There is a pose in my yoga class called “standing separate leg, head to knee.” Among many other benefits, the main design of this pose is to enable one to have a safe encounter with claustrophobia in order to find your voice. It is interesting that the two are linked: claustrophobia and the inner voice, overcoming the one leads to the discovery of the other.
In this pose, you tuck your chin into your chest, place one foot about 3 feet in front of the other and bend down with your hands above your head in prayer. As your hands touch the floor, you bend your head to touch your knee and breathe only 20% of your normal intake of air. You are effectively trapping yourself on purpose to where your oxygen is deliberately reduced, you hold this pose for 30 seconds and then do it again facing the opposite direction.
In this pose, you are deliberately cutting off your breath for a few moments in order to overcome your fear and find your voice. You are placing a tourniquet on the general flow so that you might focus on something very specific, the fear of not having an escape.
Most people think of claustrophobia as the fear of small, enclosed spaces. However, this sudden onset of sheer panic can appear in places that are wide open, too, like driving down the interstate or hiking in the woods. It is the fear of not having an exit, of not being able to find the way out from a situation or experience that you perceive to be trapping you. Placing yourself in this particular position mimics that fear so that you can discover a method of breathing your way through it. This is how you slowly, gradually find your voice, through this gentle practice of sending your breath to the problem at hand.
A voice can be barely audible like a breath. Of course, we have our unique and God given voices with our unique tones. When we speak and sing, the ones that know us can easily recognize our voice and identify us by our individual tone. However, when we speak of finding our voice, we are often referring to something different than the intricate ballet that occurs in our vocal chords to create our unique, audible sound. The voice this pose and our spiritual/life quest generally refers to is somewhat subtle and silent, it is more like intention, but not quite so impermanent. It is similar to breath. It is that essence of you that resonates with the essence of God, much like a tuning fork that reaches and sustains its pure tone once the overtones have died out.
The key to finding this voice is learning to distinguish between the overtones and the pure tone that is YOUR voice. The 20% breathing that the posture induces temporarily helps to eliminate the excess so that you are forced to discover what is genuine, enabling you to feel the difference between overtones and pure tones in your very own being. Sometimes it’s necessary to subtract rather than add to our situations in life in order to hear the inner voice, the pure tone.
I suppose the most difficult aspect of discovering the pure tone is that it does not advertise or try to compete with other, more dissonant overtones. While overtones distract and distort the pure tone, if you wait long enough, they eventually die out and you discover the one note you are trying to hear, but this requires patience and a certain curiosity of what it is you are searching for. Ultimately, you will find it because it is there waiting to be discovered, often beneath a great deal of excessive noise.
The problem is, when you find it, what will you do, then? When that tourniquet of restraint is released and you begin to resonate with the pure tone that is the breath of God in you, how will you be then? What will be different? How will you know that you are different?
I can speak from my own very delayed arrival at the foothills of the voice. It is not quite like Kilaminjaro or anything so obvious and monolithic. It is more like a continuum that I have been searching for my whole life; a tone that I am tuning myself to. More and more, I feel that I am inclined to put my precious energy into what I love, that is, what has deep and abiding worth, not in monetary terms but in life terms: relationships, the gifts that I have developed over time, spending time in nature, engaging less hollow entertainment, eating better foods, consuming less, worrying less, meditating more, finally dealing with the resentments I have stored up due to past hurt. This is a daily mantra, letting the light in.
It also means hiding less and learning to be myself, not some projection of what I feel I am supposed to be. The hardest part is that if I am to attune myself to the pure tone of the inner voice that is my True Self, it requires that I “tune out” other tones and this is a greater discipline than I ever imagined.
It is not really asking, after all, “what is God?” but rather, “what is not God?” God is there at the central being of us all, the pure tone, it is the removal of the barriers that require a lifetime of practice and learning to breathe with God.