unlike my sense of sight and smell, my hearing is definitely going downhill with age. if there’s any background noise like music, or appliances humming, or trucks on the highway, i can’t hear some spoken frequencies and i do miss parts of conversations. it’s especially frustrating when i’m trying to learn something new, like at the gym during pk training. if there’s music playing in a huge open hall, i really have no idea what people are saying. sorry.
having lived in a few countries where english is not the primary language has also contributed to my tuning out on conversations happening around me. so forgive me if i don’t respond to questions or hissing noises (a sound i specifically filter out after living in greece). i’m not exactly deaf and i’m not exactly ignoring you- it’s just a coping mechanism.
however there are sounds that are specific triggers for me, that i yearn to hear and are like a pavlovian signal, bringing me to a state of readiness, or relaxation, or just a sense of peace.
ujjayi pranayama translates as ‘victorious breath’ or ‘ocean breath’. think of the sound of waves crashing along the shoreline. when i enter a room where ashtanga vinyasa yoga is being practiced, either as a student or teacher, this sound brings me immediately into a sweat. my breathing slows and begins to match the ebb and flow of those breathing in the room, my heart rate drops and steadies. i ready myself to practice, or to adjust, and there’s a sense of calm and purpose. this sound of my daily yoga practice brings my mind to a single point of focus and allows me to go with the flow.
the parkour step, scrape & slap
you can always tell parkour is going on around you by a series of steps, then a scrape and a slap. it’s the sound of feet running along an urban surface then a rotation or a step onto a wall (or different surface) and then maybe the slap of hands on brick or stone, or feet landing. it’s not exactly rhythmic, it’s never the same twice, and it surrounds you as you practice. this sound also brings me to a sweat, but my heart rate increases. the sound is never aggressive and should always be light. you can tell a bad move by the weight of the foot fall, and the grunt of effort (or the cry of frustration). the lighter steps are those of the more practiced moving in the area. for me this sound builds excitement and means it’s playtime!
call to prayer
i first heard this sound travelling through the middle east as a college student. i’m not religious, but when the muezzin begins, time stops. any conversation i’m in halts and the senses are drawn to the call even though i don’t understand a word. in Kenya, i would hear it every morning at sunrise from a mosque near my house. when i arrived in india, i was pleasantly surprised to hear temples calling out the evening mantra, the rhythmic chanting rolling across the palm trees. the call to prayer is an unearthly sound that awakens our subconscious to that which is greater than ourselves. i miss it as it’s a relief to pause during the day, even for a moment, to listen with greater awareness.
so the reason i’m writing is that i went for a dive in mozambique last month. i didn’t want to- the water was cold, visibility poor, i had just seen 7 (enormous) whale sharks on an ocean safari, but struggled to swim with them because of my stupid sprained ankle. i’d also been stung by a blue bottle and seen enough heaving and puking over the side to last me awhile. but i felt obligated to keep up my diving practice, so i hopped on the next boat out.
sound is different underwater, distorted. when diving you first hear your inhale, darth-vaderish in the eerie light, then the thundering of bubbles around your ears released from your regulator as you exhale. not so relaxing as you look up through the meters of water weighing you down. once i got my bearings i heard fish crunching and munching on coral (like rice krispies when you pour milk on them). and then…i heard whale song. the whales were kilometers away and the sound felt like it was being pulled and stretched across the distance. i floated waiting for it again, trying not to breathe. the song accompanied us as we swam and there were moments when i wanted to ditch the group and follow the siren’s call out into the sea to swim find its source. it was haunting and so attractive; i can understand why Ulysses had to be tied to the mast.
that dive made my day (probably my whole year). the whale song combined both the relaxing and energizing effects that i seek in my practices. peaceful, soothing and invigorating, it brought me outside of my body and my mind to something much greater than myself. an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.