The Fifth Chakra is the Throat Chakra -- our center of communication and truth. It includes all things throat-related (the center of throat, neck, cervical spine, thyroid, lymphatic system, vocal chords, jaw and ears.) As we move up the spine, we generate energy in the Solar Plexus Chakra, we soften it in the Heart Chakra, and now in the Throat Chakra, we refine this energy to prepare it for the higher chakras. The Throat Chakra is the chakra of purification. You do this by listening to the subtle vibrations within. When we listen closely, we can find our authentic voice, and express ourselves with integrity and honesty.
The genesis of sound is a simple vibration. As you may recall, the central energy channel running up our spine is the Sushumna Nadi. Imagine this channel is like a string, that needs to be tuned. Events in your life will pluck your string, causing vibrations. By using the power of the throat chakra, we can balance these energies and help the string come back to rest. If we don’t express things, if we feel unheard, we will just deaden the string, rather than allowing the vibration to work its way out. When we deaden the string, our Prana doesn’t flow and we become stiff and dense. When our string is in tune, and allows the vibrations to pass through it, we are in harmony with universal truth. (“Chakra Yoga” by Anodea Judith).
So the question becomes, how do we “tune our string?” How do we bring harmony to our 5th Chakra? In order to speak our truth, we must understand what really matters to us, so getting to know ourselves is an essential precursor to working with this chakra. We cannot express our truth until we have discovered our own truth. In this way, expressing begins with listening.
Even if we glean our truth, many of us are loathe to express it. We may have been silenced or repressed in childhood or past relationships. Our voice was not welcomed, sought or appreciated. As we heal this wounded part of ourselves, we might feel braver about expression. Jen Sincero in her amazing book “You are a Badass,” talks about mattress shopping and getting the one overly-friendly salesman, who lays next to her on every bed as if they were going to be waking up together. So rather than asking him to stop or asking for another salesman, she snuck out of the store at her earliest opportunity --losing her one convenient window for mattress shopping! She explained that growing up, her family-taught methods for dealing with a potentially uncomfortable interaction included: running in the opposite direction, freezing, talking about the weather or “going blank and bursting into tears at the earliest opportunity.” I am an accomplished practitioner of that last technique, but the downside is that it doesn’t allow for your truth to be heard!
In Buddhism, Samyojana refers to internal knots. When someone says something unkind to us, for example, if we do not understand why he said it and we become irritated a knot will be tied in us. The lack of understanding is the basis for every internal knot. It is difficult for our mind to accept feelings like anger, fear, and regret, so it finds ways to bury these feelings. We create elaborate defense mechanisms to deny their existence, but these feelings are always trying to find their way to the surface. If we can practice mindfulness, we can learn to recognize the moment the knot is tied in us, and find ways to untie it, before it has a chance to tighten. To untie a knot, we must bring our full awareness to the knot, see it clearly without judgement, and then discuss it compassionately and promptly with the person involved. You may be worried that to communicate feelings will hurt the relationship, but how can you be happy with no real communication? Together you can look at what created the knot, and untie it together. (Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh) Ask yourself what you would say and to whom, if you weren’t worried about repercussions -- if you felt safe and supported in communicating what is on your mind. Use that as a starting point to explore where your existing knots might be.
Once we feel ready to express ourselves, we must use our “word” intentionally. In “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, he suggests four comprehensive agreements which we can make with ourselves to live in integrity with our authentic selves. The very first one is to “Be Impeccable with Your Word.” He attributes a divine aspect to our word. The word is not just a sound or a written symbol. What other animal on the planet can speak? Your word holds the power to uplift or break down. It is powerful magic. We all can think of single sentences uttered by people in our past, probably without thinking, that we have carried with us our whole lives. When we decided to carry it, we entered into an agreement to accept it as truth. It may be time to break that agreement and enter into a new one to be impeccable with our word-- to love ourselves and no longer be susceptible to other people’s negative ideas. To be impeccable with your word, he instructs us to speak with integrity (rather than making assumptions, ask questions), say only what we mean (say no when we want to say no and yes when we want to say yes), avoid using words to speak against yourself or gossip about others, and always use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Luckily for us, someone has written an entire guidebook about how to be impeccable with our word! Marshall Rosenberg’s pivotal book is “Nonviolent Communication.” He presents a very specific approach to communicating - both speaking and listening - that leads us to give from the heart and compassionately connect with others. His intent is just to remind us about what we already know -- how we were meant to relate to one another. Instead of habitual, automatic reactions to criticism or judgement (like defending, withdrawing or attacking), our words become “conscious responses based firmly on awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.” (Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg). We can use his tools and techniques for listening and sharing, whether the person we are relating to has the same goals and tools or not! He provides us with a productive alternative to types of communication that create distance from others and our true selves (moralistic judgements, comparisons, denials of responsibility, making demands and gross generalizations like “You are lazy” or “You always do this.”)
