Friday, December 13, 2013

Relieving Subvocal Tension in the Vocal Cords by Muting the Internal Monologue

The ultimate form of meditation, in my opinion, is to stop the restless subvocalization that is going on both within our head and within our larynx. The part of your brain that is responsible for speech is called Broca’s area and it is always active, running speech patterns. Sometimes its actions are not broadcast globally to the PFC and other association areas. When this happens we have a brief respite from being aware of our internal monologue. Usually however, not only is it broadcasting its speech to much of the cortex, but it is broadcasting instructions for speech to the supplementary motor areas, the premotor areas and the primary motor areas responsible for moving the vocal cords in the larynx.

I realized recently that I have no respite from muscular tension in my vocal tract and the tension extends out to my neck and head. Even though I am not speaking out loud, because I am talking to myself in my mind, my vocal tract remains tense, as if I was always speaking. This is a common cause of hoarseness and weakened/diminished voice. I try to stop the tension in my vocal tract, but I realize that in order to do this I have to mute my internal monologue. I can’t though. I am gradually learning to pay attention to how my constant internal monologue controls my subvocal tension, but I am rarely able to turn it off completely. My attention diverts from this meditative practice before I can effectively turn it off.

I am constantly tensing my throat, silently going through the motions of speech. Language is always running through my mind, whether it is me planning my day, me defending myself in a hypothetical argument, me predicting what someone else will say, or me singing the words to a song. Sometimes my mouth and tongue move with the words, sometimes they don’t, but always my throat mimes the words. It has been difficult for me to create respite from this interminable narrative.

I believe that what I have described is a malady that afflicts nearly everyone. I also think that people that practice advanced meditation focus on thinking without this internal dialogue. Surely it is helpful, without it we would only practice speaking when we are really speaking out loud to actual people. But I think that it afflicts us and we should all learn to subdue it temporarily at will. I think that the only way to do this is to: 1) become aware of it, 2) notice what it feels like to try to stop it, 3) practice subduing it for as long as possible. I think the best way is to try to subdue it from both ends: A) we can try to focus on the feeling and sensation of letting our vocal tract go completely limp and relaxed, and B) we can try to focus on the feeling and sensation of thinking without using words.

Here are some helpful books on similar topics that I have enjoyed:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Temporarily Forgetting what it is You are Excited About

As a kid one of the most interesting psychological phenomena to me was being really excited about something, and then temporarily forgetting what it was that I was excited about. When this happens you may still feel excited, but it is bitter sweet, because you can’t remember what you were planning or anticipating. The “trigger” or the “object” of excitement is displaced. I would know that my current thoughts were too mundane to warrant so much excitement so something enticing must have recently crossed my mind. I remember being frustrated, asking myself: “wait a minute, what the heck was I so happy about.” Sometimes, if it took a while to remember, the excitement would fade. Other times I would remember what it was and I would remain excited.  This still happens to me at times today. We can tell that our dopaminergic neurons are firing away, but the trigger for them can be temporarily misplaced because of a shift in our attention.  Lucky for us, the dopamine system of the brain is designed to keep representations about the object of excitement active and details about potential rewards in mind.  As a kid I was puzzled, how can my brain still be excited about something, even though I cannot remember what it is? These two systems (attention and reward) interact extensively but can become uncoupled. The experience taught me to question whether it was “me” that was excited or some mechanism in my brain. Of course, we identify with our personal desires and even with the feeling of “wanting” so I think there is a dissociation of “self” here.