Toning is the type of singing that involves holding out long vowel sounds on the breath. As babies, we all toned. When we were hungry, tired, angry, or upset, we let out our feelings in sound: “Waaaaaaaah!” Since it was accepted that all babies cry, there were
no barriers to our sound making. We knew we could balance ourselves and get what we needed by using our voices.
As we grew older we were told to be quiet. We were told not to disturb the adults and that children were to be “seen and not heard.” Many of us were even told to mouth the words in school choir if our voices were not perfect. So at a certain age society gave us the message that it was no longer appropriate to express freely with our voices. In losing this permission, we lost the ability to connect to our own guidance system, to express our unfolding life experience. We began to place our admiration and power in singers and performers, thinking only some of us were “talented.”
It is sad that many of us have lost the joy and simplicity of singing. But it goes beyond this. With no clear alternative for healthy emotional expression, we instead hold onto feelings, sometimes burying them in our bodies for years. Or we release them hurtfully in a moment of heated pressure. Emotions are to be felt and held onto for a short time. Then they are to be transformed into something new. Toning is an alchemical tool that re-teaches us this natural process.
Toning worked for us as infants. But what exactly does it do? First of all, deep long breaths relax the nervous system and calm the mind. Holding long tones gives release and expression to thoughts, feelings and emotions. It is also interesting to note that it has been proven by research that while other sounds can soothe, harmonize and heal us, we carry the most medicinal frequencies in our own voices. When photographing the effects of sound on human cells it was found in the 1980s by Fabien Maman that our own cells light up with the most vibrancy and colour to the sound of our own voice!
Toning is a way to tap into, make tangible, express and transform the vibrational reality that underlies life. It is thus a type of preventative medicine.
In Sanskrit there is a beautiful word called “dhvani.” “Dhvani” means voice or tone, such as the tone of a poem, or the voice of a writer. “Dhvani” is the vibration or intention that underlies words, gesture, or actions. Have you ever noticed that it is not what others say but the tone of how they say it that affects us?
Toning is “Dhvani Yoga.” We connect to and give voice to underlying vibrations. We open the flow of energy through the meridians of the subtle body and release blockages. Like water, a powerful carrier of sound, sound is a powerful carrier of thoughts and emotions. Thus toning can be also used to send blessings and prayers to others.
If you want to try out toning, set aside some time and space. Light a candle and simply begin to take some deep breaths. As you exhale, try some vowel sounds on your outbreath. Any of the vowels are good: “a, e, i, o, u.” The important thing is to hold the sounds for your whole outbreath.
You can start with a medium-low pitch. As you feel comfortable try a higher pitch or an even lower pitch. Do not judge yourself. Simply hold out the vowel sounds and let your body guide the way. Be curious. Listen to yourself with an open mind. Follow your feelings.
Know that you are learning something you already knew a long time ago. You are returning to you.