There’s just something about vocal repetition—saying something over and over again until the meaning changes form; until the words morph into something else and unfamiliar, and then become physicalized.
Remember Good Will Hunting? When Sean (Robin Williams) tells Will (Matt Damon) that his past isn’t his fault? Sean pointedly repeats, “It’s not your fault,” over and over until Will breaks down into tears and grasps Sean in a tight hug.
The actual language is more powerful than the sound in this case, but it’s still a good example of a physical reaction.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably Netflix Good Will Hunting. Or watch the “It’s not your fault” clip.
In my yoga class this evening, we repetitively OM-ed. We chanted ahhhhh-ooooooooh-mmmmm, over and over and over.
I spent the first few rounds wincing and feeling sorry for the pour souls who couldn’t hear themselves OM-ing so wretchedly off-key. Then, I wondered if I was the poor soul so wretchedly off-key, because it was kind of hard to tell. And then five or six OMs in, our class perfectly hit the pitch of the opening theme song to Battlestar Galactica (it was seriously dead-on) and I got the OM-ing giggles.
For the next few OMs, I tried to settle down and get serious. My “ahhhh”s sounded suspiciously like “ahh-hah-hah”s, and I really wanted to invest in the experience instead of picturing Caprica City and sleek cylon fighters.
Eventually—and I’m not sure exactly when—all my wincing, giggling and cylon fighter-picturing faded away. I became enveloped in the sound of OM and experienced it in my body instead of in my head. I felt the sound vibrate around my skin, inside my skull, in my chest and my throat, and through my pressed-together hands. For lack of a more articulate way to say it, it was really cool.
When our instructor gently interrupted us, I had no clear concept of how long we’d been OM-ing and had to climb my way back to the surface to open my eyes and begin moving.
Although we don’t often think about it (let alone remember to experience it), sound is physical. In order to make noise, the tiniest vibrations of our vocal chords reverberate inside and outside of us. Weeding through the discomfort to actually experience the sounds we make is a very worthwhile endeavor. I’m sure Sean and Will would agree.