Mind/Body/Voice

You cannot separate the mind, the body and the voice. The idea that they are separate is false. There is no voice without a mind to direct it to emerge. The voice has to come from a living body. The body can exist without a voice, but it is very difficult for it to exist (not impossible) without a larynx. It cannot exist without a throat.

The biological responses wired into the body through the Central Nervous System in the brain have a profound effect upon the throat and larynx. When we are frightened, our flight/fight mechanism kicks in, sending adrenaline out into the bloodstream and that sets off a chain of reactions. The throat tightens, the breath slows and then stops, the blood flows to the core, the fingers and toes get cold, the forehead sweats. If we live with low-grade stress (who does that?) it causes us to live in a constant state of tension in the body and, ultimately, specifically in the throat muscles. Emotions, too, cause the same kind of stress reaction. If you are enraged, or if you are grief-stricken, and you do not have a way to release those emotions (and sometimes they must be suppressed in order to survive), the tension in your throat required to keep the emotions contained causes trouble. We have lots of words to describe what happens in these circumstances: lump in your throat, words got caught, couldn’t spit it out, all choked up, “cat got your tongue”, lost for words, struck dumb, swallowed the words, etc. These are real phenomena that happen to everyone, regardless of sex, age, religious persuasion or race. You cannot override these reactions. If you get food or a foreign body caught in your throat your body will cough to eject it and that coughing can be very, very strong. The vocal folds, after all, existed first to protect the lungs from foreign bodies, not to make sound, which came later. The gag reflex is one that cannot be stopped through conscious will. If you get anything in your throat that should not be there the body will do its best to get rid of it right away.

No one has ever commited suicide by holding their breath, either. Your body is programmed to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out no matter what. You can only live for minutes without breath. Anything that tightens the throat muscles will pull the larynx up and make it harder to inhale and exhale. This causes the head to come forward and to jut out. The tighter and higher the throat and larynx, the further up and forward the head goes. You see this in bad rock singers. They don’t do that posture on purpose (mostly), they do it because they have no training to not do it.

In Somatic Voicework™ we work WITH the reactions of the central nervous system, not against them. We work to eliminate constriction, not cause it. We work to keep the throat relaxed and open, not just because it sounds better to do so but because we can breathe better when the larynx is in a comfortable place. We work to keep the tongue loose and flexible because tension there can lead to tension in other places and all that can interfere with posture and with vocal production.

When there has been chronic constriction in the throat for any reason (from faulty singing or from some kind of emotional or psychological trauma) it can take time to get the muscles involved to release, let go and start moving again. In the case of someone who has been silenced (either deliberately or unconsciously) the throat can be very tight and immobilized. Releasing the throat will also release the emotions that the throat muscles are suppressing.

Singing teachers, therefore, are GOING to encounter emotions during the training process. How they deal with those emotions is VERY VERY important. I don’t refer here to the emotions of the lyrics or of the music, I am speaking of emotions of the person taking the singing lesson. Sometimes the person doesn’t even know why they are emotional, they just are. Allowing the throat muscles, especially the constrictors (the muscles that swallow), to move when they have been held in check, brings up intense anxiety, even in very normal people. Once the anxiety is confronted and accepted and the throat lets go and begins to move, that anxiety turns into excitement and enjoyment, both for the singer and for the audience.

Teachers of singing who scold singers who are emotional are doing damage to the psyche of the singer. Let me say that again: Singing teachers who are judgmental of those who become emotional during a singing lesson are doing emotional damage to the singing student. The purpose of singing is to liberate the emotions but that cannot be done without also liberating the muscles of the throat and breath. When they are being stimulated to move after years of not moving, unexpected emotions and psychological and physical conditions (memories, confusion, fainting) will occur. They are NORMAL reactions. If the student is allowed to release in an atmosphere that is safe and welcoming, the emotions will subside and take care of themselves, never to be an issue again. If they are not, they will remain stuck in the muscles of the body and throat and it will be much harder to get them to let go subsequently.

If the student has events or issues that need to be addressed that arise in a lesson, and those issues interfere with the lesson process or singing on a prolonged basis, the teacher MUST refer the student for professional counseling of some kind. Unless the teacher is trained in psychology or psychiatry, or is a minister or counselor, he or she should NOT try to address the issues directly other than to be kind and make a referral. These things are not arbitrary, rather they are of the highest priority in terms of ethics and professionalism. They are also part of being a human being, a compassionate and conscious person and of being aware of the unity of mind, body and voice.

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