Aum or OM Chanting
The chanting of AUM (also written OM) is an age-old practice that many people have found to be a favorite form of meditation, in part because of the soothing qualities of this sound. Researchers have made a number of interesting discoveries, such as: increased oxygenation levels in the brain, reduced brainwave complexity, and possible stimulation of the branch of the vagus nerve that serves the ear canal ( Bhavna.)
[The vagus nerve plays a central role in the rest and digest functions of the body.]
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A number of studies have been done
using various research approaches to understand why practitioners feel so at ease and mentally relaxed after this activity, as well as why this particular sound seems to offer benefits that others may not. While no conclusive understanding has emerged, researchers have made a number of interesting discoveries, such as: increased oxygenation levels in the brain, reduced brainwave complexity, and possible stimulation of the branch of the vagus nerve that serves the ear canal ( Bhavna.) [The vagus nerve plays a central role in the rest and digest functions of the body.] One particularly interesting finding that may provide directions for future research is that AUM chanting seems to activate the same brain structures involved in emotional empathy (Uttam.) Scientific study of AUM chanting practices is still in its infancy. That said, the evidence does suggest some benefits and directions for further investigation.
One question that remains to be answered
is the degree to which the benefits of this practice derive from the sound, as opposed to coming from the same process as other meditations (i.e. concentrating one’s attention on an object non-judgmentally.) A 2016 paper by researchers at Macquarie University in Australia found that there appeared to be benefits to voiced versus silent practice. (In a silent practice, the practitioner mentally recites the sound without chanting it aloud.) If the benefits of AUM chanting were entirely the same as other meditations, whether one mentally imagined the sound or one vocally produced the sound would be less likely to matter. Still, there is another factor that might contribute to the difference, and that is the fact that one must control one’s breath to generate actual sound and so one derives similar benefit to breathwork.
Aum chanting practices can be found on the Eka app.
Bhavna P. Harne, Azra A. Tahseena, Anil S. Hiwaleb, R. S. Dhekekar. (2019.) Survey on Om Meditation: Its Effects on the Human Body and Om Meditation as a Tool for Stress Management, Psychological Thought. 12:1. 1–11.
Kenny, M., Bernier, R., & DeMartini, C. (2005). Chant and be happy: The effects of chanting on respiratory function and general wellbeing in individuals diagnosed with depression. International Journal of Yoga Therapy. 15: 61-64. [Review for relevance]
Perry, Gemma & Polito, Vince & Thompson, William. 2016. Chanting Meditation Improves Mood and Social Cohesion. Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition
Uttam Kumar, Anupam Guleria & Chunni Lal Khetrapal. (2015.) Neuro-cognitive aspects of “OM” sound/syllable perception: A functional neuroimaging study, Cognition and Emotion. 29:3. 432-441.