By Cat Kabira
How we communicate defines our entire world. For me, the beauty of Bali is in how many of the Balinese communicate with their hearts – through their word choice, their smiles and easy laughter, and the ease with which they hold themselves. This reminds me to soften, lighten up and connect to everyone from a more playful place as well.
We always have a choice in how we communicate – we choose how we speak, what we say – and whether or not we truly speak our needs and our truth. We have the choice to speak eloquently, we have the choice to spread love, we have the choice to inspire and empower, and we have the choice to ask for what we really want. We communicate by how we gaze through our eyes, how we walk and hold ourselves, and our very presence speaks volumes without words. And while the old adage “Actions speak louder than words” is wise, “Better the foot slip than the tongue” still holds true. How can we be mindful of how we speak, while speaking our truth, asking for what we really want, and also practice ahimsa (non-harming).
In yoga the part of the body responsible for communication is called vishuddha, or the throat chakra. There are seven energetic centers in the body called the chakras (‘wheels’ or ‘discs’) starting at the coccyx and rising up the central axis of the body to the seventh chakra located at the crown of the head. According to yoga’s understanding of the subtle body, each chakra is believed to influence emotional and behavioral patterns. The chakras connect to the endocrine and nervous systems with each energy center having a corresponding plexus (nerve center) as well as hormone-producing gland. Balanced chakras are said to spin in a clockwise direction while imbalanced chakras that are sluggish (nearly immobilized) spin in a counter-clockwise direction.
The throat chakra is connected physically to the throat, jaw, neck and mouth. When our throat chakra is balanced we speak honestly and in an eloquent, loving, grounded way. We are good listeners. If this chakra is blocked or sluggish we are shy, unable to articulate needs and feelings, insecure, and fear other people’s judgments. We dominate conversations, are critical, too blunt, or even cunning. We don’t listen well to others. Hyperthyroidism can occur here, as well as TMJ and ear infections. We may express shyness or feelings of being timid in how we hold ourselves, especially in the neck and shoulders. When scared we instinctively raise our shoulders up towards our ears and contract the back of our neck to protect our jugular vein. Not only does that fear response create tightness in the shoulders over time, it creates tension in the neck and compresses the nerves that run from the brain down through the neck to the body. This can have the effect of shutting down communication in the nervous system – from brain to body – and this can compress the hyoid bone in the front of the throat.
In yoga there are many ways to balance the throat chakra by practicing specific poses that target the upper body and neck. Chanting, sounding and reciting mantras can also be used to release blockages. One of the best ways to unlock and access the throat chakra is through a style of pranayama called ujjayi breathing. By gently restricting the back of the throat, a gentle ocean-like sound is created. In many styles of yoga, like the popular Vinyasa or Ashtanga, ujjayi breath is practiced while doing the yoga poses (asanas). This breath affects the lungs, abdomen and heart from the movement of the diaphragm and the stretching of the ribs.
If we combine this mindfulness breathing practice with an awareness of how we inhabit ourselves physically (with asana practice for instance) we can actually transform our physical, mental and emotional bodies. The breath isn’t just breath. It’s a conduit for energy called prana (life force). The beauty of ujjayi is that it can be practiced off the yoga mat: while walking, on the motorbike, while waiting in line, while spending time with others. An awareness of vishuddha chakra and ujjayi can help us communicate with greater clarity and ease. When we connect to that magic we have the ability to communicate from a place deep inside our hearts.
Cat Kabira is an ERYT-500 yoga instructor, craniosacral therapist and shamanic healer who has been living in Ubud, Bali, since 2006. She teaches at The Yoga Barn and offers teacher trainings throughout the year.