In the early hours of the morning one day in late June this year, I woke up in my little wooden hut in Bali to a debilitating pain in my gut. Arms wrapped around my stomach, I hobbled towards the bathroom, sat down, and realized that I was bleeding internally from somewhere in my bowel. A few days before this, I had developed a petechial (bleeding under the skin) rash that began in the upper part of my legs and slowly spread to the lower legs and feet. In the weeks that followed, different parts of my body would swell. Sometimes my ankles and feet would swell, sometimes my arms, and some days the swelling would manifest under the skin of my scalp. If swelling presented anywhere in the legs, it made walking difficult. Even before my official diagnosis six weeks later, I knew instinctively that this was autoimmune.
I didn’t seek out medical treatment immediately. Instead, I decided to stay in Bali until the end of my 30-day allowance and began a process of slowly peeling back the layers to understand how I had led myself to this place of dis-ease. Autoimmune conditions, like many other chronic diseases and cancer have a large mental and emotional component to their pathology. The constant interplay between the “Self” and the “Not Self” is at the heart of disease manifestation. We can be the fit, eat healthy, exercise regularly, and endowed with good genetics, but it may not count for much if we are predisposed to living in our “Not Self” state.
Clearly, identifying what is “Self” and what is “Not Self” is much more complex than taking medication, but call it what you want, my gut, my intuition, my inner wisdom, or perhaps the universe was sending me a clear signal to stop! For close to three years now, I have worked tirelessly to grow a business in an environment under duress. The pandemic; starting over in a place I didn’t choose to live in; a culture that glorifies the grind; the corporatization of yoga; my inability to express healthy anger; my childhood conditioning that values myself based on my achievements – it’s a toxic combination! When my mind; when logical reasoning; when my fears; when society had me convinced that I needed to keep going, my body said NO!
I have a new appreciation for this body and its intelligence. Last year, I ran a retreat called “The Body Intelligence Retreat” in which we explored the body’s inherent ability to heal. I now know that the body’s intelligence is far beyond physiological healing. It IS our wisdom and intuition. We often look outwards for signs from a higher power, God, or perhaps the universe. Through this process, I have come to experience that the signs we look for are within the body. In some ways, the universe is both outside and inside the body, separated only by an illusion that our minds create. The mind that we have perhaps come to rely on more than we should. Disease isn’t an indicator that there is something wrong with the body. On the contrary it is an indicator that the body is responding in the way it has been designed to. It is the universe’s way of guiding us back to our “Self”.
In our current culture of quick fixes and instant gratification, the long road of identifying the “Self” as a form of disease prevention and recovery isn’t as compelling as the narrative of the modern medical infrastructure. Since the onset of my autoimmune disorder, I spend most of my waking hours reading, studying ,writing, and reflecting to distinguish my “Self” from my “Not Self.” This is my full-time job at the moment and I am just barely scraping the surface. Deconditioning is both time-consuming and unprofitable, and as such, society places little value in the process. We enter a vicious cycle of using medicine to cover symptoms that allow us to ignore the root cause of disease, only to have them resurface in the future. We use medicine to numb both physical and emotional pain, allowing the physiological stress to continue unnoticed in the body, until the body itself chooses to reveal its truth. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science and medicine too, but real healing comes from the process of going inwards.
We are conditioned to default to denial over the often uncomfortable nature of truth. Positive thinking in this context equates to being happy and compulsively optimistic. However, as Gabor Mate eloquently writes in his book, When the Body Says No, “genuine positive thinking begins by including all our reality.” Compulsive optimism is in fact, a coping strategy to avoid confronting our anger and anxiety. I have seen the people around me express discomfort when facing truth. During the height of the pandemic, I wanted to acknowledge the struggles that I was experiencing. I shared through my social media channels the despair I felt during this time. Some of my posts were met with well-meaning, “Julie, you have to be more positive,” to the harsher, “I have no time for negative people,” to those who insisted on trying to “fix” my problems by placing themselves in the role of “caretaker” or “healer.” I can see now that these were simply reflections of their own discomfort with accepting the whole of their reality.
I have realized that so much of my childhood conditioning is built upon the value of success, that I am valued for my achievements. I was taught that we must aIways be happy, don’t be sad, don’t tell people about your problems. I don’t blame my parents. They too are conditioned by the environment that surrounds them. Since the onset of my illness, I have chosen who I surround myself with carefully. I choose to respond truthfully when I am asked, “how are you?” I recognize that in order to heal, I must have the strength to acknowledge the whole of my reality. Even as our modern culture and society seek to enslave us in its never-ending cycle of grind, I am fighting for my autonomy, for freedom from my fears, from caring about what other people think of me, for the right to be completely who I am, for being enough!
This is not to say that we are to blame for our disease. The machine of our modern capitalist society is a force designed to disempower us through homogenization. Being your Self, doesn’t work within this system. A culture that glorifies the grind and a caffeinated existence does so to keep us buying into the system. It doesn’t allow us the time or space to figure out who we really are. Even when we have reconnected to various aspects of our Selves, we are often caught in a struggle to prevent it from being swept away again. I have had to face my own mortality these past few months so for me, the choice is clear. I am not weakened by this disease. I am not debilitated by it. On the contrary, I am empowered to choose, and I choose ME!
