It is day three of Pete Guinosso's Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Training, and already my entire idea of what a teacher training entails has been flipped on its head and expanded into every recess of the heart. After exercises around intentions, ethics, and sharing our own stories, I want to rename this "human being training."
Original art by Jenny D Williams
Today we are working with a voice coach, Lauri Smith. She is teaching us about posture and breathing, and also pushing us to dig down to our deepest places and share whatever we find there out loud. It's terrifying. And amazing.
"In my experience," says Pete, "learning to speak our truths is the hardest and most important part of our training." Of this, I have no doubt.
I think of the moment where my voice showed up, where I first led someone else into sacred space: my father, his body collapsed over his dog after the vet had left the room, her ears full of silent stethoscope, saying "he's passed." I saw my dad cry for the first time that I can remember, snot and tears pooling on the dog's brindled back, repeating over and over, "What about the spirit, the spirit? His spirit?"
Then he asked me to do "some of those Om things" he'd heard me do, and I did, holding my hands to my heart with my knees on the cold linoleum floor, the rumbles of passing motorcycles, the tinkle of the door opening and closing, a ringing telephone, his hands on the dog's neck. How I'd said maybe he should do some himself and he'd asked how and I told him, then the "BOOM!" as my father, the former opera singer, exhaled into the room.
In the Eastern traditions, the creation stories start with the sacred vibration of Om, from which all of life began. As my Kundalini yoga teacher Liya said today, "Om is the vibration of the universe." Tibetans have long since used singing bowls -- their sizes offering up different pitches -- to help heal certain parts of the body. In ancient Indian study, the seven chakras, or energy hubs, in our bodies each have their own resonant vibration. If you've ever held your hands to your heart while chanting an "Ommmm" you will know what I mean. It's like bringing your ear down on the railroad track as the train approaches.
Here in the Peacock Room at Yoga Tree we are practicing telling our stories while standing in front of the group.
"There is the piece in the mind I call the soul-sucker -- the saboteur," Laurie says, "the job of the saboteur is to prevent change, to keep you safe." It's the voice in your mind that steps in, loud and shackled around your heart and your breath as anything vulnerable, honest, and real attempts an exit.
I begin to tell the story of my dad and his dog and the Om. Lauri stops me after 30 seconds -- I've rambled. On the second attempt, I drop to the floor with my hands to my heart. I describe the "boom" of my dad, the former opera singer, exhaling into the room. She stops me again. She asks if I can't make my voice echo that boom.
I take a deep breath. There is a voice that knows what I must do here, and another one that's shouting, "No! No! They'll write you off as cheesy and New Agey," and more still but my breath is growing louder and soon my ears become filled with what I can only call vibration. I drop in. I stop mid-sentence and close my eyes and squatting there in front of all these yogis with my heart literally in my hands, I exhale an Om loud enough to silence the soul-suckers and saboteurs.
When Lauri describes her work, she doesn't just say she's a voice coach, she tells us that she's on a mission to "help the shift in consciousness on the planet." The more authentically we can live and express ourselves, the closer we are to manifesting the brightness that is in all of us -- the magic that is our body, mind, and spirit combined.
I think of Kahlil Gibran, whose masterpiece The Prophet I sat and reread in the woods this last weekend with my dog. On the subject of talking, he writes:
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.
When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.
She's currently part of Pete Guinosso's Lighting the Path Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga Tree in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she's worked with Vocal Presence Pathway's coach Lauri Smith and Kundalini teacher Liya Garber.