I was brought up in a loving household, and there was always room to express affection and give a hug. But we rarely spoke verbally about how we felt during conflict. We are famous for writing letters in times of familial tension because no one in seemed capable of speaking plainly. I suppose writing one’s feeling is better than nothing, but what happens to the body when the words literally get stuck in the throat? How much more so does that matter these days, when we’re all likely experiencing stress and anxiety from the mundane (toilet paper) to the profound (mortality), but may not even have found the words to express anything yet?
Did the decades of not speaking what I needed to say have anything to do with my autoimmune thyroid disease now? The thyroid gland sits right at the base of the throat and regulates many key aspects of metabolism and function. Is my body literally attacking the place with the blockage? I have spent a small fortune on therapy to learn to speak when I need to, but it’s still not reflexive. A problem at work or with a loved one can still have me feeling verklempt, a wonderfully onomatopoeic Yiddish word meaning (roughly), being so overwhelmed by emotion that you cannot speak.
“You’re doing the throat-swallowing thing.” My bestie can still read me a like a damned book when I have something to say but don’t. It creates audible noises that give me away when I try to suppress an emotion. My wife now says I make these funny little moan noises when I’m worked up about something or writing an email or blog with feeling. I guess my throat now has rebellious vocalizations in spite of itself.
Up until now, this blog has largely focused on Chinese Medicine. But integrative medicine reserves the right to draw from a range of traditions. Today, we focus on one of the seven Chakras identified both in the Ayurveda and in Reiki (a Japanese form of energy medicine). These divergent bodies of practice both anchor much of their thought on the concept of a chakra- roughly a spinning wheel of energy. There are seven major chakras and in some cases many more minor ones are considered. One could write whole blogs on each of the chakras, but I am drawn to focus on the throat one today because many blockages occur when we don’t speak up. And perhaps today more than ever, it is so important that we do.
Below is a listing of all chakras in order. A great primer on what each does and how they interact is in the short video the Illuminated Chakras, which, I must warn you, is pretty trippy. Probably best consumed with your favorite substance on board (in moderation, of course).
The throat is the narrow bridge between our bodies (including our heart) and our higher mind. It’s literally a bottleneck at times. The body feels and experiences, the mind processes. But when they disconnect, often it is because something couldn’t pass through the throat. This in turn can cause disruptions to the other chakras. The Sanskrit word for throat, appropriately, is vishudda, purification. It is the place which literally translates between your body and your mind/spirit, and which permits you to release negative energy by expressing yourself.
The throat is one of the three spiritual chakras and art is conceived of coming from this region, as well it should. In art we give birth to expression even if non-verbally. Music, painting, and poetry all take their inspiration from the throat. If an artist or writer is feeling blocked, it is likely that there is some issue in the throat needing addressed. I’ve been at a loss for words sometimes these days (a problem for an aspiring blogger).There are a million things to feel but sometimes they are just primordial, pre-verbal things. They take time to form into words. When they are finally at our tongue, they still sometimes don’t come out. They get stuck in the throat.
How can we overcome blockages in the throat and awaken this chakra? Because it is so closely associated with sound, singing, meditating with chants, or even praying aloud can help. In the East, the word ohm is perhaps the most powerful sound to incorporate into meditations. An interesting scientific study finds that neurons and cells are in fact activated when ohm is spoken. In many of the Abrahamic faiths, there is a mandate not simply to silently pray, but to speak certain prayers aloud. The act of reciting carries its own weight, above and beyond silently thinking of words.
There’s perhaps nothing more cathartic than the ugly-cry, which is that whole body physically exhausting release. As a rule, it must include loud, heavy vocalizations with the sobs. When we make those noises, we are literally working through blockages and helping bring some resolution to bottled-up emotions. These can be hard to initiate organically, but watching a good tear-jerker movie can always help get things moving. My go-to is always the Joy Luck Club.
I am trained in Reiki, and we practitioners can actually see blockages in the throat (or other chakras) by placing a crystal over the relevant area and seeing whether it moves freely and in the right direction. We can then focus our energies on the appropriate place to bring some resolution to the blockage. While doing in-person reiki is a bit challenging these days, distance reiki remains an option and you can also do some self-reiki. Simply put your hands or or just above your throat and send it some good healing energy. Tell yourself you will have the courage to say what you need to. The throat chakra is also associated with blue crystals, so using turquoise, aquamarine, lapis lazuli, or other blue stones can help (here’s a set with a stone for each chakra and a free guide book). You can also drink some hot tea, perhaps with honey to show your throat a little love.
It’s hard not to mention the COVID crisis these days, even in the context of this obscure topic. If we do get the coronavirus, we are now seeing it often starts as a sore throat! if we need to be put on a ventilator, it will be creating a pathway through out throat (intubation) which delivers this life-saving therapy. Out of fear of seeming rude, I’ve still had a hard time telling people they need to keep further away at work or when exercising outside, though I’m getting better. I have been feeling more emboldened in speaking up at work (in healthcare) because it matters now more than ever to do so.
Right now, many of us are on edge with abstract worry. We don’t want to put it into words because it gives voice to our worst fears. What if a loved one dies? What if I end up in the ICU on a ventilator? What if we lose our jobs? What is we get evicted? What if this is the new normal? What if, what if?
Perhaps the simplest thing is to simply ask these questions aloud and give voice to the fears, rather than endlessly perseverate on them in the corridors of our tortured narrative brains? Or better still, to call up a loved one and just say what we are feeling rather than sit alone with it endlessly.
The throat is ultimately where we express ourselves into our highest purpose, and it’s also associated with listening. If you have more time on your hands than usual these days, maybe take a bit of it to think about what that means for you. When the dust settles, what would you find the most meaning doing? Maybe just for a few minutes, stop the endless scrolling (but not of my blog :)) and the binge watching and just listen to the silence for a bit. You don’t need to produce, you don’t need to decide on some earth-shattering career change, you don’t need to do anything right now. Just create a space to listen to silence and when the time comes (perhaps months or years from now), be ready to speak and to create.
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