In baby and toddler yoga classes i like to work with humming sounds. My pregnancy yoga teacher, Sarah, first introduced me to the idea of humming as being ‘sound healing’ that works for both mum and baby, and it’s an idea i have integrated into my practice and my daily life ever since.
At the most basic, we often sing a nursery rhyme and then hum it, to settle the babies/ little ones down. We also hum while stroking down the babies’ bodies, and practice ‘sonic massage’ (*) which involves humming different sounds( Ram, Yam, Vam, Ohm) into the babies’ bodies. Once Mums are comfortable with making the ‘ohm’ sound i like to use it during relaxed walks, our wind down to relaxation time.
Personally i use the ‘ohm’ sound a lot with my toddler, i find it really useful when she is on her way to a daytime nap, and last thing at night to settle her to sleep. It seems to work well for that ‘fighting sleep’ stage that many Mums will recognise in their babies!
I am almost 6 months pregnant and i feel that my unborn baby also benefits from me using the ‘ohm’ sound. Just as they say babies like to hear, and respond to our voices while in the womb, they also love for us to sing, and to hum or chant! The familiar sound of our voices as well as the healing vibrations of the humming, must be very soothing for them. It also sets up an association where, if you are relaxed while humming/ chanting, your baby feels this, and after birth and beyond when they hear the same sounds they will know it’s time to relax.
So, what exactly does ‘Ohm’ mean? And what is going on when we use this sound, or humming?
I have recently come across an explanation of ‘Ohm’ in ‘The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali’- Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the ancient writings of Pantanjali- said to be the Father of Yoga. I am going to paraphrase it but it can be found in Book One, it is Sutra 27:
“It is difficult to understand anything without a name. Even if He doesnt have a particular form , He should have a name. ‘God’ is limited because the very vibrations of the letters are limited. So (Pantanjali wants) a name that can give an unlimited idea and vibration and which can include all vibrations, all sounds and syllables, because god is like that- infinite. So (Pantanjali says) His Name is ‘Mmmm’.We cant easily say “Mmmm’ so it is written as OM. Om is called pranava, which simply means humming.
But you need not hum to feel God’s presence. If you hum it is as if you were trying to create god or bring Him into you. There’s no need to create Him, but just to feel him in you. If you close your eyes and ears, and sit quietly, allow the mind to be completely silent and then listen within, you will hear Him humming. He talks to us always , but we talk so loud, we fail to hear His speech. (…….)
The name OM can be split into three letters: A, U and M. That is why it is often written as AUM.(….) So A-U-M includes the entire process of sound, and all other sounds are contained within it. Thus OM is the origin, or seed, from which all other sounds and words come. After the verbal sound ends there is still a vibration. There is always a sound vibration in you that can never be destroyed. You can always listen to that sound if you remain quiet.Even thinking creates a sound, because thought itself is a form of speaking. By thinking you distort the original sound which transcends the beginning, continuation and the end of the OM sound. To listen to that sound you have to keep your mind quiet, stop the thinking process, and dive within. Then you will be able to listen to that hum.(……..)
We should understand that OM was not invented by anybody. Some people didn’t come together, hold nominations, take a vote ,and the majority decided, “all right, let god have the name OM.” No, He himself manifested as OM. Any seeker who really wants to see god face to face will ultimately see him as OM. That is why it transcends all geographical, political or theological limitations. It doesnt belong to one country or one religion; it belongs to the entire universe.
It is a variation of this OM that we see as the ‘Amen’ or ‘Ameen’ which Christians, Jews and Muslims say. Thats doesnt mean someone changed it. Truth is always the same. Wherever you sit for meditation, you will ultimately end in experiencing Om, or the hum.But when you want to express what you experienced, you may use different words according to your capacity or the language you know.”
Relaxation time in my classes is a way to soothe , relax and refresh Mums and babies/ little ones. It can also be a step toward Mums’ own practice of meditation. Meditation can be simply a focusing of the mind, a quiet time where everyday thoughts are allowed to fade, and we focus on our own inner selves. The quote above talks about quieting the mind in order to hear the inner hum of ‘OM’ , or god. This is something that takes a lot of practice and discipline , and most peoples’ initial experiences of meditation will not lead straight to this. However, even a short practice can have huge benefits and i am a firm believer that , especially as a busy Mum, you need ways of achieving relaxation which are easy to fit into your day. So, sitting for an hour’s meditation before dawn may not be practical, but ‘Om’s or humming to your baby while relaxing yourself, probably is not only practical but really useful! I hope that this piece is illuminating for you if only to know what it is that you can aim for. Yoga practice is called practice for a reason!
(*) For more info and instructions for sonic massage see Uma Dinsmore- Tuli’s excellent book on pranayama during pregnancy, birth and mothering: “A Mother’s Breath”.