When I moved to Charlottesville in 1996, I took a job with a little software company on the downtown mall. My first day, the founder of the company gave me an office tour – programmers’ office, conference room, marketing department. Down there, he said, pointing down the hall, are other people’s offices. A travel agent, a massage therapist. And right here, he said, pointing to the door just to the right of where we stood, is some woman who teaches some kind of exercise classes. I don’t know what it is but they are yelling Yes and No and making noise all the time.
He rolled his eyes and half laughed. Clearly, he thought she was crazy and annoying. Being the new-comer, go-alonger that I was, I laughed nervously and agreed that she sounded perfectly wackadoodle.
Three years later, that woman teaching those crazy classes was Chris Friedman, my first Nia teacher.
When a friend brought me to Chris’ classes in 1999, I was skeptical and reluctant – even more so when I realized that this was the lady telling people to shout and make sound. But something in the classes captured my imagination and I found myself jealously guarding my Wednesday nights so I wouldn’t miss her class.
I loved Nia but for the first year or more, I completely rejected the whole sound-making thing. Making sound in an exercise class seemed silly and embarrassing and I very much wanted to avoid being those two things.
So I never made a peep.
Spiritual traditions, martial arts, and yoga, all use sound to support them in their practices. Native American tribes used war cries and Confederate soldiers had the rebel yell. Whether the goal is connecting with a higher power, delivering an elbow strike, or sustaining Warrior II pose, some kind of sound-making, chanting, audible breath, or all-out whooping is part of the endeavor. And with good reason.
Making sound supports the physical body. The expulsion of air contracts the muscles around the spine, strengthening the core and protecting the low back from the inside out.
Making sound focuses attention, energy and power. Whether using a percussive “Huh!” when performing a martial arts punch, or sustaining a long sound when singing or an audible breath when doing yoga, sound narrows our attention to this very moment.
Making sound moves emotional energy of all kinds. Like an emotional jackhammer, sound unblocks feelings and gives them space to move. I can almost always keep it together during a funeral, but when I open my mouth to sing a hymn, the sadness lets go.
Making sound connects us with each other and all that is. When we sing, chant, breathe, or whoop as a group, we know we are in this together. And on a basic human level something about allowing an internal vibration out into space connects us with the bigness of the world, the Universe, Nature, and God.
The Sanskrit word satya means truth…but more than that. Satya means sincerity, honesty, integrity and power of the word. Making sound, showing up, and speaking truth reflects this power and integrity. There is both tender vulnerability and the fire of truth in satya.
A beautiful and reserved student has practiced Nia for nearly a decade. For most of that time she barely made any noise, both literally and figuratively. She silently took Nia, laughed quietly, never rocked the boat. About a year ago, she joined her church choir and something opened up in her. She started making more sound in Nia and breathing audibly in Pilates. She started speaking up – sharing her vision, her observations, herself. She started telling the truth in her relationships when she used to stay silent. She said No to things that weren’t right, and also Wow, and Help, and I love you. As her teacher and friend, I feel her presence, her realness more than I had before. Her whole life shifted from the inside out by opening her mouth and letting out satya.
For me, the shift happened in martial arts movements. I loved the powerful feeling of kicks and blocks and punches. When I finally opened my mouth and connected sound with the movement, I felt a deep satisfaction, groundedness, and presence. And it felt good: the vibration, the strength, the connection to myself and others. For other people, sound begins with audible breath or singing or simply opening up and saying I want that.
Whatever it is for you, say it. Speak it. Live your satya.