Om – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Have you ever asked yourself what the single most powerful syllable in the universe is? Are you wondering what those people doing a yoga class at your local park are chanting? "Om" is the correct answer in both cases.

Learn more about the origins of this word, symbol, or syllable in this post.


The Sanskrit symbol ॐ, commonly transliterated to English as "Om", "Ōṃ", "Ohm", or "Aum", is a sacred spiritual or religious symbol in the religious traditions that have arisen on the Indian subcontinent, including:

  • Hinduism
  • Buddhism
  • Sikhism
  • Jainism

Apart from being a symbol and a sound, "Om" has deep meanings, too. They include the universe, conceptions of God or the divine, and one's inner self.

Outside of its native contexts, Om is best known as a mantra used in yoga. As a result of the popularity of yoga, Om has commonly come to mean something like "peace", "relax", "meditate", or "Zen" in the English language.

Example Usage

Because Om is a complex concept with a multitude of interlinked meanings, understanding it is not easy. These example sentence can, however, give you a clearer sense of the way in which Om might be used in practice:

  • We chant "Om" three times as we start our yoga classes and again at the end of a session. This unifies us as people meditating together.
  • My auntie is a very Om type person, if you know what I mean — she burns incense and meditates every day, and has pictures of Krishna everywhere.
  • Everyone has their own interpretation, but I think of Om as God, as the universe, as the thing that binds us all together.


We know that the symbol, word, concept, and syllable of Om emerged on the Indian subcontinent, and that it came from a Proto-Indo-European language. Om is so old that nothing beyond that is very clear.

The earliest Upanishads, which are Sanskrit philosophical works, already debated the symbol's origins, and these came into being more than 3,000 years ago.

Om has had multiple meanings since the very beginning, as the Upanishads mention meanings that include:

  • The divine
  • The universe
  • The self and the self within the self
  • It is so
  • Let it go
  • A tool for meditation
  • The word "yes" (the affirmative), which has been speculated to be one of Om's earliest meanings

The quest to fully understand all the meanings of Om would be a long spiritual journey that could take an entire lifetime — or, depending on whom you ask, even several.

However, in the modern English language, Om can more commonly be defined as:

  • An ancient Sanskrit symbol
  • A yoga mantra
  • Peace and meditation

Phrases Similar to Om

The Om symbol, ॐ, is also known by other names:

  • Praṇava refers to Om as a primordial or ancient sound.
  • Omkara refers to the first instance of the sound Om being made, which is said to have coincided with the creation of the universe.
  • Aksara means immutable and immortal, and can be said to refer to God or the divine.

Phrases Opposite to Om

As Om most often refers to a peaceful and rested state of being in the English language, antonyms could include:

  • Agitated
  • Anxious
  • Restless

What Is the Correct Saying?

The correct word, concept, or symbol is "Om" — also spelled "Ohm" and "Aum, among many others. It is a Sanskrit symbol that can mean divine, meditation, and the inner self, among other things.

Ways People May Say Om Incorrectly

"Om" has come to be such a ubiquitous symbol that it is hard to not use it incorrectly. Om has so many meanings that only serious scholars or religious adherents could claim to fully understand it, and even they would likely not dare to do so.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Om

If you practice yoga, you will most likely chant Om in your classes, in which case the sound is a long and drawn out "Ooooooooooohm". The word can also be used to refer to peace, God, or your deepest self.

It is ideal to study the history and meanings of Om in detail before you start to incorporate it into your everyday language.

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