There's a ton of focus being placed on our "voices" these days, but generally it's referring to the words we write online; a kind of simulated connection to whoever happens to scroll past... not our actual voice. And it’s easy to misuse or misunderstand the true power that our voice holds.
First, let me ask you: Do you consider yourself a good singer?
Ok, easier question... do you ever sing in the shower or the car or somewhere else you can rock out in privacy? *no shame*
Last question: Do you like the sound of your voice?
These are the three questions I start with when I am teaching chant workshops to yoga teachers, and the reactions are always the same.
When I ask the last question to the group, I actually see people grimace at the thought of their own voices.
Some look around the room to see how others are answering the question, self-conscious about both their answer and their voice, even while their mouths are shut. Very few hands have come up of people who consider themselves "singers", and even they will usually raise them in a half-hearted manner with apologetic eyes.
I begin with these questions, because right away it touches on the deep vulnerability linked to our voices that each one of us feels. The voice, after all, is inextricably linked to our true selves. We are born with our voices and are stuck with them our entire lives, unable to trade them in for a new and better model.
Think about it. Your voice and your words hold the power to build someone up, or to break someone down. To connect with others, or to isolate them. The more we hide behind screens and become careless with our words... the less we take advantage of using the most effective tool that we have to communicate with each other--our real-life, one-of-a-kind voice.
Maybe the reason why there is so much fear and self-consciousness around our voices is that deep down we know the insane amount of power they hold. Once we are using our voices as they were meant to be used (and I'm talking about both with our words, and in music), I bet we won’t be able to remember why we were so self-conscious in the first place. What were we so afraid of?? we'll say.
So, how do we begin to harness the power of our voices? Here are some pointers.
1. The Breath: breathing is essential to be alive, but many of us never take even one breath mindfully. You cannot speak or sing effectively without good breath. Try this. For a morning, or an afternoon, or a whole day, before you speak to someone, take a deep breath so that you feel your entire rib cage expanding. The few seconds of silence that will occur before your response to the other person will probably feel kinda awkward... but I promise you, they probably won't even notice.
Giving yourself this cushion of response time also lets you check your words and be sure that they are exactly what you want to come out.
2. Support: Your energy center for your entire body lies a few inches below your belly button. When using your voice, your energy center should be activated. This will ensure that your voice is being supported by your entire body. Practice by placing a hand on your belly so that your middle finger is around 2 inches below your navel. Now, start saying "kuh" repeatedly at a normal voice level, activating your center (feeling it move slightly in and up) for a minute or so. Feel the movement under your fingers? Now try the same exercise without activating your center and a nice flabby belly for a few repetitions. Now go back to supporting your voice. Noticeable difference in the way it feels and in the way your voice sounds, am I right? Tadaaa: this is breath support.
3. Intention: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." FALSE. Words are some of the strongest weapons we have. They are also the highest and holiest of healers, creators, and vessels of love. Take that seriously. Every morning when you wake up, remember the responsibility that comes with the gift of being a living, breathing human. Your voice and your words are the tools you've been given to build upon the world today. This responsibility doesn't change when reacting to the actions of others who have forgotten their responsibilities that day. It doesn't change when life just isn't fair. It doesn't change when your heart is broken, or when you witness a breaking of other hearts. There are no exceptions, because you are always affecting the world around you. There is just one thing to ask yourself. Are you going to tear something down today with your words, or build something beautiful? Whichever it is, be mindful about it.
4. Connect: Somehow good ol’ deep connections seem to be a special-occasion kind of thing these days... and it stinks! Each face at the silent dinner table lit up by the phones in front of them? C’mon now. Having a drunken "deep" conversation where you feel safe being vulnerable because you can just blame it on the booze tomorrow? Doesn't count. Connecting face to face with people needs to be an everyday occurrence. It is the most sacred thing that needs to simultaneously be the most normal thing.
Practice this: When you are walking down the sidewalk, force yourself to look at the approaching people. They may or may not already be looking up at you. If they are and your eyes meet, smile! “How's it going?” “Not too bad!” WOAH -- human connection. With a STRANGER nonetheless. Good job!
Extra challenge: If the incomer is still looking at the ground or elsewhere, I dare you to say something anyway. Brownie points for complimenting them on something.
Another exercise: When talking to someone you love, force yourself to look at their face if that isn't natural for you. See what color their eyes are, if there are any freckles in them you've never noticed. Ask them to tell you something you don't know about them, a memory they have as a kid, maybe. Really listen to them as you look at them and don't let your mind wander to anything else.
This is all it takes, you guys. It is simple. Just paying attention. Just seeing people. Letting them see you. That is how you move through this world creating instead of destroying, and it sorely needs more creators right now like you and me.
5. Singing: Here's a list of the things singing is for most people:
a. Uncomfortable b. Terrifying c. Awkward. An all-around awful experience.
Guess what? I have experienced all of the above, right along with you. And I sing ALL THE TIME. For money. My point? Even though singing can be all of these things, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be doing it! It just takes a few times of really getting into it to start to like singing and find joy in it! Or to at least stop feeling apologetic every time you open your mouth. Own your voice, baby!