Last week I went to a cabin in the mountains of Virginia with some friends for a much-needed, very brief vacation—a mini-vacay, as they are now popularly known.
It was one those hurry-up-and-relax affairs that I find myself having as a bona fide adult. Even if there were enough money in the bank for the full weeklong retreat, time is a resource more rare and precious than money.
There just never seems to be enough.
My plan to come home fully revived and pink-cheeked didn’t work out so well; I spent the following days with a sore throat and a tender jaw. My tongue burned and my lips were chapped. Sucking down the last of a bag of cough drops, I realized that I’d spent the entire getaway running my mouth.
My calves and shoulders were hot tub-treated, but my yapper was seriously overworked.
This is one of the pitfalls of having good friends that you never get to see. You spend days, weeks, months saving up bad dating stories and boss woes and therapy re-caps. You survive on a diet of Facebook messages and cryptic texts until you get the big, celebratory feast: an actual sit-down conversation!
These conversations are life-giving, and as rich and decadent as a six-course meal at a French restaurant. They can start at sundown, meander through the moonlight, and end as the sun rises again. There is no topic too boring or strange or shameful.
There are no boundaries or expectations. To delight in the company of a good conversationalist, with strong, muscular vocal chords, has become one of the most integral parts of my yoga practice.
Let me revise that: is becoming. Like almost every yogi I know, when I started yoga I didn’t even have a ‘practice.’ I was just going to class and hoping that my ass would get a little firmer. It didn’t, but everything else in my life did. My sense of self was stronger. I developed actual trust in the world, in the good people of the world. My mind became sharper and more relaxed. I became more comfortable with my flat ass, and more interested in firming up my spirit.
This is when the practice part came in.
Once I realized that it wasn’t just about my physical body or minutes arduously clocked in seated meditation, the real work started. The quest for balance is a constant on this path. I’m always finding the odd stone in my shoe or unavoidable pothole. I right myself and start again and again.
Often, I find myself back at the same place again and again.
This place, for me, is the throat, known in yoga as the Visuddha chakra. Said to be a brilliant blue—like the sky on a cloudless day—it’s called the Purifier, a place of transformation through sound and speech.
You may not believe in or have patience for all this chakra stuff, but one can’t deny the spiritual power of sound. In every religion, speech and song are used for praise and expression.
Quakers, for instance, spend much of their weekly meetings in silence, believing that speech is an expression of Inner Light. In these meetings, one only speaks when they are moved to do so. Speech is regarded as powerful—as the vibration of divinity.
Even those who aren’t religious or spiritual understand the importance of a full-throated sing-along to Mary J. Blige’s Not Gon’ Cry on the way to work.
Sometimes, we need to say it, to sing it, to belt it out with the windows rolled all the way down. People will stare at you and roll their windows up so as not to hear the sound of your voice at stoplights.
But you need to do it, especially when Mary comes on.
Yoga is filled with chants and invocations. Often, we start with the recitation of Om, one of those dark chocolate moments where you can feel your palate blossom. A good, hearty Om allows us to be in unison with those around us. I find myself harmonizing with some newfound, common-pitched friend in the studio every time.
In many styles of yoga, practice begins with an opening chant. These are often recited in Sanskrit, a language that I speak hesitantly, stumbling over pronunciations more than George W. Bush addressing a crowd.
I try not to let self-consciousness stop me, because these chants feel so amazing. Linguistically, it’s the kind of challenge I need to combat my American slacker-speech. Speak Sanskrit, and you’ll quickly find out how lazy your tongue is.
But these chants, even with the occasional Kirtan, aren’t enough to keep us in balance. We live in a world of passive communication, where technology has given us means to communicate over great distances, yet paradoxically has created distance where before there was none.
Skype may have replaced smoke signals and horns in conveying messages to far removed parties, but texting has dismissed the need to actually speak.
Why take the time to knock on your neighbor’s door when you can just send a text without leaving the bathroom?
We’ve become creatures of the briefest connections, where even a short conversation is an inconvenience. The same way that our backs and shoulders are suffering in this computer age, so are our throats—our Visuddhas.
At least mine is.
I rehabbed for several days after my vacation. I drank dandelion tea and stayed off the phone. A bit of silent meditation, forced as it was, was probably a good thing. But I need to find that balance point where I don’t feel the feast/famine dichotomy.
I need to set aside time in my life to talk, really talk, to the lovely people in my life. I’ve been gifted with some of the most charismatic and skilled conversationalists on the planet: oversharers, intellectuals, sit-down comedians, divas and deeply spiritual searchers.
Not everyone has this trusty stable of talkers—I’m learning how lucky I am.
This is where my practice is right now.
My ass is flat but my mouth is round and strong.
I speak. I sing. I roll the windows down.