Ask anyone to show you what yoga or meditation looks like, and most people will sit cross-legged on the floor, place their hands on their knees, close their eyes, and say, “Om”. It’s the cartoon version of a yoga practice and a great starting point for a discussion on the Sanskrit word om.
This tiny word has a huge, magnificent meaning. I love how Cyndi Lee defined Om: “Om is a mantra, or vibration, that is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. It is said to be the sound of the universe. What does that mean? Somehow the ancient yogis knew what scientists today are telling us—that the entire universe is moving. Nothing is ever solid or still. Everything that exists pulsates, creating a rhythmic vibration that the ancient yogis acknowledged with the sound of om. We may not always be aware of this sound in our daily lives, but we can hear it in the rustling of the autumn leaves, the waves on the shore, the inside of a seashell. Chanting om allows us to recognize our experience as a reflection of how the whole universe moves—the setting sun, the rising moon, the ebb and flow of the tides, the beating of our hearts. As we chant om, it takes us for a ride on this universal movement, through our breath, our awareness, and our physical energy, and we begin to sense a bigger connection that is both uplifting and soothing.”
Her definition is a bit mystical for children, so when teaching kids yoga classes, I describe om a bit more tangibly: If you could stand on top of the highest mountain, all alone, and listen to the sounds of the earth, everything together makes an om sound. When we chant om, we add our sounds, our energy, and connect with each other and the universe.
Other than just chanting om at the beginning of class to settle the energy and at the end to come together in harmony, there are many fun, active ways to connect with the power of om. First, I have my students physically experience the vibrations the sound om makes. Have kids bring one hand gently to their neck. Then, they quietly say om, extending each sound (the “ah” sound in the back of the throat, the “oh” in the middle of the mouth, and the “mm” vibrating on the lips). Their bodies obviously feel the calming vibrations, and those same vibrations spread around the room. All of their voices work together to send vibrations out into the universe. Children also like to touch their parents’ throats, or each other’s as they chant, while also holding their own throat. They experience how we all work together to fill the room with vibrations.
To turn om into an active game, just add a ball! Start with the teacher holding a small ball with the class in a circle. Explain that when the ball is tossed to someone else, the kids say om while the ball is in the air. When the ball is caught, the chant ends and it is silent. Then the ball is tossed to someone else, sounding om while it is in the air. Silence when it’s caught. After a few tosses, point out that an important part of chanting om is the calm silence when the sound disappears. Try tossing the ball again, but this time focus on the quiet after the ball is caught.
If you have space, add an “Om Run” to your class. Like a race, kids line up at a starting line. You say, “Ready. Set. Om!” Kids take off running (or skipping, hopping, etc.) while yelling om as loudly as they can. When they run out of breath, they stop. Kids with better breath control will probably go farther (a great lesson in breath awareness). Change up the game and when the kids run out of breath, they have to hold a yoga pose of their choice. Warning! This is loud, but so fun.
You and your child can om while driving around doing errands. At every stoplight, chant om until it turns green. Maybe your energy will change the light faster! Or, pick a color, and every time you see that color car, say om three times (like a friendlier Slug Bug/Punch Buggy game).
Finally, to develop empathy, at the end of a yoga class, I often invite my kids to om for a friend. They picture someone they’d like to spend time with. Then, as they form the Gyan Mudra (the “okay” sign), they imagine they are the index finger and their thumb is their friend. When the thumb and finger touch, they are connected and sharing the healing om vibrations. For younger kids, this could be a way of staying connected with a parent while they are at school or away from home (like The Kissing Hand).
Tap into the vibration of the universe and experience the power of om for yourself!