Imagine a world where everyone's voice is unique. A world where it is acknowledged that your vocal sound or frequency in its uniqueness, is part of a puzzle, and each and every person brings their piece of that puzzle to create the WHOLE. The whole sound. Imagine the concept of that WHOLE sound holding the key to all healing on the earth, for communities, individuals, for all. Imagine a world where the sound of your voice is honoured for its frequency. Your spoken voice, your sung voice, your sounding voice. Every aspect of your voice. Imagine that your voice could never be labelled as something bad, shrill, off key, unworthy, useless, small (am I hitting any nerves yet?), you get the picture.
Imagine a place where your sound contributes to community, expression from the heart, your very sounds whether sung or spoken could bring joy and love to those around you. In being honoured for your sound, you honour. In being respected for your sounding contributions, you respect. A world where your voice is honoured for the natural healing it brings your body, your nervous system, your tired and overloaded mind. Not just singing in a choir for wellbeing once a week, but exercising this incredible vagus nerve stimulating instrument that we all hold inside, every day like going to the gym. Imagine immediate access to and regulation of your nervous system responses, from just simple humming a few times a day and this being considered a NORMAL practice. Imagine being taught this in school, actually being taught that you can control your stress response with simple and immediate tools, using stress when you need it, and switching off when you don't. Imagine. All this from being able to access the authentic and simple sound of a vocal hum.
Now this is really far out. Imagine being able to connect with your sadness, your despair, your anxiety, your pain and instead of sweeping it under the carpet and pretending it's not there, being able to access it, calmly and from a place of objectivity. What would that feel like? Imagine if you could connect to all these stored emotions in your body with simple vocal tone, using your mind and intention to navigate every vibrating cell and particle in your body. No, it can't be I hear you cry. Believe me when I say, it CAN be, and what if you could offer this to others? What if you could use your voice as a sonic healing tool, and move not only your own energy, but the energy of others, to assist them with their pain and trapped emotions, in finding their joy and their authentic inner voice?
Yes, you can, we all can. I do it all the time as part of my job and I teach others too. As you may have gathered from my profile, I wear many voice related hats, but they are all connected. Helping people connect to the sound of their voice without judgment, whether as professional performers, healers, those looking to discover the real self under all the conditioning, those called to use their voice for singing, speaking, sounding, and healing for whatever reason. That's what I offer, and sometimes the strangest scenarios present themselves. I meet people where they are at, in the workplace, in school, in a 1-2-1 healing session, in a voice coaching, in a technical singing lesson, in community singing. It's all the same. It's about discovering the Sound of You, unlocking the unique vibration that is you, the missing piece of the puzzle. Voice is the key to personal development and healing on ALL levels of being. Where you are at right now, is the right place. Now sound, voice, sing, speak and let it flow. Notice the effect that doing this has on your body. Notice what your mind throws up. Notice. Are you free to sound? What does your work voice sound like? What does your family voice sound like? What does your singing voice sound like? What does your groaning voice, your sad voice, your happy voice, your scared voice sound like? It's all you! It's all right. All of it. Stop the judgment. Allow and keep noticing when you suppress your sound, when you alter your sound, when you doubt your sound, and ask yourself WHY. Why are you feeling this way. Start there. Start with the response and begin to unravel the conditioning around your sound. You owe it to yourself to find out. This is for you, the Sound of YOU. And Hum.
10th July 2023 Imagine If There Were A Greater Purpose Than Just How Good You Sound?
Having spent from the age of eleven when I was first introduced to proper 'singing for performance', and seeing this all the way through until I was in my early thirties, a fully trained and by then, a professional opera singer where I had enjoyed contracts at Glyndebourne Opera, Zurich Opera House and a number of relatively high profile gigs worldwide, I was conditioned, truly conditioned, to think ONLY about the quality of the sound I was producing, to the extent that, if that aspect wasn't in place, I was truly and deeply unhappy. The sound of the voice was all that mattered. Of course, there was musicality and performance skills, being good to work with and so on, but at the end of the day, if the voice didn't work and sound good, there wasn't much point. The ability to rock up to wherever you had to perform and literally switch it on, was paramount. I remember many a trek across Europe, an early flight to sing for an agent in Germany at 9am, warming up and doing vocal exercises on the street outside because there was literally nowhere else (and when you've been up since 4am, taken a plane and a taxi, trying to speak your very best "Deutsch," you definitely need a quiet place for a moment to get head and voice working in the same direction)!
The pursuit of perfection actually got in the way of perfection. The fear of getting it wrong, the fear of not being good enough, not perfect enough, and constantly having to prove oneself to the next agent, the next singing teacher, the next audience is a lot to handle, especially in the years pre-thirties. I had only ever known singing. I had literally devoted my entire youth to singing, performing and music making and loved it. I had gone to the most prestigious colleges, had the best international training, and yet, despite the love and all that it gave me, underlying the confidence, was fear. I didn't know that at the time. I was able to push it very deep down inside of me, and like the natural actress I am, just put it down to performance nerves and brush any intense signals of anxiety and a plethora of red flags aside.
