There is a pranayama practice in yogic tradition called ujjayi breath that creates an ocean wave sound as it flows over your throat in both directions; in through your nose and out through your nose. In practicing this breath, I like to imagine every time the inhale flows in over my throat that I am receiving and as the exhale flows over and out, I am letting something go. Ujjayi breath can be a useful tool for balancing energy in the throat chakra, or vishudha. When I use the term balancing in regards to the chakras, it doesn’t mean there is a weakness that needs strengthening; it’s more of a shifting of attention to support wholeness.
When I teach ujjayi breath, I invite everyone to hold a hand up in front of their face and pretend their hand is a little mirror. I then ask them to breathe out like they are fogging up that mirror. Ujjayi breath uses that same type of fogging breath out, but you seal your lips together and let the breath flow over your throat and out the nose instead of out the mouth. It makes a sound like when you hold up a big shell to your ear on the beach and can “hear the ocean”. I used to love listening to the ocean in November from the treasured shell I’d brought back with me to northwest Ohio. Cupping the shell to wrap around my ear to make that woosh would bring me right back to the warm sun on my skin, the sparkling sand through my squinted eyes and the soothing sound of the ocean waves of the summer beach.
Ujjayi is also known as victorious breath. Victorious like the ocean. Victorious like truthfulness and courage. By putting intention and presence into this breathing practice, each breath offers an opportunity to be victorious over what might feel uncomfortable, stuck or outdated. Each breath cycle feels like an opportunity to clear out, make space, and begin again, like a giant ocean wave washing away gunk to reveal what I already am.
The sanskrit name for the throat chakra is vishudha, which means purification. Vishudha is the fifth of the seven main chakras, or energy centers that run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. It is located in the center of the neck, between the heart-center of love and the third eye center of intuition. This is where expression and creativity live. If I am feeling particularly timid, unsure or insecure (signs to me that something’s off-balance), taking 15-20 minutes to write and express whatever is on my mind onto paper helps ease these feelings of discomfort. That is why I tend to start my day with this practice, that way I can begin my day knowing who I am. *Not to say this is always 100% effective!
Although the chakras do not hold a definite shape, color or form to the naked eye, the description of the throat chakra’s appearance is said to be a vibrant sky-blue color. When vishudha is balanced, creativity flows like the blue waves of the ocean and discomfort is approached as an opportunity to learn. Through attention and reflection we can tap into the energy in the chakras and discover where we are in and out of balance, where we can offer support. The yoga practice, including pranayama (breathwork), meditation, mantra, philosophy and asana (postures), can be that support when things feel a little off kilter.
Truthfulness, or satya, is a prominent quality of energy held within the throat chakra. When the throat chakra is blocked or out of balance, truth becomes harder to decipher. The throat chakra governs our ability to express in alignment with our truth. I trust myself is a simple mantra that I’ve used to muster the courage to connect with my truth. Repeating this short phrase acts as a helpful reminder to clear a path so I can hear my own voice curl out from my roots, unashamed.
These little reminders can go a long way on this ever changing journey of balance. At 29 years old I thought I’d be better at voicing my opinion. I used to think one day it would switch like magic and I’d be confidently bursting with clarity. Working with the fifth chakra has helped me shift my focus to supporting this discomfort and ask myself questions like, Why do I think the way I do? Where do my beliefs come from? What do I stand for? What are my values? Whispering I trust myself. I trust myself. I trust myself. through it all.
I thought I’d be better at saying no when I mean it by now and saying yes to opportunities that make my heart sing. With a supportive attitude, again discomfort becomes a teacher and I celebrate when I am able to confidently “stay in my lane” as my friend, Erin (great name!) says. Reminding myself along the way, I trust myself. I trust myself. I trust myself.
In this introspective listening, it’s as if a clearing of the fifth chakra or purification naturally arises. This clearing uncovers blockages and opens the inquiry of where they come from; to sort out what belongs to me and what does not. Anne Lammott talks about clearing the mind in preparation for writing through a meditation that touches on this idea. She suggests sitting, watching your thoughts and narrowing your awareness on one critic in the mind; a voice telling you, you’re not good enough. Lamott encourages you to imagine this critic in the form of a mouse, picking it up by the tail and dropping it into a glass jar. She recommends continuing this process again and again until you have a jar of the little mice embodying the different voices in your head that say you are wrong, that say you can’t do it.
Feel free to poke imaginary holes in the top of your jar to let your mice breath outside of your head. A different kind of imagery might work better for you, too; bursting bubbles carrying each critic away (adios!), drifting clouds that take the form of each critic (bye, bye!), a wave crashing over each critic (woosh!). Whatever assists you best in releasing what muddles your beautiful, creative and unique being; your wholeness. Warning! Critic will continue to arise. Our minds will keep on wandering. You can always let your mind sift through your imaginary filter again and watch the blue ocean wave crash over your high school science teacher or your irrational ex-boyfriend or your archaic beliefs from Beauty magazines you read when you were 16. Your inhale brings the wave to a crest and your exhale, the crash; clearing the block, the critic, the gunk.
As you can probably imagine because of its location, the throat chakra is associated with the voice; speaking, singing, writing and even other forms of expression. I listen to a whole lot of music and dabble in signing, piano and guitar playing. I have grown to relate time spent listening to or playing music to fifth chakra support. Setting space to really listen to music, to feel it, let’s me catch glimpses of this feeling of “letting life live through you”, a phrase my yoga teacher Liz uses to describe being present and awake to your senses.
Yo La Tengo, a band of three middle-aged musicians, awes me with their precision, presence and awareness of one another, their audience and themselves. Watching them perform in New York City in 2018 put me into something like a trance. I got to be up close and feel the vibrations, pulsations and reverberations of their noise. Their expression through music moves the air like an enormous breath in and creates a buzz of a simultaneous exhale in the crowd through their potency in togetherness. Their energy flows in a way that transforms into the perfectly practiced smattering of psychedelic rock and heart-felt romance where life literally seems to live through them and me (and you).
This idea of letting life live through you has often translated in Erin-language (not a real thing) as an invitation to listen more deeply. It nudges me to receive from the world outside myself, and let it support the sounds of my inner landscape; a swirl of thought, feeling, emotion and mood. Yo La Tengo’s song Ohm encapsulates this invitation to listen deeply with or without lyrics. As they sing, “Cause this is it for all we know. So say goodnight to me. And lose no more time, no time. Resisting the flow,” it feels like an invitation to each of us listening to add to their expansion of life living through; each moment a new opportunity to let the wave take us and begin again.