Yoga Journal Digital Producer Samantha Trueheart shares how Yoga Pod’s 200-hour Seva Teacher Training helped her overcome a lifelong fear and open her throat chakra.
Take it away, Samantha!
I was scared and nervous the first day of Yoga Pod’s 200-hour Seva Teacher Training back in January. I’m a naturally shy, introverted person, and the idea of getting up in front of a yoga class and teaching made my palms sweat and my voice quiver. I thought I would suffer throughout the entire 12 weeks, and my intention was to just get through it all as quickly as possible. I never imagined that teacher training was exactly what my throat chakra needed in order to feel more confident about public speaking and to find my true voice.
I developed scars during childhood about my voice and singing out loud in public. Somewhere along the way, I decided it was safer to stay quiet in large groups so my opinion wouldn’t be judged, or to lip sync along to my favorite songs with friends so no one could hear how out of tune I was. Teacher training shattered both of these insecure habits and made me step up front and center.
Yoga Pod’s Seva Teacher Training put me in situations where I was constantly feeling challenged and vulnerable. I was asked to share personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions with my circle of fellow students, all while making sure I was speaking clearly and loudly enough for everyone to hear. At one point, the entire class watched me repeat a Sanskrit pronunciation of a pose name with the teacher until I spoke it correctly. We’re also asked to close the circle at the end of the day by leading an “Om,” reading a passage that resonates with us, or expressing our gratitude to one another. All of these moments felt like jumping into the deep end, but given my phobia of singing in public, nothing felt scarier than the Bhakti yoga practice of chanting. One of our teachers, Steph Schwartz, led the class through various singing chants that call upon the Hindu gods and goddesses while playing along on her harmonium.
Before Yoga Pod’s Seva Teacher Training, I would sit quietly through the “Oms” in yoga class until it was time to begin our asana. I didn’t want the student on the next mat to hear me. When we began singing in teacher training, I couldn’t bring myself to let out a single note. As time went on, I slowly started whispering along and eventually began to sing with the class. Now, I can’t imagine sitting quietly during the chanting of “Om”—it feels good to finally be heard. And I regularly attend Steph Schwartz’s class at Yoga Pod Boulder where everyone gets to hear me belt it.
4 Ways to Warm Up Your Vocal Chords
Although I’m feeling more confident about my voice, I’m still receiving feedback from my teaching practicum that I need to step into my power and amplify my voice. So I reached out to Jen Walentas Lewon, a speech language pathologist and clinical assistant professor at the University of Colorado, for tips on how to project my voice in a safe and effective way.
Lewon recommends I work on what speech pathologists call the buzzy voice. “The more resonance in one’s voice is, the less effort the vocal chords have to use to get that volume,” says Lewon. “Using more buzz in your mouth and nose will give you more of a signal.” She suggests doing the following four vocal tract therapy exercises to make it easier to talk your way through leading a 60-minute class.
1. Just talk.
Lewon says the best exercise for your vocal chords is to simply talk. Sit at the front desk at the studio and check people in before class. Not only will this help physically warm up your voice for class, but it will also help make a connection with your students so you’ll feel less stage fright than you would amongst a sea of unknown faces.
2. Breathe through a straw.
Grab a straw from your kitchen and put it in-between your lips. Take a deep inhale through the straw; exhale and say the word, “Ah.” Repeat three times.
3. Make “mmm” sounds.
Press your lips together on your inhale, and on the exhale, make an “mmm” sound in order to feel the vibration in your cheeks. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 2 times.
4. Laugh like a witch.
Inhale, take the body of your tongue and press it forward to make a witch laugh, saying “Nee-ah” three times. Repeat two times. “The more nasally you get, the less your larynx have to work,” says Lewon.
Finally, Lewon recommends seeking out a licensed speech pathologist for assistance on vocal function exercises, because every body is different and might need a specialized program.