I am eternally grateful for that time though as I learnt so much about performance psychology first hand, the effects of fear and anxiety on the voice and nervous system, the inner dialogue and the feeling of being completely misaligned with what I had always wanted to do. Knowing on all levels that I was meant to sing and vocalise and bring this to people, but not realising how, thinking that the performance world was the only way. There were many mountains to climb, even down to the teachers I worked with at music college, and realising now, that the whole environment was so fear based. Being incredibly sensitive, I understand now so much of what went on. Having taught very briefly a few years ago at a performing arts college in London, and being surrounded by students and teacher colleagues stuck in fear (and not knowing it!), I knew I had made the right decision 15 years ago, to put my time and energy into Healing Voice work. Hopefully to be here for those that leave the profession not knowing where to go and what to do. Knowing it's not for them, but also knowing that voice IS! Making a career out of sound and voice healing has been very easy for me, as how could I ever teach a singing lesson, a coaching session or anything for that matter without it being sound healing? If we truly acknowledge the principles of sound and healing, how can any interaction be fuelled from fear?
And so here I am, and the reason for this blog was sparked last week, when, after several enquiries into healing voice work, and being amidst some colleagues who were feeling insecure about their vocal sound, I felt it necessary to put down a few words. So here it is...
If we are working with our voice for healing, we are not thinking about whether our sound is "bad" or "good". Unlike the professional performance world this is not something that actually matters. I have taught the College of Sound Healing Voice Practitioner training for some years now, and those that say they can't sing, are delighted to find that what they need to do is SOUND, and unless you are clinically mute, we can all sound! Now don't get me wrong, we must learn to breathe as nature intended, we need to make some physical adjustments if their are blocks and tension, but this isn't anything to do with performance, this is actually to do with aligning the physical body so it can vocalise effectively. There is a HUGE difference. I have posted on social media before about the number of people that come to me seeking sessions, who are convinced that they have a block in their throat chakra, only to find that it clears up almost immediately when a few physical adjustments are made and PRACTISED. This is another point. Using the voice regularly in alignment, is key. Voice use happens when a set of muscles have stamina and coordination. If you are not working regularly with the voice, don't expect it to work with you. You wouldn't try to run 10K without practice, so why is it any different for the voice? When we use the voice for healing, we are truly embodying OUR vibration, the vibration of all that we are on all levels of being. We are after all, vibration, resonance, frequency. By that, I mean that everything in our body we perceive as solid, is actually a mass of vibrating particles (basic physics). It is therefore understood, purely scientifically, that we are energy and therefore have a frequency. We are in fact SOUND. So if we are sound, what is our voice?
In my opinion, the voice is a composite frequency, a reflection of us as a whole. So what about we take responsibility for this sound, this voice we are creating and accept that is personal to us, that we as vibrational beings, might be able to sound from the soul and bring that into this world for all manner of healing objectives, and if we did, does it matter how we sound? I find that it's often a case of educating the listener, not just the vocalist. People are all so hung up on the judgment of someone's sound.
The biggest thing about switching from performer to voice healer, is the removal of the ego. That will mean different things for different people, but it often involves a period of despair as the ego shifts perspective. However, it also means a pure ACCEPTANCE of self. This is why the voice can be used so powerfully for personal development. When you work with your voice, who are you doing it for? Yourself? Or the people you are sounding for? If you are working truly to align your voice for yourself and your own development, you will open the doorway to healing on all levels of being. If it is for someone else, you close the door right there. This is the hardest aspect of vocal coaching for me now. I am lucky to be able to pick and choose where I work and with whom. I have maintained two days a week teaching singing at a private school where I have been for quite sometime. There I teach technical voice, fix voices, develop voices, but the ones that continue through the years, are the ones that come from parents who love the personal development they see in their kids, and accept that singing provides a space for wellbeing, and self-expression for their children that they might not find elsewhere. They are not the parents that drill their kids in exams every term, and get stroppy if they ONLY achieve a merit instead of top distinction. Rant almost over, when did a pass become something to be upset about???? Ok, I've finished but in all seriousness, the kids that are ALLOWED to do it for themselves, rather than for their parents, the grades, their teachers, to look good, are the ones that are reaping so many, many benefits.
So, coming full circle in my life, I often look back and wonder how I would have felt if instead of setting the intention for perfection in my voice and performance work, what if I had set the intention for the healing, joy and uplifting of those that were listening to me? What if my singing and sounding had had a Higher Purpose back then, rather than just an ego based one? Healing is a circle. If we send it out, it comes back to us. As my Grandmother used to say, you can bring happiness to thousands just with the sound of your voice. I am truly grateful for all my experiences in the world before voice healing, and acknowledge that the diverse areas of work I am involved in now are because of my early experiences and trusting in what felt right. In knowing the fear, we appreciate the liberation. In knowing the ego, we appreciate the authentic self and from that, the authentic voice.
I hope this offering provides food for thought for anyone out there that needs it :)
19th June 2023 Singing and Voice Healing for Everyone!
