Friday, October 17, 2014

Embracing Idiosyncrasy

This week I read a story from NPR about a female attorney who hired a voice coach and worked for nine months to change her voice. In evaluations with male law firm partners, her high voice had been identified as an obstacle. The article is entitled, "Can Changing How You Sound Help You Find Your Voice?" It made me think about my own voice and the voices of some people I have known, both men and women. I used to work in a law firm with a male lawyer who also felt that his high voice was an impediment to success.

Our society likes to define and perpetuate standards and norms. Nothing wrong with that, right? We rarely question the need to adapt to widely accepted norms in our behaviors. Nonetheless, there are certain individual qualities we each have that make us stand out in some way. Voice can certainly be one of those. Part of what determines our voice quality is genetic. Another part is based on conditioning, environment and personality. The same can be said for our posture, our gait and our facial expressions. 

When is it worth the effort to change some of our instinctual physical and emotional traits? Can we recognize the value in some or all of our idiosyncrasies? 

One way we can develop awareness of our individual qualities and work on them is through the practice of Yoga. As we acquaint ourselves deeply with our breath, our bodies and our minds, through pranayama (breath work), asana (moving through poses) and dhyana (meditation), we begin to see more deeply into ourselves. We learn to bring neutral observation to the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us. We learn to accept each part of ourselves, and as we do that, we begin to transform. The transformation is both conscious and unconscious. We practice, we wait, we grow, and we transform. Some parts of us we identify as needing work, but we learn that we must accept those parts before we can change them. 

The article about changing our individual voice to become more successful made me think about self-critical tendencies. Criticism serves a valuable purpose in all areas of life. It helps us identify what we can improve. The caveat to criticism is that it needs to be balanced with appreciation, or it can become destructive. This process of balancing criticism with appreciation made me think of Sutra 2.33 in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam, "When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana." 

We can use pratipaksha bhavana as a method to work with our idiosyncrasies, like our voice, our posture, our breath, and the way we move. We are each unique and all of that uniqueness has value. Yet, there are certain traits we may wish to change or adapt from time to time. How can we identify these and approach them constructively? Each time we find something to criticize, we can balance the criticism with appreciation. So in the example of the lawyers with the high voices, we can find something to appreciate: I thought my lawyer friend's high voice made him approachable, playful and distinctive. We can apply this same perspective to our yoga postures. Two of my teachers speak often about how tight they were when they first practiced yoga and how this physical quality of being tight helps prevent injury. We don't have to be bendy Barbie Dolls to practice yoga. We can notice that we are tight and appreciate what the tightness brings us. If we decide we want to become more limber, we can work towards that quality with an accompanying appreciation of the tightness. 

Today in your practice, pay particular attention to your own idiosyncrasies, the way YOU do yoga: What do you think about in yoga class? How does your breathing sound? What does your down dog feel like? Where do you like to put your feet, in spite of what the teacher says? Notice your individual practice, and each time you feel critical, find something to appreciate. 

We are transitory beings and in time all things about us will change and fade away, so there is no need to be impatient about what won't change right now. As we see more deeply into ourselves through practicing yoga, let's bring awareness to every aspect, balancing any criticisms with appreciation. In this way, we can own our practice and our voice with awareness and compassion. 


1 comment:

  1. Be what God wants you to be.

    There are 10 kinds of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't!