The nonviolent communication process has four simple steps:
Making Observations: Krishnamurti said “Observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.” Beginning our communication with observations is a neutral way to initiate conversation (ex. “When I see, hear….”).
Expressing Feelings: Part two is “I feel….” We share an emotion or sensation rather than a thought, in relation to what we observed in step one. His book has a long list of feelings if we are not very fluent in this language.
Sharing Needs: “... because I need / value…” We share the need or value that underlies our feelings. It can be scary to share our needs in a culture that doesn’t support it, especially for women who are taught to self-sacrifice. If we aren’t experienced in sharing our needs, we may use passive-aggression or outbursts which are not effective at all. Rosenburg explains the 3 stages of developing emotional awareness and asking for what we need. The first is “Emotional slavery” which is believing ourselves responsible for the feelings of others. The second is “The Obnoxious stage,” in which we refuse to admit to caring what anyone else feels or needs The third is “Emotional liberation,” when we fully accept responsibility for our own feelings but not the feelings of others, while being aware that we can never meet our own needs at the expense of others.
Make Requests -The last step is to clearly request that which would enrich your life, without demanding. Request concrete actions. “Would you be willing to?” Use positive statements, not negative ones, or you might end up manifesting what you don’t want. Ask for specific actions rather than vague behavior like “fair treatment. “ A request means that the other party has the option to respond with a yes or a no!
An example of a non-violent communication would be… “When you leave your clothes on the floor, I feel discouraged because I have a need to share the household responsibilities with someone else. Would you be willing to put your dirty clothes in the hamper when you take them off?” or “When we disagree and you raise your voice, I feel scared because I have a need to feel safe and loud voices trigger me and I want to make sure I hear you clearly. Would you be willing to pause before your voice gets loud and we can resume talking when we are both feeling ready and calm?” If you’re thinking this sounds too stiff, and you could never talk like that, know that over time it flows more naturally, and subtle shifts in phrasing have a big effect!
These very same tools can be used when we are listening! Instead of listening empathetically, we tend to: console (“It wasn’t your fault”), story-tell (“That reminds me of the time…”), shut them down (”Cheer up. Don’t worry about it.”), sympathize (”Oh, you poor thing”), interrogate (“When did this begin?”), explain (“I would have called but..”) and correct (“That’s not how it happened.”) We can practice emptying our mind and listening with our whole being. Even if the other person is not using non-violent communication, we can focus on what they are 1) observing, 2) feeling, 3) needing and 4) requesting. Sometimes we may want to reflect back by paraphrasing what we understood. If we proceed too quickly to what people might be requesting, we may not convey our genuine interest in their feelings and needs. We know a speaker has received adequate empathy when we sense a release of tension and the flow of words comes to a halt. (Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication)
You can even use non-violent communication with yourself! So many of us swim in negative self-talk and “shoulds”, but any behavior-changes as a result of those types of communication will be guided by self-hatred. Rather than judging ourselves, we can recognize we are not “behaving in harmony with our own needs.” When we connect to the unfulfilled needs underlying our negative self-talk, we will notice a remarkable shift in our bodies. Rather than shame, we will experience many other emotions (sadness, frustration, fear, grief). Those emotions mobilize us to positive change, whereas guilt and shame immobilize us with disconnection. In this moment of understanding, self-forgiveness can occur.
Have you ever written something and amazed yourself with just how wise or eloquent you are? Have you ever had a conversation and felt like you connected on a deeper level? Has someone ever surprised you with how well they listened and how much your words matter? When this chakra is in balance, you are not only able to speak words, you are able to translate feeling, sensation, emotion and compassion through your voice, your touch, your gaze, or any other means of communicating. You are confident in your ideas and can back them up, but you vocalize your truth without justifications. Your intentions are clear and you can make conscious choices about how to present information. You have faith that everything happens for a reason, so controlling outcomes isn’t the goal of your speech.
