What other factors affect the voice? And in addition to working with our breath or technique, what is one of the intentions that is absolutely key to accessing the full power, range and functionality of your voice?
Individual and Collective Psychology:
In a bit of a throwback to cognitive behaviour psychology and several social learning theories, it’s not the actual things or people in front of us that are necessarily, in and of themselves, scary. Or the reason we might fear speaking or singing. It’s the meaning, associations and likely consequences we’ve learned to ascribe to them, through past experience, that is the problem. That when we see them in the present, acts as a trigger to some past mental program file we’d created about that kind of object or that kind of person in that kind of circumstance.
This can be of our own summation, or it can be the kind of thinking and learning we absorbed from people around us and the environment, or that might have been genetically passed onto us. Some of which can be more memes/notions held by the collective or certain groups within it, that can impact both our voices and our perception of our ‘locus of control’. Our sense of personal power and ability to influence and create change in our inner and the outer world.
Luckily this kind of mental programming (and the several functions that flow on in the body in response to them) can be retrained and upgraded to a new version of our more conscious choosing, NOW.
(I talk about how to do that more in my upcoming book for Women Leaders on Owning your Voice.)
Resulting in stress:
Ultimately it’s those triggers that have us be triggered into stressed states, right? Which, as we touched on in my last blog, can alter your breathing patterns in a way that may impact your ability to access the full vocal machine within, required to power your voice.
At more extreme levels of fight flight freeze nervous activation, it can also be a consequence of the third layer of response (the one in which you might need to hide from a predator) that it may serve your survival to repress your voice for a moment.
In the modern day, the predator may not be a bear or a tiger. But, the perceived consequence of us speaking our truth in our personal and professional lives. Or the consequence of sharing something that may not be either accurate, or go down well, particularly in the day and age of cancel culture. These can all be reasons why that response might be triggered. And many others.
Times when, our survival response might be to want to NOT stand in front of a Boss, a partner or family member or friend, or a group of them and say something that we fear might have a negative consequence for our future, relative to what we’re hoping to achieve in collaboration with these people. Or that we fear might negatively impact how they feel or cause them pain.
For example. I once stepped up into Office Managing a Psychotherapy Clinic and School, at a time in which our Office Manager both injured her back and lost her voice, in the months prior to her wedding. It was interesting that, in her family culture, she had told us several times that she didn’t feel she was ever heard or respected in the family dynamic when she spoke up. And there was often major implications if she did. And consequently, she didn’t feel supported in the lead up to her wedding.
Physically, this seemed to be going hand in hand with her literally, not being able to physically produce sound and get her words out. The literal loss of her voice. Our spine and bone structure is also an internal representation of our inner support structure. And, as my gorgeous friend and fellow Leadership Coach, Christie Pinto once wrote about in her book, "Who Has Got Your Back?" can be one of the areas in which we manifest pain or injury when we don’t feel supported, or able to support ourselves, in life.
Hence why addressing our nervous response to stress and external triggers can sometimes be important in reclaiming the power of your voice.
Injury, pain and trauma:
The experience of a physical injury, illness, possibly also combined with some form of psychological trauma, can definitely also impact our present and future ability to access the full power and functionality of our voice.
Physical pain in and of itself goes hand in hand with nervous arousal. Before our body creates natural endorphins (natural pain killers) to try and calm it down and or turns down the awareness (hence intensity of the pain) on the area being impacted, as a coping mechanism. It’s handy to understand this in realising that it will likely impact our breathing as well. And have its own implications for our ability to mechanically access the full power and range of our speaking or singing voice.
Another of the body’s natural coping responses to traumatic events is to try and deal with all the excess nervous energy by physically shaking it out in the short term. Hence why, if you’ve ever been in some form of physical accident, broken a bone, had an operation or (as the wonderfully wise Midwives and Doulas I used to work with frequently told me) given birth, for example, you might have noticed how you got the shakes in the process? Once it's switched on already, and it's now a matter of shifting your already activated state, it’s actually healthy to let yourself shake it out. Or to find ways to move with the energy.
Unfortunately though, because in Western Culture, we see it as a sign of weakness and not having your sh*t together, often as adults, we try and repress the shake. The downside to that though is that we hold in the energy and the tension. And that can then result in all kinds of tension showing up in the body afterwards. As muscle stiffness/soreness and, at times, depending on the severity, may result in restrictions in range or motion.
These can impact both your breathing and your ability to access your voice.
An Example from me:As an example of these, I had reminders of all during and after my surgery last year. In the 30 seconds before my Anaesthetist administered the anaesthetic, i got the shakes. And when I woke up, for an hour after, I had the shakes. So I let myself have the shakes because I knew I needed to get that tension out. Even if I couldn't now walk it out. I felt so much better, calmer and like I ”re-set” the reaction faster for having allowed it.
