There is so much that is wonderful about chanting. The way it can take us out of our thinking mind and bring us into harmony with the vibration of our body is exquisite. When done in a group setting, it can be profound to hear everyone's voice contributing towards one powerful tone.
Sometimes we get asked what our 'stance' is on chanting Om in class, and the truth is that we don't have a policy on this. The way our community operates allows for a lot of freedom for each studio to run as they please. As a result, each studio has it's own culture and personality, and we love that. The only thing we at Modo Yoga International really try to do is have a unified message at the teacher training and have teachers feel comfortable in knowing what is suggested in terms of ways of teaching and sharing of information.
To this point, we discourage new teachers from chanting Om in their class, simply because it carries with it such depth, significance and cultural value. There are many who feel that Om is actually a representation of their religion, similar to the cross in Christianity. So for non-Hindus to use this sacred sound in the context of 'being spiritual', it can actually be offensive to some. The idea of cultural appropriation is not to be taken lightly, as it is part of ensuring that voices that often were not listened to in the past, are now listened to and respected.
Here is the low-down on cultural appropriation in yoga. Many feel that the practice and study of yoga has become diminished by going through the filter of a predominantly white, consumer-oriented culture. This relates not only to the use of the sacred sound Om, but also the use of various symbols of meaning and cultural value, like gods/goddesses, symbols, and the very practice of yoga. This is not to say that anyone is necessarily bad or wrong for practicing yoga and expressing interest in all of the various expressions of study. It is more about how it is used and what kind of respect, context and value is ascribed to the study. People can study yoga with deep sincerity, with awareness of the rich traditions and value of the practices, and even have studied and been given blessing to teach these practices.
Which brings us back to the chanting of Om. There are many teachers in this community who are simply excellent at explaining and sharing the rich tradition of yoga, and it is possible that they are incorporating the chanting of Om into their classes as an expression of that respect and love. We have no interest in stopping anyone from doing that if it is done mindfully and with respect. The reason we suggest that they don't chant Om at the teacher training is because that mindful love and respect are not just a switch that gets turned on, but rather is a reflection of years of study and of integrating the cultural and political issues into their teaching.
Most important, it is of great importance to know that chanting Om, among many other practices, is beautiful and powerful. These practices are not the property of any one group, lineage or person. They are however, a reflection of a series of traditions that have woven through thousands of years of cultural sharing, deep study, and sacred teaching, and as such, should be shown the respect and sincere learning that keeps these traditions alive and valued.