What Do the Aum and Breathe Symbols Mean?

aum symbol on dark red background main

The Aum (also spelled “Om”) symbol has a special spiritual significance in Hinduism and other Eastern religions. Aum symbolizes the essence of reality. It also is believed to be the “sound of the universe.” “Aum” is a well-known chant and is popular in yoga and meditation. The letters of “Aum” are believed to be a triad, three things related to each other. The Aum symbol has five parts, each representing states of consciousness. The Breathe Symbol is closely related to the Aum symbol, if not merely a fancy version of it. 


Hinduism is the third-largest religion in the world.  It is sometimes labeled the oldest religion in the world.  In 2021, about fifteen percent of the world’s population (over a billion people) are Hindu, with over two million in the United States.  That’s a lot.

The Aum (also spelled “Om”) symbol is sacred to Hinduism.  The ancient Hindu beliefs regarding the sacred nature of the symbol also influenced other religions found in India (including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism).  The Aum symbol has special importance in many parts of Asia.  

The Aum symbol also influenced New Age beliefs and might have also influenced some Christian and Islamic views of God.  Aum had worldwide influence.  

What is Aum?  

Hinduism believes that “Brahman” is the ultimate reality, the supreme power of the universe.  Brahman in some fashion interacts with all of creation.  Brahman is a sort of “divine stuff.” 

Aum represents this special essence, divine stuff, of the universe.  Some say it is the “sound” of the universe.  Or, at the very least, the very first sound of the universe.  

You might have seen a person chanting “ommmmm.”  They are chanting “Aum,” which is a special mantra to obtain a connection to the divine.   

“Aum” is commonly used in yoga, which has special religious significance to Eastern religions. Chanting “aum” is also used by many as a means of relaxation and a way to obtain focus.  

Tidbit: When Meghan Markle went on her first trip with her boyfriend, Prince Harry, to Africa, one of the few things she took with her is a yoga mat.  (Source: Spare by Prince Harry.)

“Aum” commonly begins and ends Hindu prayers and is used to begin Hindu manuscripts.  Likewise, other religions such as Buddhism, use it as part of their own rituals and prayers.  

Aum: Word

“Aum” has a deep meaning with each letter having a special significance. The letters are understood to be a triad, a set of three connected persons, things, or concepts.  

For instance, the “A-U-M” letters can symbolize: earth, atmosphere, and heaven; thought, speech, and action; the three qualities of matter (goodness, passion, and darkness); and the three sacred Vedic scriptures (Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda).  And, many more things.  

When a person chants “aum,” this little word sounds like it has three syllables.  A yogi teacher explains its special significance by offering one way to understand this mysterious concept:

“The A represents creation, U is manifestation, and M is destruction,” explains Kumar. “It’s basically all-encompassing—the whole universe joined into a single sound. It represents the union of the mind, body, and the spirit.”

Aum: Symbol 

The different parts of the Aum symbol each have a special significance.  As with the word “Aum,” there are various beliefs on what exactly they mean.  Deep contemplation on the meaning of the symbol might be a useful thing to consider during meditation.

The Aum symbol is drawn in various ways.

The dot at the top symbolizes an absolute state of consciousness or being.  It is the symbol of enlightenment.  It symbolizes someone who has reached a state of harmony with the universe.

The semi-circle on top symbolizes the “maya” (illusion) that blocks us from reaching enlightenment.  Buddhism is especially concerned about the path to enlightenment.  

The right curve symbolizes a dream state.  It symbolizes your subconscious.  Your hidden hopes, dreams, fears, and desires are found here.  Dr. Freud would be quite interested in this.  

The top of the left curve is a symbol of your unconscious state. This is a period of total unawareness.  When I had a medical procedure and went under, this was my status.

The bottom of the left curve is our normal waking state.  It is when we are totally conscious and engage with the world with our mind and body.  

The Aum symbol as a whole thus represents each state of reality.  

Breathe Symbol 

The “breathe symbol” is gaining some popularity. It is repeatedly seen as a charm necklace or a plaque.  The breath symbol is supposed to be based on the Sanskrit symbol for breath (prana).   

Note how the plaque usage of the symbol fits into the word “breathe” as if it is a fancy “B.”  From what I can tell, it is questionable if the breathe symbol is truly based on ancient Sanskrit.  

The breathe symbol repeatedly is cited as a form of the Om symbol.  The tattoo website notes the om and breathe symbols “share a similar structure and shape, which leads us to believe that these symbols are deeply connected.”  I think the breathe symbol is just a version of Aum.  

The breathe symbol represents our life force (breath) with the loops and spirals representing the journey of our life and path to enlightenment.  The overlap with Aum (Om) is clear.  

Reiki Usage 

Reiki is a Japanese alternative medicine technique.  It is based on the belief we have energy fields around our bodies.  Proper access to these fields, often with the help of Reiki symbols, will provide a road to health and happiness.  

Aum is respected by many Reiki practitioners as a means of purification and harmony.  This is an example of the wide influence of the Aum symbol.  Not surprising for a symbol of reality itself. 

Final Thoughts 

The adaption of the old (REAL old) Aum concept into a new symbol (Breathe) is a not surprising development.  One thing that I have learned while writing these discussions of symbols is that there is a lot of development over time.  Beliefs and concepts change over time. 

Symbols provide meaning to our lives.  It is in my opinion a good thing that symbols change. Change is often good.  And, if you have more on the breathe symbol, let me know.