But for the days and month after, I was very physically aware of both how my breathing changed (got instinctively shallow) in response to the pain in my lower belly and uterus following the surgery. Plus my connection and awareness to the lower part of my abdomen completely changed throughout that time. I was walking, but trying not move it/activate it much. And a month later, I was walking longer distances, but still feeling very “square” in how I was walking, my hips didn’t really feel engaged as normal while I was still feeling lots of pain. I also couldn’t raise my voice much or sing, because it activated my lower abdominals as well. So I was acutely aware of how my healing impacted both my breathing and my vocal capacity after. I seemed to be getting cracking in my voice a lot more too. And it felt “stuck” in the back of my throat too.
So many of the Women’s Health and Birth Practitioners I’ve worked with would say that’s not a surprise either, as the cervix and throat are intimately connected in the female body. In both the birth process and our relationship with our sexual and life force energy. The opening of one is innately connected to the opening of the other. And trauma will often show up in both. It's not like any of this is some new thing. But women born genetically women don't always talk about anything to do with their reproductive tracts in public. Yet this impacts most of us. And impacts our voice. Hence I'm talking about it.
In the months that followed, as I doubled down on wanting to speak and get over my sh*t about singing more in public again, and started doing more exercises trying to build up my vocal range and power again, I started noticing specific places in my body in which the sound or my breath seemed to be getting “stuck” or I couldn’t engage. Plus parts of the musculature around my rib cage and mid back that, as it relates to me accessing my "chest voice", I felt like I had a heap of constriction and stuckness in there. Even though I can expand my lower abdomen just fine. And still make sound from my throat. If a less sustainable sound.
The more I felt into that, I realised two additional things were happening. One related to physically injuring the middle of my back, when I nearly broke it at 19. I had a lot of psychical therapy for it (and the pain) at the time. But I noticed that today, every time I breathed and went to expand through my chest, I was afraid of and waiting for it to hurt still. Even though I haven’t had one like it for years.
In the months after that fall, it used to hurt every time I took a deep breath, so I literally adjusted my breathing there too to try and not trigger it. For particularly the first 5 years after, I used to have issues with back spasms and freezing up if I got up too quickly, having twisted the wrong way. And I’d have to go visit the Physio for a couple of weeks, and completely adjust my exercise routine back to swimming and stretches only for the next month, not to further agitate the injury and help the muscles protecting it to relax again. So the physical injury to that region too, had additional flow- on implications for my breathing and my voice.
But also, psychologically, 2 decades on, as I felt into the “stuckness” and the restriction, there was also emotional energy “stuck” there, that, at the time, I hadn’t yet had the tools to know how to move and process it as I would today. As I felt into it, and the physical sensations of irritation and tension I was noticing, there was everything from primal breathing and fear about the loss of control during the incidents, to lots of grief in my intercostal muscles, to suppressed urges to punch the dudes responsible for each incident, stuck in every muscle group you’d activate if you were about to do a boxing workout.
In my teens, I went from being told it’s ok to say no, but being told also it’s not ok to be angry or express upset about anything, to friends encouraging me to fight back physically anyone that “inappropriately” touched or threatened me physically. So I sling-shotted from silence, to aggression, in the form of kicking and swinging at everything that moved at me in a threatening way. But that too had consequences, and the tension was in finding a healthy middle ground of inner power, to assert myself in healthy ways when i needed to. Hence, for me too, like my Office Managing friend, the psychological feeling of disempowerment in being “allowed” to have a voice. And feeling not always heard or respected in action when I did use it. That I had to learn how to communicate in a more empowered way. A way I also talk about in the book.
But the point: sometimes injury, pain and trauma can also have implications for the quality of your voice and being able to access it’s full power. But the good news is, as I talk about and give symptoms for how to address such things in my book, all of these things can be healed, reprogrammed and our functionality regained.
If I could could give one tip in addition to how we breathe, as to how to overcome any or all of these, it would be to also start with the simple, state-shifting intention to re-occupy yourself.
So often, with the things we fear, or the traumas we’ve faced, there can be a giving away of our power to the external for what ‘has been done to us’ or for what someone triggers in us, that we fear we had or might have little control in. But it’s so important not to take up residence in that town. Because actually, we have way more power than we might think in this situation. And power to create our future experience how we want to.
Often we speak of the body in the Wellness and personal development space as a temple. It is literally our home for the length of this life time. And like any rental or property we own, we get to decide who’s energy exactly is welcome in our home and when. And who’s isn’t.
When the energy of these incidents and emotions are still present in the building later on, we as the landlord can choose to issue a notice to vacate at any time if we want to. And we can choose to occupy and re-decorate our insides with whatever we want to, so as to suit the life and experience we want to create going forward. With whoever we want to co-create it. Mentally, physically, spiritually, energetically.
Which is why one of the most important steps in owning your voice and its full-powered functionality, is intending to re-occupy yourself fully, from head to toe, with the energy and essence of you.
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Nat talks about Self Expression, Heart Centred Communication and Lifestyle for Leaders.