1.12 “The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice and detachment.” – Desikachar
All last year, my throat hurt. It wasn’t the sore throat of a cold, but a sore throat of use. Just a half hour into conversation, and my throat would begin to ache, to want to be done, be silent, to rest and drink peppermint tea. I had to force it to continue for the sake of my job.
When the academic term ended, my sore throat persisted. So I went to the doctor, who sent me to another doctor, to another doctor, and finally, to voice therapy. There was nothing wrong with my vocal chords, the doctors said, so it must be how I use my voice.
Rita, the voice therapist, taught my voice how to become aware of where it is making its sound: in the throat or in the mouth? When the sound centers in the throat, the vocal chords slam against each other with sharp, hard vibrations. When the sound centers at the mouth—the exit of the respiratory system—the vocal chords vibrate more than slam.
For example: try to say the affirmative “mmmhmmmm” by making your lips vibrate. Now try just the chords in the throat. It’s that subtle difference in feeling.
The breathing yogini in me noticed that throat-sounds originate with the breath in the chest. Mouth-sounds originate from the diaphragm, the belly. Sending the sound to the exit of the respiratory tube requires deeper breathing.
Rita suggested vocal exercises like chanting as the best way for learning this awareness and warming up the vocal chords. Chanting… practicing. Practicing sounds, vibratory noises, and awareness. Being present with my breath, voice, and body. Practicing presence with self.
Last week at the Christians Practicing Yoga retreat, we chanted the Psalms every day. Perhaps I shall do more of that to practice.
Next, Rita and I talked about posture and stress: When I teach, I lean forward. I am active, engaged, and straining to do a good job. I want to be a good teacher, and I want to communicate everything to my students well. Often, I do this in conversation too—lean forward—and my voice hurts.
Imagine, my fellow yogis & yoginis, that you are using a muscle deep inside, and then you turn the limb. Inside, the deep muscle twists and operates at another angle. Perhaps this is not the opportune angle. So it is with the vocal chords when you speak with your head turned or strained forward.
Before I speak, I need to pull my head back and align my spine, to allow my vocal chords to be aligned too. Active and resting at the same time, just like holding Warrior II – strong and yet at ease in my skin.
By pulling my head back, I am detaching a bit. I have to pull back from straining to communicate. I need to detach from the pressure of making my students understand. This, as a teacher, is SO hard. For my students to understand what I am telling them is my job. But I, the teacher, cannot make them understand anything. I am only responsible for what I say and how I say it. Then come the clarifying questions and answers.
No matter how much emphasis is placed on student evaluations, I am only in control of what I communicate, not how they interpret it. If I am straining to control what I cannot, I will be miserable, and my voice has now made this physically clear.
Learning how to use my voice in this way is a form of yoga. Practice and detachment.
I leave you with a quote: In her book, Chanting the Psalms, Cynthia Bourgeault includes a chapter entitled “Psalmody as Christian Yoga.” Of Benedictine monks chanting the psalms, Bourgeault says: “In the three to five hours spent daily in the choir, the monks were also submitting themselves to a highly precise system of inner alchemy. Whether consciously articulated this way or not, the chanting was a kind of yoga, producing definite changes in the subtle energetic structure of their being according to a well-calibrated blueprint” (29, emphasis added).