat. When you stretch your body, the torso – close your eyes, drop your eyebrows down; when you close your eyes the upper lid should come down, not the lower lids going up – again open your eyes: slowly bring your upper lids to come and touch the lower lids along with the eyebrows. Don’t bend the head down.
Hear the inner sound from the ears and take the vision – reverse the vision of your eyes to the inner space which you cannot measure either through physical eyes or intellectual eyes. It is so deep inside. As you descend the energy of the brain from the four hemispheres let the energy touch the stem of the brain or the egg of the brain so that the four hemispheres’ energy recedes to the center. And from there, it has to dip down towards the seat of the heart which is the seat of the mind. And as you are sitting, see that your feet, the buttock bones are firmly established on the seat. Gradually stretch the frontal spine – do not jerk the back spine – but the frontal vertebras, creating space on the anterior part of the spine which is known as the physical energy.
Ascend the physical energy from the front of the tailbone to reach the core of your being which is exactly just near the diaphragm, the center of the diaphragm. Similarly, bring the intellectual energy from the head to descend so that both the physical energy and the intellectual energy reach at the seat of the intelligence, the heart. At the same time your vision should follow the descendence of the energy of the intelligence as well as the ascending energy of the physical body. And you will know where they meet.
Take your ears inside. Release your tongue. Do not touch your tongue to rest on the upper palette. As you are in sleep, as the tongue is completely quiet, non-moving, here also learn to relax the tongue and let it rest on the lower palette. Remain quiet. Passively look within, not only with your eyes, but with your ears, so that the mind becomes quiet and your brain becomes silent. In the silence there is auspiciousness. In that auspiciousness the incantation has weight. Look within. Let your inner layer of the skin also look within without dropping the height of the spine.
Along with me, after I say AUM, I request you all to sound AUM.
AUM is not a Hindu mantra. The first word to open the mouth is akara – A – you cannot open the mouth without the word “A” – you cannot speak without rolling the tongue – that’s why “U” comes – so silence comes from the “M”; so it has nothing to do with Hindu religion. AUM is the three words which makes one to speak. Therefore the importance of AUM and they call it as “shabda brahma” or brahma, the creator, in these three words where the language has come to existence. Therefore the Hindus use the word AUM as a bija mantra, as a seed for talk. Therefore let us all pay respects to these three words which makes us to live, which makes us to create, generate, protect and destroy what should not be used.
Slow, soft exhalation. Do not do an inhalation. If you inhale you disturb the vision of your eyes. So let the vision be deep inside.
AUM chanting going on.
Hear the sound of silence. Let your ears move in to feel the source of the vibration. And that is self.
Wish you all the best in yoga.
[end of passage]