“That” person is coming into the room! Your heart suddenly races. You feel pressure in your head. Your cheeks flush. Your mouth dries and your throat automatically tightens. You feel panicky, sweaty, weak-kneed. With your heart speeding, you feel short of breath. There is something you want to say. It is stuck, like a lump in your throat. You try to speak. Your mouth is wide open, but there is no sound. Suddenly, you wake up. This is just a nightmare.
Or is it? Some dreams reflect back to us aspects of ourselves that we dare not yet see. Many people dream of trying to speak, only to find themselves feeling trapped and unable to find the words or the means to express how they feel. Some people experience that kind of vocal constriction and hesitation regularly in their waking world.
Finding our authentic voice can be challenging. Many of us were scolded when we were young and have lost touch with our natural impulses. Growing up, perhaps we heard phrases like “hold your tongue!” or “shut your mouth!” or “tighten your lip!” No wonder we develop vocal tension.
We may have been told to be quiet when we were happily giving voice, or to speak up when we were enjoying silence. Listening to conflicting signals, we end up unsure when to express or when to listen. If not careful, we end up out of touch with our internal compass, and can feel trapped in indecision and fear of disapproval.
Whether or not we experience vocal confusion consciously, most of us carry old-story tensions in our bodies because of our cultural tendencies. These tensions, incubated when we were children, will remain with us as adults until we pause to question their validity, place and source.
The stress of withheld vocal expression is commonly found in and around the mouth, lips, jaw, tongue, throat, chest, lungs, and shoulder area, though it can also be held deeply in any place in the body, like the belly. This kind of tension can also be the result of emotional suppression, from rage to grief to the joys we are not giving ourselves.
In order to unwind this holding, we must be willing to explore it. There is no better way to do so than through the willingness to make sounds. When we were infants, our sounds were free and primal. As adults, we can become overly hung up on “nice”, “pretty”, “strong” and “correct”. A powerful way to release vocal tension is to be willing to dive within to where we remember being raw and real.
- Find a quiet place where you can lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Begin to breathe naturally, deeply, but without forcing. Allow your body to relax and your awareness to move inward.
- As you breathe in and out of your belly, gently massage your jaw muscles that run from the ear, to under the cheek bone to the jaw bone. Then begin to yawn, and sigh. Allow your whole throat to open up. Feel your neck expand. Feel your spine lengthen. Feel your muscles release, not just in your face, head and neck, but through your whole body/being. Keep yawning and sighing.
- Now roll onto your side, and slowly scoop yourself up into standing. Remain in that relaxed state. Continue to allow yourself to relax, yawn and sigh. Then shake out your feet, shoulders, arms, hands. Rub your hands over your face. Shake it all out.
- Open wide and close your mouth a few times, so that you give the muscles of your face, head and neck a good stretch. Then take a deep breath in. With your lips softly together, begin to exhale so that your lips sputter, as though you were playing the trumpet, or making a motorboat sound with your mouth. Singers and brass musicians call this a “lip trill”. Let your lips relax and your tongue soften as you do this.
- After about a minute of lip trills, pause the exercise and take a deep inhale. Then exhale as you stick out your tongue, open up your face, widen your eyes and roar like a lion. Do this a few times until you have had enough. Shake it out and let it go.
- Then try tongue trills, rolling a continual “drrr” sound, making a motorboat sound. With your tongue instead of your lips. Do this for a minute or so, then shake it out.
To deepen this practice, try the sound meditation in this issue.
Parvati is an award-winning singer, composer, producer, yogini, author, and Founder and CEO of the international charity Parvati Foundation. Her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).