Wow, I thought it was time I started writing a blog again! The last one was written in 2017 and what a shift we have encountered as a world since then!! However, the constant in my world is VOICE! Nothing has changed there, except that it has gone from being a relatively unknown tool for accessing wellbeing, to a very well known one! Researchers, Sound Healers, Singing Teachers, to name but a few have suddenly realised the healing potential of the human voice, for themselves and others. Many have locked into the scientific research that tells us all manner of things from the feel-good chemicals that are released into our system from the simple act of singing, to the cognitive benefits for those suffering from conditions such as Dementia. Other practitioners are pursuing voice from a sound healing perspective and since 2017, I have trained several. The incredible phenomena of applying frequency to the body and mind via the voice. A new world of sensing, audibly, visually and through sensation. The power of intention, literally the frequency of our thoughts working as a powerful magnet, directing the energy as intuited. But what is it about voice? For me, it's the incredible journey of personal development and healing that people encounter when they begin to use their voice without judgment. This can be a difficult aspect, as we carry so much conditioning, so many ideas of what we think we should sound like. Even voice healers take what seems like forever to really believe in their sound, to stand aside from the criticism of the thinking mind. As voice healers, we understand that the voice works as a diagnostic tool. When we perceive fluctuations in energy, our vocal tone will be disrupted. This can manifest itself as a simple dip in the sound, or as a huge frog in the throat! Either way, we accept that when we are using the voice in this way, it is the fluctuations that give us the information we need for the healing session. This is a difficult concept, because often people are so hung up on the idea of sounding 'good' and 'nice' and like that singer on the radio. In the context of professional performance and singing, and I'll say that again, 'professional performance', that is a different thing. The performance world demands that we hone our craft, understand the workings of the voice and can fit into the particular genre that we choose, but this is the professional singing world, and that is a CHOICE! Even at that level, it's important to stay connected to an authentic, joy filled place when it comes to vocalising, but for your average person, the right to vocalise is akin to the right to breathe. We are sounding beings. We gurgle, coo, cry, scream and hum from birth. It is the gateway to self expression and through that expression we access the wellbeing benefits, the release of endorphins, a correct movement of the diaphragm, an open relaxed jaw and non retracted tongue, all 'normal' things pro singers think about, but what about regular people? The voice is so very important on all levels of being. Physically it helps us release tension. Emotionally it allows us to sound our pain and our joy. Spiritually we find a connection within ourselves that transports us, helps us transcend the stuck and stagnant world we so often encounter. Most recently, Singing Therapy took me to a SEN school in London, to offer online sessions to a teen with autism and other suspected mental illnesses. We made a lot of noise in that session and most importantly the student was allowed to make noise and vocal sound. I continued to congratulate her much to her surprise. The more she sounded, the more she smiled. Then the real treat happened, it turned out that this student could not only sing in many different styles, from pop to opera, she had a finely tuned ear that allowed her to sing in accordance with western tuning! It was like discovering a diamond from the rough. The session, as far as I was concerned, was all about healing. Seeing such joy of sounding, can only come through healing. I often get asked how I manage to offer so many variances on singing and sound and voice healing, from coaching singers and speakers to working with voice as a therapeutic tool. The thing is, to me, it's not about anything else other than allowing healing. Imagine you come to me for a public speaking session. You are afraid of speaking publicly and you hate doing it at work, but your job demands it. Let's say we forget about the public speaking and see what the real fear is. How about we do some singing and sounding and noise making? Let's see how we feel and respond to that. After a while, we realise that it's not a fear of public speaking at all that's the problem, it's just that you've never sounded, never been allowed to make noise. You did once, a long time ago, but your well-meaning parents wanted you to fit into society, and so told you not to be so stupid. You felt humiliated. You felt tension. You felt anger. And guess, what? It never got released. Now when you use your voice, it all comes up to be dealt with. How do I know that? I've seen it time and time again. The same story. The shame story which affects our ability to ground and stand in our own power.
Consider this. Your voice is part of you. If you shut it down, or it has been shut down, then a part of you goes with it. A valuable part of your wholeness. A valuable part of your ability to control your nervous system. A valuable part of your ability to experience joy, to feel emotion, to feel good and so much more. The wonderful thing is, it's all there to be discovered if you can allow it. Start with humming with intention a few minutes a day and see how it feels.
I understand that for many this blog might feel like an overstatement. I say, don't mock it until you try it!
25th July 2016 Why Do I Always Get Distracted During Meditation?
I was contacted today by a blogger writing about meditation. He asked me, in my opinion, what the number one benefit of meditation is. In my experience this would have to be is clarity of thought, even for those who feel that their mind fills with a million things as soon as they start to relax!
When we quieten the body and sit/lie still for a short while, the mind throws everything at us as it finally has our attention. Even though this feels like overload, and the opposite to relaxation, we are actually giving ourselves time to mentally and emotionally process everything we have experienced up until that point in our lives, both superficial and profound. We cannot relax and find a state of calm if we don't allow our million and one thoughts to process first. Just like a computer processor gets overloaded when we run too many programmes, likewise our mind and body does too! Eventually, the more time we allow in our lives for this "processing" or meditation, the easier and quicker it is to find a peaceful state of being, with clarity of thought and clear direction for our lives.
We live in a world that is constantly demanding something from us, constant working, thinking, planning, worrying about what we have and don't have, but we are never taught how to cope with this lifestyle, and how our mind and body actually works. We are never taught the power of positive imagination, transporting the mind to a beautiful place of stillness. I constantly meet people that are frustrated because they "can't meditate" as they criticise themselves for not being able to relax...and that in itself doesn't help!
What many people do not understand is that the brain has to process information before it can let go and calm itself. Therefore, if THAT happens whilst meditating, and your mind fills with thoughts, then that's a GOOD THING! Soon after there will be less thoughts to process and more space for the mind to relax. Do this a few times a week, and eventually this spills over into your conscious life, your day to day existence. The build up of thoughts and feelings that were left unprocessed which caused your body to feel stress, gradually gets less, and you start to feel calmer. We all know how it feels to have a problem “on our mind!” The more space you create by processing the masses of unimportant information your brain is bombarded with everyday, everything from the radio and TV to what you hear and see others doing, the more clarity of thought and peace you will have for those really important decisions that need your attention. Decisions don’t have to be stressful. A sub note here would be, be careful what or who you expose your mind to. It doesn't take long for unimportant clutter to accumulate and it has to be processed sooner or later. You could be using your energy instead for creating wonderful things in your life.
