The most common way to chant OM is with the single syllable to make the monosyllabic sound “OM.” This is a wonderful practice that is great for meditation and chanting. It is also the best way to say OM with mantras like Om Namah Shivaya. But, there is another way that creates a sublime vibration that is more in harmony with the universal AUM that permeates everything everywhere.
Scripture says that AUM has three and a half syllables. First is the long “A” sound (like “A” in father), then comes the “O” which is pronounced like the sound of the letter, followed by “M” which is also pronounced like the letter with the lips pressed together. The final syllable is a half note which is more of an inner vibration. In Sanskrit it is called ardhamatra.
AUM is done with a long exhale, so you would start with a full breath so you can hold the tones as long as possible. This is a form of pranayama, or a breathing exercise. It is also a very deep meditation because of how the sound changes your vibration when you chant AUM in this way.
To chant AUM with three and a half notes, you only produce one vibrational sound with your voice. You maintain that vibration in your voice box and create the different sounds by changing the shape of your mouth as you hold the vibration the same throughout. The sound you start with is the long “A.”
You make the long “A” sound for a few seconds, approximately as long as a quarter of your entire exhale. Then you change the sound by making your mouth and lips circular like the letter “O,” the second sound in AUM. After another quarter or so of your exhale you change the shape of your mouth again by bringing your lips together to make the “M” sound.
The final quarter of your breath is used to make an internal vibration, the half note, which is a continuation of the “M” sound, more or less like hum. Ideally, the vibration will move down into your chest, then back up through your throat and into the brain, specifically the area where the pituitary gland is located.
The final half note may take some practice to fully produce the inner vibration, but you will likely know it when you find it because of how deeply it can affect you. Most likely you will feel the effect the first time you practice, but with more practice the sense of deep inner deep peace and connection with the universe will deepen.
Some scripture says the vibration of the half note at the end of changing AUM is sublime and only experienced by great yogis, but just about anyone can get a sense of the depths through this practice of AUM. A little one on one guidance can be helpful if you feel you aren’t getting it.
Not only does this way of chanting make a more sublime vibrational experience, but the controlled breathing when chanting AUM this way is a pranayama practice in itself.
The way to practice is to sit tall without leaning back against anything if you can. Standing also works if you like. Start with a deep purifying breath in and out. After the exhale take a full breath and with the exhale start the “A” sound with your mouth open wide. Continue for a few seconds then change to the “O” sound by making your mouth into a circle. After a few seconds bring your lips together so the “M” sound is made.
The half note is formed toward the end of your “M” sound by bringing the vibration to the back of your throat and down into your chest. The original “M” is made with the mouth relaxed and with the teeth slightly separated. Bringing the teeth together as you move your chin slightly back changes the vibration moving it back.into the throat. There is also a slight constriction of the throat. Relaxing your throat and separating the teeth again while focusing your attention brings the vibration back up and into your head. You might even experience energy in your third eye.
Try to empty your lungs as completely as you can. You may need to take a normalizing breath or two before starting your next AUM. As you get better with the timing, and your breathing becomes purified, you may be able to practice one AUM after another without stopping. While this is ideal, it isn’t necessary.
When you finish your practice, sit for a few minutes to experience the vibration as it continues without sound. The inner peace and presence of self can be intense, so enjoy it! You may find that you want to schedule more time to sit in meditation after your AUM practice.
Chanting AUM with three and a half notes has many benefits. The experience of being in harmony with all of Nature is deeply satisfying in the way it brings inner calm, centeredness and a profound presence of Self. It is a form of bringing the individual to union with the Divine. And, it is also a very powerful pranayama technique.