The Sanskrit word 'mantra' is made up of two words: 'man', meaning 'mind', and 'tra', meaning 'instrument'. Quite literally, 'mantra' translates into 'instrument of the mind'. Whether you are practicing yoga through asanas and pranayama or simply meditating, sound can play a huge role in facilitating a better practice. Chanting, music, and even the calming sound of the breath, are all examples of how we use sound in yoga practice.
Even the newest practitioners of yoga have experienced the Om: a powerful sound whose vibration resonates through studio walls and penetrates the soul. But not everyone knows why we say this word or what it even means. Quite simply, Om does not translate directly into one meaning. Om is ambiguous, and it is thought to be the sound of the universe. It is a symbolic vibration, as opposed to one word with one meaning. According to Hindu belief, Om was the sound made when the entire universe was created. We chant Om at the beginning and end of yoga classes to unify the minds of the souls in attendance. The profound sense of unity created by this simple chant is undeniable. Om is a bija mantra, or single-syllable mantra, which are the easiest to pronounce and easiest to remember.
Have you ever noticed that the yoga teacher's musical selection has the ability to make for an amazing (or not so amazing) yoga experience? I had one teacher whose sequencing I very much enjoyed, but I found myself steering clear of her classes because her playlists were filled with acoustic music accompanied by distracting female vocals. On the flip side, one of my favorite teachers fills his classes with instrumental reggae and Indian music (no vocals). This teacher also has a yoga DJ in attendance once a month just to heighten the musical experience of the class. Instrumental music is preferable over music with vocals while practicing yoga because many find vocals too distracting — compromising the meditation at hand. The right music in a yoga class can be profoundly healing. Organized and melodic instrumental music is the best type of music to play in class. Instructors should have a seamless playlist ready, instead of constantly flipping through albums or logging into Pandora and having to deal with the frequent commercial interruptions. I can't tell you how many teachers I know that actually use Pandora. Come on, guys! If music is used in classes, it should help to facilitate meditation... not to impose or distract.
The body's natural sounds — the sound of the breath, the heartbeat, the movement of the body — can be rhythmic and calming. Ujjayi breath, or throat breathing, produces a soothing and noticeable sound that is often compared to sounds made by crashing waves. When we check in to our breath and breathing patterns, we are meditating and re-connecting with the body. In Hatha and Vinyasa styles, the asanas (movements of the body) are often linked to patterns of breathing for this exact reason. Focusing inward on these sounds will help us focus and learn about ourselves, making for a better overall experience in the studio. These sounds are the most fundamental and natural sounds you will encounter in the studio. You can learn about yourself by concentrating upon them.