My experience working as a Sound and Singing Therapist leads me to combine Sound and Meditation for people more and more. Therapeutic Sound distracts the left side of the brain that keeps us constantly busy and chatters away like a monkey! Sound Meditation helps us bypass the chatter by entraining (changing) our brain patterns to help us enter a meditative and calmer state, naturally. The left side of our brain can continue to process all that we need, but we are not aware of it. Instead of the mind filling with a million thoughts, it feels suspended in time, allowing the body to relax and heal if it needs. A similar effect is created when we sing, which is why people often feel great after a singing session and why the ancient art of Toning is combined with meditation. Very often when I have finished a Sound Meditation class, people say they can’t believe they have been lying there for an hour, that instead it feels like 20 minutes. They feel time has literally altered its pace, and they feel calmer. Anyone can access this type of relaxation. It’s not for the special few and it is not something that is ego lead. There is NO right or wrong. There just IS. If you find it harder at first, stick with it. Gradually the clouds break and the blue appears, and before you know it you have found a slice of inner peace, even if just for a moment. Next time, you will find more…..and the time after that a bit more, and....you know where I'm going with this..... :-)
I just don't know where this year has gone! In my last blog I was wishing you a Happy New Year, and now, Christmas and the new, New Year are just four months away. I wanted to just touch base with anyone out there that reads my ramblings, as writing one blog a year is ridiculous! However, I would say, that if I'm not writing the blogs, it's because I'm out there teaching and learning, and gathering information that gives me fuel to write....so I would prefer it that way!
This year has brought many of new discoveries for me in my world of teaching and facilitating singing and sound, and I have been introduced to lots of lovely new students and clients through my school, private and music centre teaching, as well as whilst running some fun workshop days at the Virginia Water Community Centre on "Discovering Your Voice for Health and Wellbeing" and whilst dropping in and out of Wellbeing Centres for both Spelthorne and Epsom and Ewell Borough Councils. The Sound Meditation evenings that started back in April again at the community centre, has seen many new faces, and led me to further my work in the field of Sound Meditation.
My summer project, whilst having the summer break from schools, was to produce a couple of new CDs, and I am happy to say, that finally after, what seems like hours of focus, my first meditation CD, will be available towards the end of this year. It will give you a live sound bath very like what you would experience on a Wednesday evening class, but will also incorporate some daily quick fix meditations, for those of you that have trouble sleeping, and those that feel stressed as soon as you open your eyes in the morning! There's also something for during the day as well which you'll be able to download for free from my website as a taster, so you'll be able to plug yourself in to 10 minutes of stress free time on the train or in the office.....
.....stress eh? What's it all about? Whether I'm working with little ones, teenagers, mums and dads or even the elderly....someone is suffering. So many creative people in jobs that are, to put it simply, not creative! Creative minds bound by time and deadline....slaves to the mortgage, or whatever else we've created in this society that we think we must have...in order to be "seen" to be doing ok. The problem is though, many of us are not ok, and we're so tightly wound in this web of what we "think" we "should" do, we are so conditioned to follow a certain way of living, that breaking free from the rigidity of thinking that way, would cause too many problems, upset too many people.....Maybe. Yes. Maybe. No. Maybe, it would change everything for the better, ultimately, and happiness would start to creep back into our more simpler lives.....
I am lucky enough to see so many life journeys in my job. People come to me and we start working, whether it's unlocking the breath, or the breath and the voice, and at first it's really scary for people. In some cases deeply upsetting, for they realise how blocked they are, and how they keep themselves held in that state. Their journey and the hard work is done, in between the sessions with me. People start to observe themselves a little bit everyday, like a bird's eye view, of themselves. They realise they are holding their body in a certain way, feeling a certain way, saying something that's not true. When they start checking in with these habits and patterns, they have to ask WHY they are feeling that way, and gradually they realise they are not living in the present moment, they are a result of past conditioning.
"What does this have to do with the voice, and singing, I hear you cry?" Everything!! Would be my answer. Why is it we vocalise freely up to a certain age, shouting, screaming, giggling, randomly sounding, and then, it just stops and we learn not to make noise anymore? That is exactly the question. Why on earth do we stop sounding? In order to sound we have to be connected to our body and emotions. In order to sound, our body needs to be an open channel for the sound to be released. In order to free our emotions to prevent illness and stress, we need to resist the urge and conditioning to push feelings down, but instead be allowed to let them out through sound and not feel judged for it.
I guess for me, in some ways, after years of opera singing both auditions and performances, I felt that to truly discover my voice, I had to be free to let it out and develop it in a profession where sound was accepted as sound and not judged conventionally. We live in a very judgmental society. Everyone has something to say about someone and how they do what they do. Very often the saddest situation is when our loved ones judge us...for if we can't truly relax and allow our true selves and sounds with our loved ones, then how can we be free? Judgement is a funny thing. People get very upset when they experience judgement from someone else, but in the next moment, they switch on the TV or radio and criticise the sound, appearance, or performance of whoever they are listening to. Judgement and criticism are fuelled from the same place within us, whether it's someone we know or a stranger on the telly. So think about it the next time you find yourself criticising someone. How would you feel if it was directed at you.....I actually mean that....HOW would you feel? Probably not relaxed, or stress free that's for sure, and that's where most people start when they come to develop their voice. It's about getting over the fear of judgement. Feeling free to sound your sound whatever that might be, and knowing that in doing so, YOU are better off, and closer to feeling stronger and more like the person you always thought you would be.
