WITH YOU, I BREATHE: A forty day yoga column

#3: Voice

In Teaching Yoga: Essential Foundations and Techniques, Mark Stephens writes in a section titled “Voice and Language” that “first and foremost, your voice should be sufficiently audible that everyone hears you.” I underlined the sentence, which seems an obvious enough statement, but one that reminded me about where I once was and where I am now.

When I did speak, I spoke quietly and many could not hear me. “Speak up” people often told me. Once in a writing class, my professor asked me a question and I sat near my boyfriend and looked down at my feet and mumbled. Zoë, she said in an exasperated tone, Stop hiding behind him.

I suppose I did not realize that my fear to speak would be problematic in being a successful yoga teacher. I did not realize this because I was looking at the big picture, I refused to get lost in the details. If I thought about the details, I would never make a move. It would all seem too impossible.

Two years ago, I knew I wanted to become a yoga teacher. I use the word want but the decision was less of a desire, less of a choice. It was more like I knew I was supposed to be a yoga teacher and I chose to commit to what I was supposed to do.

Two years ago, I decided I would, at some point, take a yoga teacher training and, in the meantime, continue practicing. I’d work out the details later. One of these details, I suppose was the fact that I did not feel comfortable talking to people.

It was a rather large detail that seem to work out on its own, without my having to worry about it and think about it. Partially to do, I think with the fact that over the past two years, on and off again, I’ve done Cranial Sacral Therapy (CST) with Caroline Cardino, a yoga teacher who teaches at Silver Lake Yoga and Yummy Yoga in Los Feliz. CST is a form of body work that focus on the spine, especially towards the cranium, and the Cranial Sacral Therapist touches the individual very lightly. I first became interested in CST after reading Amy Fusselman’s memoir 8.

In the upstairs room at Yummy Yoga on Hillhurst Avenue, Caroline and I had sixty minute sessions and before each session, we talked about what I wanted to work on and at the end of the session, we talked about my experience during the session.

Caroline is a yoga teacher and CST therapist who is kind and attentive to her student’s energy and willing to listen to and discuss their experience. As a yoga teacher, Caroline guides students through poses and focuses on specific alignments. When I went to her classes, I found them challenging but I experienced poses in a powerful way. When I held specific poses and focused on proper alignment, I had a sudden awareness of my strengths and challenges, both physically and energetically. Caroline is also talented at adjusting students during poses, which allows them to experience the pose more fully. When she made adjustments, I felt an opening in the pose, in my body and I would breathe into that opening, into that space.

Once I learned she was a Cranial Sacral Therapist, I asked to make an appointment with her and after a brief discussion, she accepted me as a client. During one of my CST sessions, we worked on relaxing my jaw because I clenched too much and would grind my teeth at night.

Caroline knew I liked yoga, so after the session, she told me about how the chakras might relate to my current problem. In this case, she told me about my fifth chakra, the throat chakra: Vishuddha. Which she thought was shut down.

It might do you good to talk about things, rather than write them, she said. And notice when you are clenching. You might be clenching your jaw when you are holding back what you really want to say, when you are holding back your truth. I think you’re holding back a lot.

I listened to what she said. During the day, I observed when exactly I clenched my jaw. There seemed to be a consistent trigger. Something would happen, something that angered or irritated me.  I would want to talk, I would want to make a sound and instead, I clamped down, shut down, no sound.

I went back for more CST sessions and practiced yoga. I was, at the time, in charge of managing a room of forty to sixty students most days of the week and worked with many volunteers. You think I’d know how to talk to people but I did not really. I knew my strengths and weaknesses and surrounded myself with people who could help me effectively manage the room. I always picked an intern who liked to talk and generally talked too much and assigned that intern to greet and talk to volunteers. I also did my best to talk even though I felt nervous and inarticulate. It worked. But it was always a nightmare to get the room’s attention. I’d have my manager make room announcements for me. Or I did for a while.

After one CST session, I had a sore throat that lasted a month. It wasn’t so much sore as it felt like I had a airy circle in the middle of my throat that was expanding and contracting. My throat didn’t even hurt but I told everyone it was a sore throat because my voice sounded like I had a sore throat. I had an entirely different voice. It was scratched, it was harsh, grating. I sucked on lemon drops, I rested. This was not a common cold and after three weeks, I called Caroline and asked if this had anything to do with her working on my fifth chakra. I need another session, I told her. I need to fix this. Make it better, make it go away. Make this weird scratchy voice go away.

She told me sometimes when chakras open weird things happened. My other yoga teacher Lauren Maher said she’d heard of strange things happening with chakras opening up.  Look, it’s weird. By weird, I mean certain things can’t be explained the way I wish they could. Which is easily.

What seems unbelievable can be easily dismissible and I do not want my personal experience to be easily dismissed. You can say I had a sore throat for a month because I was working too hard and worked with students who had germs and colds all the time and maybe I smoked too many cigarettes with that one guy, played too hard at night. How was I not going get a sore throat. In the end, you can say and believe what you want. I suppose I don’t care because my point is not to convince you.

My point: I can talk with ease now. After a month, the sore throat passed and I felt an opening. That weird ball in my throat that seemed to expand and contract, disappeared and once it disappeared, I could talk and talk about it all.

I started filling the space with words. By summer, I made announcements to a room of sixty people with ease and more recently, I stood on stage and spoke into a microphone to a roomful of people and it was one of the most enjoyable moments in my life.

There were years worth of stories I wanted to tell and I did not even know I wanted to tell them. In the last few months, people thank me for being so open and others gently, with care and compassion or with humor, point out I interrupt them. There’s always room for growth. I’m discovering how to find the balance between talking and listening.

When I read that sentence in Mark Stephens book, I realized that first and foremost, I have a voice and it’s, for the most part, audible. Although that does not seem like much, it is.

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