Putting Sound to Breath

So I’d had a hard day–not anything earth shattering, just the run of the mill exhaustion from sleepless nights with the baby, dishes overflowing in the sink from last night’s dinner, and a cranky, pent-up four year old insisting she wear a summer dress in the middle of December (did I mention we live in Canada). Fortunately my husband is keenly aware of when my cup runneth over and he generously chose to take the kids out for a bit.

Ahhh… the illusive alone time every mommy craves. What to do with self?? Knowing I needed to recharge and defrag I rolled out my yoga mat, purposely ignoring the jam and cheerio encrusted floor, and collapsed straight into my favourite pose–savasana. There was a moment of guilt when my brain suggested some stretching would do me good, but I was beyond tired and so I opted to breathe instead.

I started with a couple fall-out breaths. That’s when you inhale deeply through the nose and on the exhale you allow the air to escape from your mouth. My initial breaths were automated and utilitarian with a long slow inhale to fill my lungs and then, with semi-pursed lips, a vigorous and breathy exhale to let it all out (somewhat exasperated sounding). I took a few more breaths and noticed these next few went in deeper, my belly expanded fully with air, and my exhales lingered longer with a natural pause at the end. I lay there between breaths enjoying the nothingness and the feeling that I was no longer the “doer” of my breath, but rather a witness to its natural course.

On my next exhale, something happened–a sound escaped and it wasn’t any old sigh or whooshing noise one would expect with a fall out breath. Rather it was a deep and primal moan that would best be described as sounding like a tone-deaf cow in labour. Yep, you read that right–a tone-deaf cow in labour (if there ever was a sound). Now, don’t get me wrong, although I have indulged in some self-deprecating humour in the past, that’s not where I’m going here; this is exactly the way I remember it sounding. The noise shocked me at first and I caught myself thinking, “Oh, I’ve really been neglecting my practice.” But for some reason that was the sound that needed to escape from my body.

As unsavory sounding as it was, it was also strangely satisfying, so I went with it. Each exhale got louder and longer, and I caught myself chuckling at the sound. Before long I was in gut laughter over the matter and all the while I continued noisy, fall-out breath after noisy, fall-out breath. With all due respect to my fellow yogis who enjoy chanting or laughter-yoga, as more of an introvert, I’ve always found these classes and I a bit ill-matched. Yet here I was in the throes of atonal om’s and side-splitting laughter, completely enjoying myself. In fact afterwards I felt a deep sense of bodily peace and calm–the whole experience was very cathartic.

This got me thinking about the physiology of putting sound to breath, and why it’s so satisfying. I was reminded about how singing can have some of the same effects as exercise–it can release of endorphins, which give the singer and overall “lifted” feeling, and the mere act of projecting sound requires deep breathing which serves to oxygenate the blood, enlivening the body, and the deep breathing, followed by long slow exhales, plays a part in reducing anxiety. From a yogic perspective, the vibrations of sound originate at the 5th chakra, the throat center, and the energy associated with this area relates to communication and self-expression. Opening the throat chakra creates a relationship of trust between what you want to say and what you actually deliver when communicating.

Physically this all makes sense as to why I felt recharged and relaxed after the experience; however, when I really think about it, there was another important piece to the effect of it all. I realized it wouldn’t have been the same experience if I’d held back the sound–it needed to all come out. A half hearted voice wouldn’t have prompted the deep breathing, the endorphin release, and the necessary energetic flow through the throat chakra. So when putting sound to breath, whether it be chanting, laughing, singing, or as in my recent experience, something completely different, it serves me best to let it be strong and confident, preceded by deep and expansive breaths, and to let it all fall out.