The Outer Voice is a Reflection of the Inner Knowing
Your voice is a an expression of your soul. Your own sound vibrations are a reflection of your innermost thoughts and emotions. Words have power. We are gifted with the instrument of our voice. How we choose to use it, or not, is deeply connected to the manifestations of our dreams, our wellbeing, and the impact on the people and the environment around us.
Our own voice is the most powerful of all healing instruments!
After a month-long stay in Bali earlier this year, I was inspired to explore the potential of using my own voice as a mechanism for healing through vocal toning. A recent study by Dr. Jeffrey D. Thompson, founder of the Center for Neuroacoustic Research, revealed that of all sounds tested in an experiment that he conducted, the human body responds most to the natural overtones and harmonics of its own voice. A distant second to the healing potential of the human voice is that of amplified sound from acoustic instruments such as gongs and crystal bowls, followed in third place by electronic sounds designed to mimic various frequency wave patterns (Perry, Wayne, Sound Medicine, 2007). After months of practice, it is evident to me that there is something distinctly powerful in sounding my voice and feeling the frequency of my own vibrations from the depths of my own body. But this got me thinking, if our own voice is our greatest potential for healing, if our own bodies are equipped with this capability, why are the masses turning to the external sounds of instruments played by another human body? Why are we not inspired to fine tune our own natural healing instrument?
We are conditioned into silence
It occurred to me that most people do not have an appreciation for the sound of their own voice. Perhaps they dislike the sound of their voice, maybe even embarrassed by it. It is a conditioning that begins as soon as we are born. Babies are hushed; children are told to be quiet; in adolescence we are taught to be polite by speaking softer; we are told not to argue with authority. In all stages of our lives, there is a subtle conditioning to silence our voices. As an expressive person who has been blessed with strong vocal prowess, I am constantly being told to “ssshhh, lower your voice.”
This is problematic because as the outer voice is a reflection of our inner voice and spirit, silencing the outer voice means that we become disconnected from our inner being. We live in a world where people have lost sight of who they are; where we avoid speaking the truth, our truth, out of the fear of confrontation. Undervaluing our outer voice potential is deeply connected to undervaluing our inner voice. Lack of confidence, loss of authenticity, dis-ease, stagnation are just some of outcomes of silencing the voice.
Pitch, volume and meter reflect your inner thoughts and emotions
The strength of the outer voice is very much influenced by our inner knowing. As a yoga teacher for over a decade and someone who has worked with, mentored and hired many teachers, this dynamic is clearly demonstrated. Teachers who embody what they are teaching, who have lived the experience and speak through their own inner journey are often the ones who articulate clearly, passionately, and with voices full of tonal color and texture. Teachers who deliver concepts that they are unsure of, usually newer teachers or ones who are not yet grounded in a deeper knowing of the self, reflect an unevenness of volume, delivery, flow and enunciation. In general, “when we lose discipline and control of our thoughts and emotions, it is reflected in our voice. This is most evident in three vocal aspects: pitch, volume and meter” (Perry, Wayne, Sound Medicine, 2007). Building an awareness of how your outer voice shifts with changes in your internal environment is an empowerment practice that will strengthen both the outer and inner voices. The downstream impact is of infinite possibilities, from creating a life by design, to changing our relationships, and even healing our own bodies from chronic disease and pain.
Sound is fundamental in creation
Throughout the world, cultural and religious stories of universal creation seem to agree with sound as the vibration of the creative force. In Hindu scripture, the word OM is defined as the primordial sound of creation, a vibration from which all other vibrations are manifested. The Bible also references sound as the beginning of creation – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Inuits tell the story of how the raven made the world and the waters with the beat of his wings. Sound is fundamental to creation, and our own voice is the vibration of creative potential within us. Becoming comfortable and familiar with our own outer voice and its qualities, sounding our voice, allowing it to resonate from within the body cavity and into the external world begins the process of unleashing creativity. If we are unable to express this voice, ideas, dreams and potential remain locked and untapped.
Sound is fundamental in healing
And when we turn to the potential healing capabilities of our voice, there is no other instrument that can compare. No other instrument has the capability to produce or replicate all the sounds that can be made by the human voice. No other instrument can express emotions, laugh, cry, sigh, or shout the way the human voice does. The expression of sound or the vocal tones that we release from the body, the AAHs, OOOHs and OOOWs, the HMMs, and MMMs are all soul expressions that bring us into our own resonant frequency. If we are unable to express through sound, through our voice, appropriately, we become disconnected from our body’s own healing potential. Furthermore, the inability to express emotions, particularly that of anger, the inability to say no, prevents us from releasing the physiological stress on the body that may lead to chronic disease over time. Using our voices to express ourselves authentically is necessary to maintain our health.
"Only your own vocal cords can produce the unique set of harmonics and overtones which are characteristic of your personal, unique voice – print pattern – a pattern highly recognizable to the part of your biological system which designed and grew your body out of two cells in the first place. This part of the unconscious mind designed the vocal cords themselves and deeply recognizes the unique frequency pattern of sound that they produce. "
We are gifted with the greatest sound healing instrument that exists. Through this, we are empowered with the capability to connect to our inner voice and to take healing into our own hands. We have the ability to know ourselves, to sense deep into the physical body, to feel the resonant frequency and vibrations produced by our own vocal toning. It is a power we do not acknowledge and appreciate enough.
I will be going into the details of vocal sound healing and disease; sound patterns and mandalas; voice awareness and control for public speaking and communication; and sound as creation in future articles. If you are interested in learning more about sound through my personal lens and experimentation, follow me on social media or on Medium.