“Hi. I’m Janet,” my roommate introduced herself in her heavy Midwestern accent. “But I prefer to be called Krishna.”
Janet/Krishna, was one of my “dorm-mates” at a Sanskrit chanting retreat I attended several years ago. Rounding out our quad, bunk-bedded cabin of strangers were Willow and Sage. Willow was sensitive to scents, and announced such via passive-aggressive notes on each of our pillows: “I’m extremely sensitive to anything with a scent, so I’d appreciate it if you could refrain from using personal grooming products that aren’t unscented. – Willow”
Aren’t unscented? Aside from being a double-negative, I contemplated a smart-ass rebuttal on content, if not grammar: “Willow: I, too, am sensitive to scents, so I would appreciate it if you WOULD use personal grooming products. – Jen”
But I resisted. For I had arrived at chant camp in an attempt to heal my throat chakra and being a jerk right off the bat felt somewhat contradictory.
All my life, I always hated the sound of my voice: I feared I sounded embarrassingly off key when I sang. Every time I heard a recording of myself, I cringed: Egads! Is that how I really sound??
As an adult, I’ve historically also had terrible communication skills – opting either to mute myself in conflict or lose my mind and speak totally irrationally. Growing up, my family did not do conflict. I was not allowed any say if it contained negative feelings. Instead: “Nothing’s the matter. It’s fine.”
It was not fine.
Likely related to all of these things, my thyroid fell into a non-productive coma right around a decade ago.
My throat chakra is fucked.
It is my opinion that we are experiencing an epidemic of throat chakra dis-ease in our current world. (See: passive aggressive notes on strangers’ pillows. Is it so frightening to ask for what we need out loud that we leave a note and scurry away?)
Manipulative, passive aggressive communication strategies are at epic levels, are they not?
Many of us – especially us women – don’t know how to speak up for ourselves in a balanced, effective way. So, in the name of diplomacy or to appear low maintenance, we say nothing. – Or – we swing 180 degree opposite and recklessly word vomit our feelings in an uncontrolled rage all over anyone who cares to listen.
Eventually, these mental practices of avoidance or aggression dissolve into physical disease. They always do. It is not a coincidence that ½ of my female friends join me in treatment for thyroid disease.
Knowing a step to healing was to flex the powers of my voice in a controlled environment, I spent five days at Chant Camp at Breitenbush, a delicious hot springs retreat in the Oregon Cascades. I had visited many times before, and while the stay is always delightful, stepping off the grid into a mountain community full of tree-huggers is a bit of a shock, especially for a Type-A-Leo-tree-hugger like myself who is comforted by completing tasks on my to-do list.
Completely off the grid, there’s nothing to do here but unplug: to eat, sleep, rest and soak. Free from distractions of life, you can’t help but to slow down and notice your own thoughts or listen to your own voice (cringe). That, and notice the behavior of others who are at the retreat…. Which is, by far, one of the most entertaining things about visiting a place like Breitenbush.
The primary reason I was there, though, aside from a sociological study, was to sing kirtan. And sing we did: Three hours each morning and night, we chanted in Sanskrit. It was a voicebox bootcamp. I spent the first three days resisting in tedious delirium, which sometimes softened into a meditative experience and sometimes still sucked ass. Every night, my throat was sore from the 5th chakra workout.
It was hard. But we can do hard things.
Our leader Jai Uttal was a surprisingly humble dude for all of his yoga music celeb notoriety. I had previously assumed, based on his name, that Jai had a traditional Hindi upbringing; on the banks of the Ganges, maybe. Once at the retreat, however, I discovered Jai was actually an Art Garfunkel look-alike who had been born into a nice Jewish family from Queens.
Spending his formative years observing Shabbat, he tinkered with music here and there until 1971, when, like many of the generation, he traveled to India in search of enlightenment. Upon arrival, however, he discovered his intended guru was actually in prison for murder. Not knowing what to do, he floated aimlessly around the country for year, if only for the reason he couldn’t afford the plane fare home. Ultimately, the culture agreed with the New Yorker, and after a long gestation in the womb that was 1970s India, he was reborn and baptized Jai Uttal, master of the sitar, harmonium and Sanskrit chanting.
He doesn’t know this, but I am forever grateful for his gentle guidance for my first concrete step in flexing my own voice. Four years later, self-healing continues to be an ongoing process. Some days I’m a total jerk. Some days I do better.
What helps is the practice of mantra meditations. These days – even when I don’t want to – I spend what sometimes feels like endless hours – but is really only three minutes – each morning chanting the same Kundalini mantra. I do this because I know that, if I can make it through the my practice, I have a better chance that day of communicating in a healthy way instead of doing damage.
We flex our muscles – our physical strength, our mental balance and muscles of our own words – on the mat: Ultimately so we can be less of a mean jerk off the mat.
If you suffer a disdain for your own voice, we hope you join us for a class at Twist Yoga in the coming days, where you might experience the unarguable beauty of your own vibration in classes.
Or consider joining Janell and myself this June for an all inclusive Retreat to Breitenbush Hot Springs, where you’ll slow down, connect with nature, reverse the effects of stress and let someone else take care of things for a while. We may chant a bit. We may not. We will relax.
Make a decision to practice. Then, notice your resistance and instead just do it. You have nothing to lose but your suffering. You are important and worthy and have something special to say. You can do it.