A Surprise Vow of Silence
“Stop calling! I have laryngitis!” The lady across the street exclaimed loudly in an irritated and strained raspy voice. On the other side of the street was me, super nervous to be out in public afraid someone would force me to speak or be offended that I couldn’t answer back in words, well except for soft whispers. At best I sounded like a muffled cartoon squirrel. I too had laryngitis - day 3, hopeful that if I took all the right remedies, abstained from even whispering (as that tends to aggravate the vocal chords even more) then all would be well in time.
And boy did I have a lot of time - as a yoga instructor, it is not just the functionality of my body that must be in tact. No, I have clearly learned that the voice is the number one tool I use. The inflections, the words of motivation and inspiration, the spontaneity, the well thought out alignment cues. I thought about it for a few moments that, maybe, I could just mime everything - stick my tongue out and pant for downward dog and then point to the students “now you!”. It just might turn into a stand up comedy skit though and people would get more of a giggle than a work out.
So I laid low. What choice did I have? The days would go by and I knew that meant my paycheque would drop, my fidgeting would start, the loneliness and boredom would set in.. I’ve just been so used to being on the go, that I didn’t at first recognize the important gift that my laryngitis, inherited by a flu virus, had opened up for me. The gift was time; that and space - lots of it.
Because I couldn’t speak, I opted out of social engagements. I soon became a closer friend with my thoughts. Not in a jittery way, but in a way that was contemplative and therapeutic. I finished reading a book within 3 days, journaled, became clear on some ideas I had been mulling over but hadn’t had the brain power to sit with while my schedule was so crammed. I also discovered my meditation and breath work practice was better. Sure I still couldn’t breathe very well - until I used Ujjayi Pranayama intentionally (drawing the breath in and out from the back of the larynx) - then I got really deep.
Amidst the tumult of stuffiness and my minimal interactions with the world, I feel that a lot of wonderful things did arise from this experience. For one, I became a better listener. If my room mates had something to say, I would nod - not interrupt - and maybe write something out on a piece of paper if I felt it important to note. I became much less engaged in social media which, in turn, uplifted my mood and offered me even more time and space to just be with myself and enjoy being alive. This quiet stillness helped me to revive my joy of reading books from start to finish. My concentration improved; my thoughts became more clear and deep because there was this well-spring of creative inspiration I had the space to tap into. I had less desire to chit chat, or fill the void with speech. I know - I couldn’t actually speak, but my desire for idle talk began to subside naturally. I found a deep satisfaction in being with myself without the need for outside comfort.
I attribute my meditation, breath practice, positive mental reinforcement and all of the natural remedies in conjunction to have healed me. This is good to know - if you have the flu or laryngitis (or in my case both) salt water gargling plays a huge role in dislodging phlegm as well as steam inhalations (boil hot water, add a few drops of tea tree oil and eucalyptus, throw a towel over your head and start breathing slow and deep in and out of the mouth). Lemon, honey, ginger and coconut water is a constant to keep the throat moist, hot foods (hot liquids and foods help to unstick the mucus membrane from the throat which in turn moves the mucus into the digestive tract - the acids then burn it all up).
Overall, I hope you have received a little insight into the blessings that arise from moments of silence. Whether you explore a few intentional minutes of pause in your daily yoga practice, or take 10 days to sit in Vippassana meditation (the whole 10 days of this retreat requires that you are absolutely silent), or maybe it’s laryngitis that surprises you into silence, remember that time alone is necessary for a clear head. Do not fall prey to loneliness and boredom. Silence is a virtue filled with a rich internal landscape of imagination and potential. If you cannot commit to 10 days of silence, and your days are always filled up during the week, I recommend planning ahead for a few days that are just for you - you can let your friends, housemates/partner, dog or cat know that you won’t be responding to them in words for a full day or two. Even better if you get the chance; book a cabin all to yourself and bring a journal, some insightful reading material, leisurely projects that are tactile and leave your computer at home. Try to stay off of your phone during this time so you can reap the full benefits of the space you are creating. Best of luck on your inward vacation!