An interesting study was done by Fabien Mamman, a French musician, acupuncturist, scientist and sound healer. He observed under a microscope and using Kirlian Photography, (a method of photographing the electromagnetic field or "aura" around living cells) that when certain sounds and music were played to human blood cells, the cell's electromagnetic field would change colour and shape in all manner of ways, from small changes to magnificent colours and designs. The most impressive of all the experiments was when the human voice was played to the human blood cells, in particular when the the voice and the cells were from the same human. In this experiment the cells were brighter and more radiant than ever, showing radiant health and vitality. Fabien Maman also proved that cancer cells could be destroyed by applying certain frequencies to them, even something as simple as the melodic scale. Of his books, these experiments can be seen in "The Tao of Sound".
I mention the work of Fabien Mamman, because I have also found that developing the human voice leads to great healing, both physically and psychologically, and we hear in the media all the time now about the wonderful benefits of singing. Fabien takes it to a whole new level, showing us that the cells in our body appear to show super levels of health and vitality when we sing.
We can feel the vibration surging through our body when we allow our voices to truly sound, by just letting go...relinquishing control of what ever it is we "think" we need to hold on to and in turn releasing the stress of it all. Being happy. Enjoying life....realising that actually it's all very simple, we just "choose" to make it complicated. We can open our mouth to sound and see what happens....or we can open our mouth to sound, think about it, complicate it, add a few theories, worry what someone else might say or think.....and then wonder why the sound doesn't come out, or if it does, wonder why we don't like what we hear!!!!!! (and probably end up stressed about it). Until the next time.....Happy Sounding :-)
7th March 2014 You’re Not Boring Me I’m Just Yawning
There are many theories about why we and our fellow animal earthlings yawn, but as yet there is no conclusive evidence to suggest one particular reason. Some of the theories are as follows:
Too much carbon dioxide in the blood - therefore a need to increase oxygen Stretching of muscles - any muscle needs to be exercised and stretched so does our tongue, muscles of the throat and voice so they do not spasm and cramp Nervousness - there is evidence to suggest that yawning keeps a person alert when there is an impending threat Controlling brain temperature and regulation of body temperature
All of the above and indeed the many more that can be found when one starts to research this subject seem perfectly plausible, and there are still studies being carried out to understand why animals yawn, why this can happen in herds and why primates might do it to frighten away possible predators. However my aim for writing this blog was to emphasise that whatever the reason behind our mysterious yawn and the very contagious nature of it, it is a PERFECTLY NATURAL reflex. So natural in fact that as yet it cannot be fully explained! Although if it is linked to such things as brain cooling and too much carbon dioxide in our blood, then we really don't want ignore this powerful natural instinct as it is there, as are all our natural responses, to HELP us! It is a warning sign, our body's way of communicating a situation that could potentially harm us. Which leads me back to my familiar blog topic and asking the question; Why are we so absorbed in this fake perspective of living that we think it's ok to ignore and suppress natural instincts?
The majority of the time our body gives us signals that something is not right, whether that be an emotional signal of feeling unhappy, afraid or anxious, or a more practical signal of hunger, tiredness, pain in a muscle or joint, a headache or a simple cold. The "normal" response to these signals is to just carry on. We continue with all our pressing life commitments ignoring these messages. A couple of pain killers gets us through the day if we have a headache, or a couple of anti-depressants or bottle of wine, if the sadness gets too much! Do we ever really ask why we have a headache or why our immune system was so low we caught a cold or a virus? If we could understand more profoundly the affect our emotions have on our immune system, known as Psychoneuroimmunology, perhaps when we feel unhappy or angry we would look deeper into what has made us feel this way. Dealing with the root cause of something, adjusting our lives and perspective of our life so we are relatively happy might prevent the stress on our immune system, keeping us stronger and happier. Most of us choose a quick fix physically or emotionally, and then wonder further down the line why we became ill.
My question as always is, why? What have we come to as a society if we allow this personal ignorance, this lack of understanding of ourselves and our bodies, what makes us ill and how we can prevent it? Looking inside and listening to the body, instead of reaching out all the time for answers from people who are no more empowered than ourselves. The GP for one, who armed with an array of the latest drugs and potions, based on often limited clinical trials and backed by billion pound pharmaceutical companies, tries to appease our cries for help. The drugs themselves have a list of side effects which often appear worse than the original problem, but hey ho, at least we are being "pro-active" in our quest for "good" health.
The GP presented with all the illnesses, disorders and ailments that they encounter on a daily basis, does not have the time to take each individual case and look at what might be causing, or what might have caused an illness to be triggered on an emotional level. All they can do is hope to provide something to ease the symptoms, rather than make the illness go away. If doctors agree that Psychoneuroimmunology actually exists, then surely illness must stem from and be triggered by an imbalance at some point in our emotional state. Of course Eastern medicine has acknowledged this for centuries using a combination of treatments, looking at the emotional and physical combined.
The more we suppress our natural instincts, whatever they might be, the more we put our body and our health at risk. Some examples; how often do you hold on and not go to the loo because work, school, time does not allow it? How often have you had a stinking cold but have gone about your day anyway dosed with paracetamol, decongestants, and caffeine? How often has your stomach growled from hunger but you didn't have time to eat even though you can feel the agitation of stomach acid on your intestine walls? How often have your shoulders been stiff and painful because you sit in the same position at work and continue in that same position until one day you have a bad back and worse? How often have you suppressed a yawn because you were worried what the boss or the teacher would think about you?
You may ponder over the above examples, and simply conclude that life is as such, and we all have to put up with it. Maybe we do....we'll continue with an overburdened health service, full hospitals, Depression and Dementia on the increase as people just can't cope anymore and fall down under the strain or their minds simply want to forget.
