This month on the blog here at La Crisalida Retreats, Spain, we are focusing on finding our voice. Our voice goes much further than what we sound like or say. It can come from a place deep within us. It is about our truth and authenticity and so much more. In this month’s article I will be considering how we can find, and use our voice in yoga. Yoga is a holistic practice, meaning that it is not just about the body or emotions. Therefore we need to consider a number of factors when thinking about using our voice in yoga.
Our voice is related to many parts of our body including our mouth, jaw, neck and throat. How we breathe and use parts of our bodies such as our diaphragm and pelvic floor also relate to our voice. In this article, I provide six key exercises for releasing tension and getting to know your voice in yoga.
Energy flow and voice
In yogic thinking there is an idea that the body contains energy, known as prana (or chi in Chinese medicine). This energy flows in energy channels (known as nadis, or meridians in Chinese medicine) and can get stuck or constricted. When energy gets stuck at the throat center this can affect both our physical voice, but also our ability to express ourselves. There can be a variety of reasons for this energy getting stuck including physical, energetical or even psychological reasons.
In my experience, I find that unvoiced emotions can cause blockages. For example, maybe we wanted to tell someone something but we felt too shy, or maybe we wanted to cry or shout and we held back these emotions. This holding back can lead to energetic or psychological blocks. We might experience these blockages as a stagnation of energy, or a slight feeling of dissatisfaction, or a range of other emotions.
Physical blocks and the voice
As well as energetic blocks, the shoulders, neck and jaw are often areas when we hold a lot of physical tension. Many people might unconsciously tighten their jaw when they are stressed. This can result in increasing tension in the head, neck and shoulders. Poor posture can also increase tension in the neck and shoulders. The average human heads weights approximately four and a half kilos and therefore ´text-neck´ can result in neck pain and blockages. (Text-neck is when people incline the head forward to look at a screen or mobile device). Sitting at a computer or reading a book can also lead to an unhealthy head position, and subsequent neck pain.
Yoga can help us in a number of ways to unblock these emotions, and we will explore some of these practices below. We start with some simple physical practices then move on to some sound practices. You could start by trying one or two of the practices that resonate most with you, or do them all in sequence. Taking action is what will make the difference so have a go whilst you are reading this article!
Releasing our jaw to find our voice in yoga
As mentioned above one of the first things we can do with our jaw is to become more aware of how we use our jaw and neck. You might observe that you tighten your jaw when in stressful situations, or even when you are concentration hard, for example in a yoga class. Or you might notice that when you are suppressing something you want to say you clench your jaw. So the first exercises are about getting to know your jaw better. Try to notice when you are clenching your jaw and in which types of situations you are doing this. When you are noticing you are clenching, if you are not in public, try stretching your jaw wide, sticking your tongue out as far as possible and then relax the jaw. Check your lips are lightly touching but the teeth are separated.
Exercise 1: Stretching the tongue to release the jaw
As well as simple jaw awareness there are a few simple exercises we can use to release the jaw muscles. The first is nice to do in Corpse Pose, or sitting as a prelude to meditation, or at any point in the day when you feel tension in the jaw. Simply take your tongue above the front of the upper teeth where the teeth meet the gums. You may feel a slight stretch at the base of the tongue. Then run the tongue along the front of the teeth to the right, and take it around the back of the upper teeth and then around to the left and back to the start position. Repeat three times making a circle of the upper teeth. Then change directions and repeat three times in the opposite direction.
Next do the same process on the lower teeth starting at the bottom run the tongue around the front of the teeth to the right, then around the back of the bottom teeth. Round to the left and to the front. Repeat three times, then reverse the direction.
After swallow a couple of times then rest the jaw, allowing the tip to the tongue to touch the bottom of the upper teeth. Relax and notice how the mouth and jaw feels.
If you do want to continue to do some meditation after this exercise here is a link to some other meditation exercises you can do and tips on how to meditate successfully.
Exercise 2: Releasing the muscles of the jaw
Start by taking your fingers and massaging where the upper and lower jaw meet. Next take your right fist so the knuckles are at the point where the upper and lower jaw meet (photo, top right). Then resisting with your knuckles push your jaw directly to the right against your fist. Release and repeat 5 times. Next take the left fist and push the jaw to the left. Again repeat 5 times and then relax the jaw completely. Close the eyes, take a few breaths and notice how the jaw feels.
Releasing neck tension to improve our voice in yoga
As well as tension in the jaw tension can build up in the neck. To help avoid this there are many simple neck exercises that we can do. Personally, I have been working with a couple of these in my yoga practice recently to help reduce tension.
Exercise 3: How to align the neck and avoid ´text-neck´
As mentioned above the human head is heavy. However, when it is out of alignment the impact on the neck, upper back and shoulders is increased. This exercise helps us to learn to bring our head back into a neutral position.
This exercise can be done seated before meditation or as part of the mountain pose. From sitting or standing clasp your hands and take them to the back of your head at the base of your skull. Close your eyes and press your head back into your hands, resisting with the hands, for a count of 5 breaths (photo, bottom right). Keeping your eyes closed release your hands, and notice what happens to your neck. Some people report that the head drifts forward. If you do a lot of computer work you could do this exercise three to five times per week.
Exercise 4: Simple neck release exercise
Tension can build up in the neck and the quickest neck release is to take the chin to the chest and then move the right ear to the right shoulder, and then making a semi circle in the other direction slowly move the left ear to the left shoulder. It often feels good to move the head from side to side a few times.
Next with the right ear towards the right shoulder, take the right hand over the head and rest it gently on the left ear. The right hand should not be pulling the ear and the spine and torso should remain straight. Meanwhile stretch the left hand away. You could play with turning the left palm up and down, and stretching into the fingers. Try to notice how moving the hand subtlety changes which part of the neck is stretching. After finishing one side return the head to neural, take a few breaths noticing how the left and right side feel. Then repeat on the other side (photo, top left) .
Using sound practices
As well as physical stretches sound practices using the voice in yoga can also really help to release emotional and physical tension from the body. This is where you start to use your voice.
Exercise 5: Roaring to release the voice
One of my favourite practices for clearing stuck energy is Lions Breath. In this practice we sit cross legged or kneel taking the hands in front of you. You may want to imagine something you are feeling frustrated at about one metre in front of you! Take a big inhalation, and then on the exhale extend your tongue out and down towards your chin, and take your eyes to the third eye point whilst at the same time roaring a loud ´ha´ sound (photo, bottom left). You can make the sound about 5 times. Once you have finished close the eyes, take some deep breaths and notice how you feel.
Exercise 6: Om chanting
Another great way to release the voice in yoga is to try some Om chanting. Chanting Om can help us release physical and mental tension. To chant Om find a quiet place take a deep breath in to your belly, and then find the sounds ´Aaa – Uoo – Mmm´. Really see if you can feel the sounds coming up from deep within your body, and feel the internal vibrations. After chanting take a big breath in and notice the silence. Repeat 5 to 10 times at the end sit for a while and notice how you feel.
I hope that you have practiced some of these exercises whilst reading through this article and are now feeling free-er in the jaw, neck, throat and voice?
Of course, there are many more simple practices that can help release overall tension. Here are some great physical yoga poses you can use to release tension at home. If you want to explore more yoga practices to relax why not think about joining one of our Yoga retreats in Spain, we are open all year round.