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:


  1. Hi Jared

    This is an interesting take on it. Discussing this amongst some Buddhist friends we agreed that falling away of inner dialogue is a regular product of samādhi or intense one pointed absorption in a meditation object.

    Of course there is Jill Bolte Taylor's description of her internal dialogue shutting down during her stroke - not a recommended method.

    However some people report a more or less permanent loss of internal dialogue which is fascinating. One example is Gary Weber who discusses his experience in an interview on

    Best Wishes

  2. I wonder how exactly one would be able to think or to process abstract thoughts without this inner dialogue? It seems like the only thoughts besides inner monologues are emotions.

  3. Thinking without words - isn't this what primitive man did before the development of language? Are illiterate people, those who are aware of the heard word but not the written word, better capable of thinking without words?

  4. Commenting from experience, it is actually possible to use a progressive relaxation technique to ultimately relax one's larynx and thereby stop discursive verbal thoughts. There is a lot of tension and micromovement that happen, in addition to just the larynx, related to thinking. This includes muscles in the neck, throat, jaw, lips, tongue, cheeks, brow and eyes. Try relaxing these outward manifestations of speech and thought in some progressive sequence that leads to relaxing your larynx. With practice, it's possible to become quite efficient at doing this so you can quickly stop your verbal thinking, anytime, anywhere. There are, however, other modes of thinking that aren't usually considered as thinking. Visualizing images, for example, and relaxing your larynx will not stop visualization and may even seem to increase it, although it probably just becomes more noticeable because you are no longer focused on word thoughts.

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