It was 1999 when I walked into my first Kripalu yoga class. It had all the familiar components of the other yoga styles I’d tried—but with an added element of organic sound.
The students were making noises on their mats.
There were multiple variations of sighing, audible breathing, and the occasional moan. I didn’t know sounding in a yoga class was even a thing.
I was good with Om. I also liked the strong “ha” sounds in boat pose because it felt like martial arts. But when the teacher encouraged us to let out natural, organic sounds, it felt wrong.
At first I told myself it was weird, but the truth was, I didn’t even know my body had natural sounds.
I’d spent so much of my life trying to discipline my body to do what I wanted, trying to contain my voice, power, passion, hunger, and drive. As someone who started dieting in grade eight, I’d spent decades attempting to shrink, tone, push, manipulate, and fix my body in so many ways.
The Kripalu teacher was telling me my body had a voice of its own—and it needed to be heard.
I wanted to understand. During that week at Kripalu, I gave myself permission to use my voice on the mat. By combining non-scripted, subtle sounds with movement, something started to shift in my practice.
I started making up new (to me) variations of classic poses. My fingers flowed into mudras in warrior, goddess, and triangle. I started playing with soft “huh” sounds in my core-work as I pulsed. My cat/cow undulated like seaweed in the ocean, and transitions became more seamless and graceful.
In a short time those few sounds, initiated from the inside, brought waves of freedom. Off the mat, I noticed it was a little easier to speak up for myself in difficult situations.
The combination of sound and movement helped clear my throat chakra.
The throat chakra represents our ability to speak our truth and listen to the truth of others. This chakra is directly related to our expression of creativity, originality, and freedom.
As babies and toddlers we have the freedom to express ourselves spontaneously. We squeal, coo, grunt, growl, chuckle, babble and sigh. Before we learn the rules of formal language, our body has its own language. We cry out when we need help and grunt when we’re learning a new motor skill. We giggle for no reason, and belly laugh when we feel good.
As we get older and take on the expectations of society, we lose the memory of our body’s organic sounds.
It would be strange if adults were cooing and babbling in the lineup at the grocery store. But the mat can be a safe place where we can express ourselves, while still being respectful of the students around us. When our yoga teachers knows how to encourage expression, it can help us clear blockages from the throat chakra.
Here are five simple ways to bring sound into any yoga class:
- Chant Om more often. If you don’t feel comfortable with your chanting voice, this is even more reason to chant. Harmonious Om’s are beautiful, but chanting is different than singing. Trust the sound that comes out—your original sound.
- Give yourself permission to sigh. Right now, inhale and raise your shoulders to your ears. As you release them down, exhale with an audible sigh. Bring sighing into your practice whenever it feels good. At first, the sighs of others might inspire you to sigh, but eventually your body will signal itself.
- Find pleasure sounds. Make a pleasure sound after you’ve held a challenging pose, or once you hit your mat for savasana. In our busy lives, so many of us forget the importance of pleasure. If you’re an instructor, “Make a pleasure sound,” is an elegant instruction for your students; it honors that we all have our unique way of expressing pleasure.
- Experiment with other sounds. Try making a motorboat sound in downward dog or a standing forward bend (thanks, Amba Stapleton). This releases tension in the neck and face. Experiment with the “ahhh” sound as you lightly thump your chest, connecting with your thymus gland. Make up your own sounds and share them with other yogis.
- Laugh. Find a yoga instructor with a sense of humour and laugh a little. Even if you love the silence and stillness of yoga, there’s always room for silliness. Laughing reduces tension in the throat, jaw, and face. It relaxes us, and helps us not take our practice—or our life—too seriously.
What’s your favourite sound or noise in a yoga class—or do you prefer to keep your sounds to yourself? I’d love to hear from you, in the comments below.