Last month I spent a week in Stockholm, Sweden, teaching my Yoga Tune Up® Integrated Embodied Anatomy module to a group of future yoga teachers at Yogayama studio. I arrived in icy-cold Stockholm late at night after a 22-hour journey. When I awoke jet-lagged the next morning, I was hoarse — very hoarse. With 20+ hours of teaching ahead of me over the next four days, I was concerned. There was no way to call in a “sub.”
Somehow I made it through the first day of yoga classes with some amount of pushing and strain. But on morning #2, the voice was completely shot. I mean 100 percent gone. For six hours, I pantomimed my way through the anatomy lessons … and liberally used Dagmar Khan, one of our European Yoga Tune Up® teachers who’d flown in from Ireland to attend the course. Like a versatile United Nation’s translator, she would speak aloud my whispered words so the crowd of 30 could hear me in the studio.
Silence is a golden opportunity
That night after the session, my hostess, Anna Hultman, rushed me to a city clinic so that I could see a doctor. On the way there, she told me that the students actually enjoyed Day #2 more than Day #1. “And don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, “but they liked it more because you spoke less.”
Indeed. With my voice gone, my mind and mouth had to edit 80 percent of the “excess speech” I might frequently use to qualify or explain concepts. I had to economize and distill my lessons into their most potent form and transfer the onus of learning away from my vocal chords and into their bodies.
Luckily, I design my embodied teaching so that the complicated interrelated systems of the body can be understood through experiencing them in the body, not just through a two-dimensional slide show. I teach people to be students of their own bodies, not students of my body, my mind or my voice. I give them tools to listen to the sensations emanating from different tissue layers, learn to recognize different neurological relay patterns … so that ultimately, they don’t need me to guide them. They can navigate themselves.
In writing, this all sounds a bit esoterically theoretical, but in the classroom, these methods make the body come alive as never before. They become anatomically fluent.
Still speechless in Sweden
The doctor took a blood test and ruled out bacterial infection. (I never actually felt sick or had a fever … I had just completely lost my voice.) He told me to rest and be silent for two days (all of this in Swedish of course). Anna told him that I was “an important Anatomy teacher from the U.S. and had to deliver a lecture for the next two days, so rest was impossible.” So he caved and gave me a very strong steroid that would work for 24 hours to reduce inflammation.
But it didn’t really work. I woke up on Day #3 and still sounded like a ghost. A ghost who occasionally croaked like a frog.
Pop star salvation: Stick our your tongue like a rock god!
On Day #4 I was audible. I had one more special, two-hour Core Integration workshop to teach, all about the diaphragm, core strength, breath and cool gut stuff. At the end of the workshop, a blond pixie-haired Swedish lady introduced herself to me as Robyn and said that she was a singer and has toured for the last five years without getting hoarse by doing a special tongue massage. She told me, “Stick out your tongue and play with it, pull on it just like a baby. Put your fingers in your mouth and massage it, it will release your vocal chords … and massage your throat, too.”
I went back to my hotel, filled the tub and soaked while I massaged the base of my tongue from inside my mouth. It was so freakin’ tight! After 15 minutes (and a lot of drool), I started to have an upper register and a smoother tone. As the base of my tongue relaxed, the inner muscles of my throat gave way, allowing my vocal chords to vibrate again. Waves of tears also sprang out of my eyes, and I could cry out loud instead of in silence. This was the miracle I had been looking for! No lozenge, no inhaler, no steroid nor tea could substitute for fumbling through my own inner tension by taking a hold of it at the root — the root of my tongue.
Life on the road has been incredibly stressful for the past year (I have traveled for more than 140 days out of the last 365), and my inoperable voice is clearly trying to tell me something. Some of the many inner messages that I heard were: Slow down. Be still. Listen to love. Speak for silence. Sing more. (I really like that one!)
Lose your voice, listen with your heart
I am eternally grateful to Robyn. (Did you see her on Saturday Night Live with Katy Perry in December? She is awesome!) She is the best Swedish massage teacher on the planet. The student definitely became the teacher in this instance, and I am so glad she spoke up.
So the next time you lose your voice, go looking for it with your own hands, and keep your heart listening as you take the plunge.
Practice yoga with Jill Miller on GaiamTV.com.