I taught my first two yoga classes here in Batavia this week, and I really enjoyed it. Actually I had fun. At the beginning of class, we chanted Om three times. I know that that the Monday night class had a few people in there that had never attended a yoga class or chanted Om, so it was a new thing to try. Before we started, I talked a little bit about why it was an important practice, but I felt like getting a little more technical for this blog post. Not only that, but I serendipitously came across an article that sparked a little curiosity...and I thought I would write about it.
Chanting Om at the beginning of class is a great way to unite the group, relax the mind and switch gears so to speak. It's a way to mark the transition from the day to day activities to your yoga practice. For new students it may take some getting used to, but you should feel free to just sit and take it all in at first. When you are comfortable join in. It's totally up to you.
"Research has found that chanting in general (and singing certain sounds) stimulates the vagus nerve which is the most important nerve in the body. It passes through the throat and services the heart, lungs, intestines, and back muscles. This vibration directly affects the nervous system. The deep prolonged breathing that accompanies the chant helps oxygenate the body, relaxes the mind, and lowers blood pressure." -International Journal of Yoga
Wow, all that happens just from vocalizing the sounds A-U-M. Makes me want to go hang out and chant with some monks in the Himalayas for a few weeks.
FMRI's have shown that chanting Om is associated with limbic system deactivation which is a fancy way of saying a relaxed state of being. The limbic system is the same system that can fire rapidly and cause states of anxiety and depression. We also know that the brain is known to have a certain amount of plasticity - it is changeable. That is to say, that our neural pathways can change. Neural pathways are a series of connections between synapses in the brain. These pathways are the way that our brain makes sense of things. These connections help us associate things with other things, for example thoughts linked to emotions. The concept of neural pathways are sort of like when people continue to take a shortcut in the grass...the grass stops growing there and creates a dirt path. The same concept works in your brain. You associate the things with the same things...over and over. That is why habits are hard to break. However, we know the brain has plasticity and we can create new pathways and change old ones. It just takes some repetition. Whenever the new pathway is used, the connection gets stronger...the dirt path becomes a little more worn in.