To me, there isn't much more in this world that brings people together than a good "Aum." I used to hesitate closing my practices with it because I know some students feel intimidated by it, but it is such a powerful vehicle for connection that I hope my explanations during class--and here--might help folks give it a try.
Aum (often written as "Om") is considered to be the collective, eternal sound of the Universe. I like to think of it as the Universal refrigerator hum--the one sound you'd hear if everything made by human hands could be turned off. Although there are lots of explanations for this simple mantra, when I'm chanting each letter individually as four separate sounds (a, u, m, then silence), I like to think "beginning," "middle," "end," and "beyond." Simple and straightforward, yet profound and personal.
My teacher Shawn Cornelison gives a fun explanation for how chanting Aum usually goes in class. It's like a dinner party, he says. Some people will want to bake a fantastic cake from scratch, spending all day decorating it carefully. They will deliver it with a flourish and bow, proud of their accomplishment. Others will be shy about the whole affair, perhaps surreptitiously handing over a package of store-bought rolls. Most of us will fall somewhere in between. The point is, we all have something to offer and it's all equally important--we wouldn't have a dinner party without a variety of foods ... or a yoga class without practitioners of different shapes, sizes, and abilities. It's the joining together that makes the thing come alive. And honestly, everyone's much more concerned about what they're bringing--not what you are.
When your teacher chooses to close (or open) class with the sound of Aum, do consider joining in. If you feel self-conscious about chanting aloud, you can always participate by imagining the sound inside yourself, or even just vocalizing it quietly. But you may discover that the thrum of the syllable reverberates not just inside your lungs but throughout your whole being, leaving you feeling connected to your fellow students and the entire world around you. Isn't that worth giving it a try?