Or maybe we don't have to be this way. Surely if we take the time to listen to our body and the signals it gives us, we will learn to trust when something isn't right, we will begin to understand our body and allow it time to do what it knows naturally. If we ALLOW instead of fight and suppress we will begin to understand the process of our body, mind and emotions. We will know in advance what makes us fearful, tired, lower in resistance. If we can avoid states of mind and being that we know don't feel right, surely we can become stronger, and in becoming stronger less likely to become ill.
Negative practices are instilled within us at a very young age. So many children stand before me in a singing lesson, when we have done our breathing exercises and they start to yawn, immediately stifling it. "Noooooooo!" I cry, "Let it out!!!" and they smile with watery eyes. All of them tell me how at some point they have been told off for yawning at school, usually in a class like maths or science. This infuriates me! The whole point of our warm ups in a singing lesson is to get them to relax, open and feel engaged to sing, to express and communicate using their voice. To allow the magic and creativity of the right side of the brain to emerge and take over the moment. To let the over developed practical left brain have a rest. As soon as these children (and adult students) start breathing deeply and singing, yawning starts to happen. It allows them to get rid of all the residual tension they might be carrying around so their body is free to sing and live in the moment for a while.
Here's something I used to use yawning for. When I was a active professional opera singer, on an audition tour, very often I would drive several hours in the car, or take a plan and a taxi, ending up in a theatre or agent's office (often in Germany) with no vocal warm up facilities. Bearing in mind the audition might be at 10 o ' clock in the morning, the best of singers needs a warm up! In some situations there was literally a secretary's office to wait in and that was it, unless one wanted to warm up in the street (which often seemed like a viable option!). I found that a great silent warm up for my voice was to allow myself to yawn excessively. I would instigate the first few and then that was it. Not only did it make me feel more awake, alert and refreshed, it stretched all my throat, laryngeal ligaments and ears and affected the way I breathed. If you have ever observed yourself amidst full yawn you will find that diaphragmatic breathing comes instinctively...meaning you do it without trying or even noticing! My voice after this would feel great and sound open and full with a range of tone and colour. It helped with my audition nerves and anxiety, calming me down and I always gave a much better performance.
If yawning could do this for me in a situation of pressure, I realised I was dealing with a very powerful reflex. I used to make myself yawn, but think on a daily basis how often your body is trying to yawn, and how often you might suppress it. Suppressing something this powerful will only lead to body imbalance. Body imbalance over a prolonged period leads to stress and illness. If indeed a yawn is a stretch for more hard to reach internal muscles and organs to prevent spasming and cramps, then IT IS IMPORTANT. If it serves as a reaction to prevent an imbalance of carbon dioxide in the blood, which ultimately can lead to varying degrees of hyperventilation causing stress, anxiety, digestive problems, high blood pressure and so on then IT IS IMPORTANT.
All of our natural instincts are there for a reason and should be listened to and allowed. The next time someone makes a sarcastic comment about you yawning, tell them you are doing it for your health! End of!
So much has been written on the subject of fear! Yet very few of us get to really understand it! If we did we would be free of inhibitions, doubts, illness and so many other negatives states of being and we would be able to express ourselves freely. We live in a society where fear is the norm, whether it be fear of doing something wrong, fear of how others see us, fear of losing loved ones or our job, fear of being attacked, of losing money, of not being able to pay the bills, of being alone, fear of change, of being criticised and the list goes on. On so many levels we are afraid, and those fears mentioned are just the obvious ones.
If we take a much closer look at ourselves and our personal lives, we might say on a superficial level, "I'm not afraid, I don't fear anything per say..." but is that really true? I ask this question because in my work, week after week, I see people who are afraid of the sound of their own voice, afraid of the sound that comes out, afraid that it's not good enough, afraid that it sounds wrong, afraid that they sound stupid, afraid that they look ridiculous when they are singing (or sounding), afraid that if they take a deep breath and open themselves holding their head high, feeling their personal strength and power, someone might ask them who they think they are to be doing such a thing! On the other extreme you have those that are afraid that they might "do" it wrong, they are so self critical that everything is perfect. They have trained themselves to swallow the feeling of self doubt and do the task anyway, but the fear continues to seep out on a physical level with tension and frustration at making any small "mistake."
I work from the perspective that our voice is the most natural thing about us. For the majority of us, when we are born we cry, scream, wail, coo, gurgle and giggle. This is how we communicate. We don't question these sounds we just "sound" them. I've mentioned this in previous blogs, but if you have the opportunity to look at a baby's stomach when s/he is crying, you will see that the sound is being produced like a type of squeeze box from the diaphragm. This is a human breathing and sounding the way nature intended. Likewise look at a dog when he barks, or a horse when she brays, the sound is being produced from the body. I will restate that sentence, these sounds are being produced from the body, not some mystical muscle in the throat.
Our ability to sound is an emotional reaction on some level, whether we are laughing, sobbing or screaming with pain. Yet through speech and the way we are expected to speak after a certain age, we are encouraged to suppress natural emotions and not show our true feelings. We are even led to believe in some situations that it is a weakness to show emotion in our speech, hiding behind our words. Most of us have experienced not being able to contain our emotions, whether it's being ecstatically happy about something, or so sad that our words can no longer cover the fluctuations of tone in our voice. The sensation of holding back tears is heard in the inflection of the voice and often felt as a pain in the throat. There are of course situations when we do have to "control" our reactions as we have the intelligence to understand the consequences of situations. However we must be aware, for our own personal health and happiness that too much suppression leads to lack of sensitivity and expression. Eventually if we suppress our sensitivity and ability to express for too long, we become closed and cold. We may then look to other stimulants to help us "feel" again, whether it be our love life, sex, alcohol, drugs, food or lack of it and so on.
