We are coming down to the wire with teacher training. This weekend is one of the last ones where we will be still receiving instruction - after this, it is almost all testing. This weekend does include some testing as well - the dreaded chanting tests. I haven't memorized them all but I have tried and I have learned a lot since we started almost a year ago.
I feel a huge, new appreciation for what chanting can teach us. It is a very good memory tool but, perhaps more importantly, chanting can be a way of giving someone a voice. It sounds a bit obvious, but there is something very powerful about simply sitting upright and chanting something with intention. I am no singer - not by a long shot - but I have learned to chant in a passable voice. When it all comes from my head or even from my throat...yikes...head for the hills. It sounds dreadful. But when it starts in the core and moves upward it is something else altogether. This has been a very useful thing to learn. Also, to learn to not be afraid of my own voice; to feel like I deserve to have a voice to be heard. I fear that I am not the only woman on the planet who has spent a lot of time feeling silenced and, ultimately, growing comfortable in that silence. It is no small thing to feel confident about being heard. (For more on that in a different, yet related, way, I highly recommend this article.)
I see the look of horror on people's faces when I mention that we could chant in class, and I recognize it with total sympathy because it was my face not so long ago. It has been such a liberating thing to learn to chant, even in my somewhat sad ass way, that I feel some compulsion to push people's comfort zone a little in that area. It isn't about encouraging more "look at me!". We have way too much of already in the world. It is about encouraging people to occupy the ground they stand on. It is impossible to chant with one foot out the door. You have to commit fully to it in the moment it is happening and I think we could all use a little more practice with that.
Today, as I did my practice, I was very aware of moving with my breath very slowly - I think I take nearly twice as long as most people in the room - especially for those first ten sun salutations. I did a breath count at one point and it was about an eight second inhale and exhale, which is still less than the ten second count that was traditionally recommended. I see some people moving so quickly through their updogs and downdogs that I wonder if they are breathing at all, but I guess it is their practice to figure that out. In any case, what really struck me today was how much energy I often put into maintaining tension in places that should be relaxed, like my face and my shoulders. "Release your face bandha!" one of my teachers sometimes says. Sometimes he just says, "remember when you first started coming and your neck muscles would be bulging out because you were so tense.." Yah, yah, yah, we all have our issues. It only has taken me three years to absorb the message. We can't all be such quick learners. Today I tried to really let go of needing to hold up the world with my jaw and my neck and shoulders. Remarkably enough, I was much less tired by the end of the practice (and the world was still standing). In fact, I felt quite invigorated. Huh, who would have guessed?
That experience made me think about all the energy that goes into holding up the world, or maybe just myself, when I mentally bring a sense of tension and holding to my various identities - Robyn is an artist. Robyn is a good mother. Robyn is...fill in the blank. Whew! How exhausting. Maybe some of that valuable energy could be put to better use elsewhere.
I know, crazy talk, but just maybe....