Like a ritual cup of coffee, songs of yoga "set the tone" for Amber Houska's day.
Chanting mantras in a new yoga class inspired Houska to try the technique at home, which leaves her feeling "centered and calm" but "opened and resilient." Dabbling for about two years in various styles of yoga, including Bikram and vinyasa, Houska tuned into a different frequency with Ashland instructor Liz Love's YogaSong.
Root chakra: "lahm"
Sacral chakra: "vahm"
Solar plexus: "rahm"
Heart chakra: "yahm"
Throat chakra: "hahm"
Third-eye chakra: "shahm"
Crown chakra: "ohm"
"I think sound, music is healing," says Houska, 42. "I don't have enough song and music in my life."
While growing up, the Ashland resident says she admired her mother's beautiful singing voice but, feeling her own vocal failings, was always hesitant to sing. Houska says she thought Love's YogaSong classes would help her gain confidence not only for singing, but also for speaking up.
"My vision ... is to have a practice ... where people just feel free to express their voice," says Love.
A 27-year-old singer, certified sound healer and yoga instructor, Love developed her class format in 2010 and held her first workshop in October at Ashland Yoga Center for $15 per class. She also adapted the method to a seven-week "chakra series," which costs $95 per person, at Ashland's Inner Space.
Building on the foundations of kundalini yoga, Love combines movements and vocal expression for an exercise that emphasizes yoga's mind-body connection, as well as its spiritual aspect. By sharing sound, participants also connect with each other, says Love.
"Sound is a powerful force."
Starting with "ohm," a vocal warm-up precedes the bodily warm-up in Love's YogaSong workshops. Working in pairs connected by gentle touching, participants sing out syllables that correspond with areas of the body in traditional yogic teachings and sound-healing philosophies. Using the kundalini method of yoga, Love then guides students through gentle postures, some common to typical hatha yoga classes.
Relying on repetitive movements while expanding and contracting areas of the body rather than rapidly flowing from one asana to the next, kundalini yoga works the body's "energetics" or nervous system more than the musculoskeletal system, says Love. Her approach encourages participants to make "inquiries" about their own bodies' needs, followed by self-directed modification of poses.
"It's more about the subtlety of movement in the body while activating the voice," says Love.
Although vocalization adds another layer of exertion, a YogaSong workout isn't as vigorous or the stretching so intense as with some other types of yoga. Kundalini, says Love, isolates the body's smaller muscles, holding light tension for long periods of time. These include core muscles and others, such as the diaphragm and pelvic floor, not visible on the body's exterior.
The largely invisible realm of Hindu chakras were the focus of Love's secondary yoga series that hosted 11 participants at Inner Space in November and December. Working from the root chakra between the legs to the crown chakra on the top of the head, Love applied sounds and movements in each class to stimulate in their turn each of the seven energy centers.
"They are resonant to your sound," says Sarah Ratto, a 35-year-old Ashland massage therapist who has worked with chakras in her practice and attended Love's series.
Eight months pregnant when she began the classes, Ratto says complications prevented her from doing other types of exercise. Whereas many yoga classes promote strength, says Ratto, Love's promote balance.
"It's really important for me to be in balance when I'm about to give birth to a baby," says Ratto, adding that during the late stages of pregnancy she also had undergone two sound-therapy sessions at Love's Ashland home.
"I know that it works; I just don't know how."
Love insists her methods aren't "too woo-woo" but have the laws of physics behind them. Unifying their vocal and yogic breathing, students sing softly and tentatively at the class' outset but soon raise their volume and sway in time to the mantra's melodic chorus. As voices blend, explains Love, a harmonic overtone, or third pitch, often can be heard.
"I start that ... and then people naturally start to sing other notes," says Love, who studied "voice as instrument" since childhood and sang in Ashland High School's choir.
Love's rich, unwavering timbre at first rises above the room's others. As confidence soars, participants — lying with their heads forming a circle for the class' concluding relaxation — intone at random.
"YogaSong is definitely for people who are looking for their voice," says Love.
Each one finds it and surrenders it by the class' end. The room vibrates, and waves in this "sound bath" wash over the collective consciousness.