Some people have been forced to close down and not to feel the pain that life has presented them with, because of abuse and other despicable events and in these severe cases it is a matter of survival. Better to survive and not feel, than to die of the pain of feeling too much, and surely if we allow ourselves to feel, how will we ever forget what happened to us if the pain is there as a reminder?
For me the concept of the human body is not a rigid one. I see myself as a mass of vibrating particles being held together, just like everything else physical. You remember? This is the thing we all learnt in Physics classes at school...that everything we perceive as solid is in fact a mass of vibrating particles. This isn't hocus pocus, this is scientific fact.
So, I am made of matter, therefore if you break me down, you will eventually be able to measure the particles in my more solid parts and the particles in the fluid part of me (on average about 70%). As humans we are just matter. This means that our thoughts (non matter, therefore energy) are created from that matter and as a large part of us is made up of fluid, we can easily change and reform. Our feelings and thoughts are a product of who we are and what we experience, but nothing is concrete in the human body, it can be moved and changed. Therefore, our past feelings, fears and experiences, if still haunting us and our minds in the present moment, must be shiftable! But how do we shift them? Let's turn our minds back to the new born baby who screams and cries without any care of what others may think. If the baby feels a pain of hunger or wind, that pain is translated into sound and is released from the body, it also sends a signal to the mother that her child is feeling discomfort, she can then act on this signal in its early stage and solve the problem of the hunger. The baby feels better and the so does the mother as the problem has been resolved before it can escalate to something more serious. The child's voice was used to express the problem and give it a release from the physical pain....and then everything returned to normal.
As adults we might not want to scream and shout all the time, but we do need to reconnect with our ability to identify when we are unhappy, express this to ourselves and/or those around us that might be the cause of the unhappiness, and then work it out of our system so that it is over and dealt with and does not linger, causing us future pain and fear of pain.
Feeling fear is a good thing IF we can identify it as an emotion that rises within us to guide our way and show us that something isn't right. It is a temporary emotion and should be used as a guide. It is not something that we should feel all the time.
Cavemen of yore would sense something was wrong in the field, look over their shoulder, see a big bear, feel fear which would produce adrenalin into their system and give them an extra spring in their step as they legged it back to safety.
Nowadays we feel fear in the present based on past events, and we use these past events to predict how we think the future will materialise, release adrenalin, fail to act on the reason why we are afraid and neglect to burn off the adrenalin. Adrenalin left in our body causes stress, anger, insomnia, high blood pressure and so many other "unexplainable" illnesses and disorders.
So why are we feeling so afraid? That is what we need to work out. Why do I meet so many people that are afraid of singing, embarrassed by the mere suggestion that they should sing? Why do happy little toddlers sing quite naturally and at what point are they made to feel daft for doing this? Even the new born baby strings a line of gurgles and coos together when happy which is the start of the natural process of singing. Singing is a natural and necessary action for our health and wellbeing and something we have done from birth. It helps us release our negative emotions, our pain and our fears as if we were a crying baby again.
People , or adults in particular tell me over and over that they were told to be quiet, shut up, not sing as they were deemed "out of tune." Some are afraid even of speaking their thoughts, as a critical upbringing has made them careful of the things they choose to give voice to for fear of being made to feel worthless. So fair enough, I completely understand it. But if we know that our body releases fear, tension and adrenalin by sounding with the voice, whether it's screaming, crying or laughing, these being the extremes, if we know singing can bring us the same relief as shouting, but is a more pleasurable experience, why are so many of us afraid to do it and afraid of what might come out? And WHY do we care?
The baby just sounds, the dog just barks...the human thinks and then decides if the vocalisation is good enough.
Here's a few interesting facts; 1. The inside of our mouth contains little sensors which are activated when we breathe through our mouth causing adrenalin to be released into the body.
2. A sudden intake of air, like a gasp alerts the body's nervous system to a potential problem and it also releases adrenalin into the system.
3. When adrenalin is released into your body you are on high alert. Your heart rate will increase and your breathing will become more shallow. If this adrenalin is not burnt off you will feel anxious, unable to rest, irritable, unwell, suffer a possible upset stomach, acid reflux, headaches, neck and shoulder stiffness etc.
4. Learning to control your breath helps you press the "reset" button on your body. You can control your nervous system, your mind, your heart rate and communicate more effectively when you breathe as nature intended, the way you did when you were born. Concentrate on the out breath, most people hold too much stale air in the lungs. In situations of stress, breathe out first, and then back in.
5. Using your voice expressively, like singing for example, has many proven health benefits a bit like yoga. It helps to control and calm your breathing, energising you and releasing any residual adrenalin that might have built up in your system from the day, helping you to release tension, de-stress and make clear decisions.
6. When you breathe more effectively and sing, you change your state of mind, existing in the present moment, forgetting about past experiences and fears. When you allow your body to return to this child like state you can clear your mind and relax, safely and without being afraid. Sing things you love, this adds to the feel good factor.