When the Throat Chakra is overactive, you might get angry and things come out of your mouth that you do not mean, such as monopolizing the conversation, gossiping or lying. Have you ever left a conversation feeling like you just talked and said too much? This is an overactive Throat Chakra. When it is underactive, you may have trouble putting your thoughts into words. Your intentions don’t translate to others so your relationships suffer. You may feel like nobody understands you, or like you are never truly heard. You start to doubt yourself and the importance of what you have to say, and will appear shy to outsiders.
So how do we activate our Throat Chakra, and get our vibration in harmony with the divine and our true self? In addition to using our word impeccably and practicing nonviolent communication, there are other techniques for aligning this chakra. One such technique is chanting and singing and using our voice. We are part of the chorus of life, and the song is not complete without our instrument adding it’s voice. We are affected by all the sounds around us, and our vibration impacts everything too! As we release sounds from our body, we begin to “vibrate back out” all the unspoken expressions that have been stored inside us for years.
Mantra, the repetition of sacred syllables, is known to quiet mind-chatter and calm the nervous system. A mantra is said aloud or quietly to oneself, and is designed to awaken the consciousness. Anything that speaks to you can be a mantra, but there are also many words and phrases that are thought to contain much more than the words themselves. The Throat Chakra has its own mantra “Ham.” “Om” is also a powerful healer.
“Om is not just a sound or vibration. It is not just a symbol. It is the entire cosmos, whatever we can see, touch, hear and feel. Moreover, it is all that is within our perception and all that is beyond our perception. It is the core of our very existence. If you think of Om only as a sound, a technique, or a symbol of the divine, you will miss it altogether. Om is the mysterious cosmic energy that is the substratum of all things and all the beings of the entire universe. It is an eternal song of the divine. It is continuously resounding in silence on the background of everything that exists.” -Amit Ray
Another Throat Chakra practice is the Jalandhara bandha, the chin lock. You practice it by tucking your chin, lifting your sternum, elongating the back of your neck and allowing your shoulders to slope forward. This action locks the breath at the 5th chakra, which holds it inside for us to utilize and direct. Another technique to activate the Throat Chakra is Ujjayi Pranayama, the breath of victory. By breathing in and out through your nose with a slight constriction in the back of your throat, you generate heat and create an audible vibration in your throat-- adding your vibration to the chorus of the divine. There are many yoga postures to awaken the Throat Chakra, including Fish Pose, Reverse Tabletop, Reverse Plank, Lion’s Breath, lateral shoulder stretches, neck stretches, shoulder shrugs and Mongoose Pose. Postures to quiet an overactive Throat Chakra are Standing Forehead to Knee Pose, Rabbit, Child’s Pose, Shoulder Stand, Plow and Head to Knee Pose.
The Gemstones that activate the Throat Chakra are often shades of blue and turquoise, the colors of this chakra. They include Aquamarine, Aqua Aura Quartz, Blue Topaz, Amazonite, Celestite, Blue Lace Agate, Blue Kyanite, Blue Chalcedony, Chrysocolla and Larimar. The herbs and essential oils for this chakra are blackberry, elderberry, sage, lemongrass, bay laurel, eucalyptus, blue chamomile and fir balsam. I highly recommend taking a week or so to focus on this chakra and learn it’s lessons while surrounding yourself with these gemstones and herbs.
The lessons around communication are a lifelong pursuit. Nonviolent communication won’t be done perfectly right out of the gate, or ever! So rather than looking at these techniques as a new set of rules to master and perfect, look at the exploration of the Throat Chakra as an ongoing journey. We can learn from each success and each mistake, and by approaching the big, scary C-word (“communication”) with a bit of curiosity and compassion, we can raise the vibration that we share with the world.
* (For further reading, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Chakras” by Athena Perrakis, Ph.D., “Chakra Yoga” by Anodea Judith, “The Yoga Book: A Practical Guide of Self-Realization” by Stephen Sturgess and “The Yoga Mind” by Rina Jakubowicz, “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero and “Teachings on Love” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Much of the content of this essay was taken from or inspired by these insightful works.)