7. Fear is a warning sign, listen to it, and act accordingly. Then LET IT GO.
4th February 2014 Breathing and Body Awareness for Wellbeing
I was alerted to a quote in FHM Magazine (February 2014) by Petr Cech Chelsea FC Goalkeeper which said,
"To deal with that kind of pressure, we are taught breathing exercises in our training schedule...it's the key to absolutely everything...it helps you sleep. It is simply balanced breathing....controlling your heart rate and clearing your thoughts." Petr Cech, Chelsea FC Goalkeeper in an interview with FHM Magazine February 2014
Being a professional opera singer, breathing was something I had to focus on in order to produce my voice and in producing my voice I found an inner calm and focus which enabled me to actually get up in front of people and perform. Often, while I was waiting to go on stage, I would be nervously shivering, wondering how on earth I was going to sing feeling like that, but as soon as I engaged by breath, support and voice, the shivering went away, and I was catapulted in to the present moment of the performance. I suppose I began to take this for granted. It was just what I did.
It wasn't until I started working with people with illness or disorders such as anxiety, panic attacks, stress, stuttering, Dystonia and muscle spasms that I realised how most clients didn't understand the process of breathing, let alone how their body actually worked, but not only that, so few realised how simple health problems and day to day issues could be eased or even cured with a small adjustment to how they thought about breathing and then some exercises to build strength. Even a simple ailment such as a tension headache would respond to diaphragmatic breathing as by expanding the upper body to allow efficient inhalation and exhalation, muscles and ligaments of the back, neck and shoulders would be encouraged to gently stretch allowing blood circulation to the area. I would find myself teaching friends deep breathing exercises to practise throughout the day in order to relieve stress and stress related symptoms. I would ask them to observe what they were doing with their tongue during times of tension...were they gripping their jaw tightly, did they grind their teeth at night time? So many people couldn't answer these questions, because they lacked simple body awareness, until they went away for a week, observed their themselves and found all manner of tensions they were doing without even knowing it! Examples of this were things like gritting their teeth whilst driving at 70mph on the motorway, or pulling their tongue back into their throat whilst talking with an authoritative figure, like a manager at work. Some people couldn't believe they were able to hold so much tension in their body, without being consciously aware. The problem is, all these small tension habits all over the body, which are usually emotionally charged, gradually build until one day we are stuck. It always amazes me when people are surprised they have slipped a disc in their back, or wake up with a frozen shoulder!
I think that's it really. It's about being aware of the physical self and the things it gets up to when we are not paying attention, because these things can seem really simple and harmless, but actually when they build up, for several hours a day, several days a week, we can see that they start to impair out natural functions. Let's take for example gritting our teeth. Try it now. Grit your upper and lower back teeth together. Where do you feel the tension? In the jaw itself definitely, but what about the forgotten bone behind the ears, linking to the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull, and the throat? Apply this type of tension on a daily basis in situations of stress (and some people really are stressed all day!) and what do you get? At the very least you get a headache, but if that headache persists because your jaw tension is present, because you are suffering from mild anxiety due to small life challenges perhaps at home or at work, what happens? You most likely start to take pain killers, or go to the doctor who tries to appease you by prescribing something stronger, or sending you for tests. Instead, what you could have done is been aware of how you are feeling and the affect this was having on your body. You could have identified areas of tension in the moment and how once triggered this set off a chain of related muscles which caused the tension to spread. At this point, you would have been aware that your body was starting to release adrenalin into your system, a perfectly natural protective response to tension in case you needed to engage in a fight or flight situation and that breathing techniques or physical exercise at this point would be the only way to burn off this adrenalin, which later in the day, if not gotten rid of, would make you feel irritable, depressed or possibly give you a sleepless night. Learning to be aware of ourselves and our tendencies and learning to listen to our bodies is the first step. Although having said that, as soon as you start some sort of breath training and awareness, it becomes easier to listen.
So, this week, challenge yourself to listen to your breath. We use such a small amount of our lung capacity on a daily basis, it's no wonder that as a nation we have the physical and emotional issues that we do. If you have the opportunity, observe a new born baby crying and notice how their breathing from a tiny little diaphragm catapults a huge vocal cry out of their body. If you don't have a baby to hand, observe the dog barking. The diaphragmatic action is the same. Failing that, think of the last time you ran screaming, probably as a child being chased across the playground at school! You would have used your whole body to make that high pitched sound which could be heard down the road. Observe your breathing when you are upset or crying, and notice how your diaphragm plays a huge part in sobbing, or if you are laughing uncontrollably, what area starts to feel tired? Yes that's it, the diaphragm!
Even when you let out a big yawn notice the breath you take as you breathe in at the start...it's impossible to do a superficial yawn! Whilst we are on the subject of yawning be aware that it is your body's natural way of releasing tension, the more you can instigate yawning in a stressful situation the more you will stay calm and alert, and it's an absolute crime that children in school are made to feel they are doing something wrong when they yawn in the classroom! How many people feel it is rude to yawn??!!! If we can possibly find any more natural processes to repress and hide, we might really be able to screw up our bodies! I jest, but am very serious!
To practise breath awareness and tension release have a go at this exercise:
1. Take a deep breath through your nose and imagine you a filling up with air all the way down to your belly.
2. Breathe out all the air by dropping your mouth open and letting your tongue hang forward and out of your mouth (like a dog when its panting). Breathe all the air out until you don't have any left, and then breathe out a bit more...leave your mouth and tongue open and relaxed and draw the air in again through your nose, repeating step 1.
3. Practise a cycle of 3 breaths like this after breakfast, lunch and dinner and before you go to sleep. Use these 3 breaths whenever you feel angry, sad, embarrassed, tense, and so on, and especially if you have to make a decision about something.
If you are not used to breathing in this way, go carefully, and never do more than three at a time until you build up strength. If you feel light headed sit down. Breathing the way nature intended is a powerful force and should not be undertaken lightly. Do the above exercise at your own risk, and who knows, something amazing might happen......