Your Authentic Voice

I suspect for many of us some early memories are quite vague and some are more distinct. I have only vague memories of playtime at my first school, however they become crystal clear when I remember being stung by a wasp – I knew to stay still until the wasp lost interest and flew away, but I ‘could not’ disobey the bell that rang to tell us all to return to class, my fear of being naughty overcame my fear of the wasp, and I got stung – with hindsight a nice little life lesson. I have particularly clear memories of the time my mother insisted I apologise for some transgression against my younger sister. I am instinctively truthful and resisted for a long time – despite the deep embedded necessity of ‘being a good girl’ – because I wasn’t sorry. Eventually I gave in to pressure and apologised, at which point my mother informed me that this was still insufficient because I “didn’t sound sorry”. I do not remember how the situation was resolved, what is clear in my mind was a sense of my mother’s absurdity – it was clear that I wasn’t actually sorry, she had pressured me into apologising, of course I didn’t sound sorry! Much later on my sister told me that she had been trained to lie by our mother, and I realised that I was in some way able to resist that training. I now suspect an obsessive relationship with truth might be a common aspect of being on the autism spectrum, more about that later.

It took me until my mid-20s before I began to recognise how my deeply anxious mother managed her anxieties by controlling everything going on around her. I had only recently begun to recognise how easily I could be manipulated, and I was startled when she confessed to being aware of her manipulative behaviour; “of course, how else would I be able to cope with living with your father?”.

I also suspect that much of what is labelled ‘social anxiety’ and ‘social awkwardness’ is generated by the contradictory pull between getting on with people, and telling the honest truth. Every time I hear the – now very popular – phrase ‘If I’m being honest…’ I wince inside – do other people really tell so many lies that they have to emphasise that this is one time they are telling the truth? I learned to offer partial truths to get around this problem, but it is an enemy of spontaneity as it takes time to compose these careful kindnesses; at 62 I still dread being asked to comment on artworks produced by my friends.

What happens to you when you can sense that giving an honest response will upset someone, or generate some type of conflict, whether it’s aggressive, such as anger, scorn, dismissal, rage, or more passive-aggressive – manipulation, disappointment, undermining comments – most of which may be expressed overtly or covertly (I mention this because many of us are hyper-aware of when someone’s facial expression and vocal tone do not match the words they are saying). Originally I put tears on that list, but I doubt that many people can fake real tears in a convincing way and I am all too aware that women are often unfairly accused of using tears to manipulate men.

I would guess for most of us the main issue is dealing with close family, and work colleagues, but that doesn’t mean that many of us are not also ‘walking on eggshells’ around people we nevertheless consider friends. A few years ago I finally accepted the end of a friendship that began when we were both around 8 years old. The controlling culture that dominated my family lead to me forming an intense friendship with a deeply manipulative and damaged person, and I am sure the relationship only survived so long because for most of our adult lives we were living in different countries. 

…a little thought experiment…

…So maybe think back to the most recent significant conversation you remember when you didn’t quite manage to say what you were actually thinking and feeling: see if you can recall the situation enough that you don’t just remember your emotional responses, such as irritation, frustration, resignation, or even disgust, but also see if you can remember the physical sensations that accompany you holding yourself back. What happens in your throat, chest, stomach and elsewhere when you decide that expressing your true feelings isn’t worth starting a fight, or ‘upsetting’ someone.

I have no doubts that the issues I had in my throat from an early age were connected to all the unspoken rules of discourse in my home, and that this is what led to my poor vocal self-use from early teens onwards. I am still undoing the tensions at the root of my tongue; tensions that provide the perfect bodily metaphor for not being able to freely express my anger and frustration with the behaviour of other family members.

Much less severe are the daily calls on our stores of politeness and kindness, however for some of us the preference for truth is deeply embodied and the requirement to constantly say the right thing makes casual social occasions exhausting – I am sure this is a common factor for those of us with an introverted nature. 

I would like to add here that I am self-diagnosed as on the spectrum, and one of the elements of that nature that helped me better understand myself is a strong preference for truth, clarity, accuracy and honesty in my dealings with others. My love of fictional characters that cannot lie is deep and abiding, and this characteristic is often matched with other spectrum-related behaviours. I still adore Mr Spock! However my preference for honesty constantly clashed with my family’s culture of avoiding conflict at all costs and placing kindness to others over our own impulses. Managing internal pressure to be truthful with external-but-internalised pressure to only tell people what they want to hear was undoubtedly the central pillar of my early social awkwardness.

Once I became a teacher it was imperative to find ways to give accurate feedback in as kind a way as I could, and that is still my preference. This has worked as a kind of “constraint” – a term we use in Feldenkrais to describe an inhibiting factor that can be adopted intentionally as a learning strategy. In class we might suggest our students move one part while keeping some other part still, for example moving your eyes without moving your head. Constraints may be frustrating – even more so in real life – but they are also a great tool for learning, and I value my commitment to compassionate honesty as the most effective and supportive way for me to interact with my students.

My main reason for designing a workshop around this theme is that I strongly believe that being able to both know and say how we truly feel is a fundamental aspect of both our mental and our physical health. I am confident that most of us know this already, and for anyone seeking proof I have to recommend the wonderful work of Gabor Maté, and particularly his most recent book “The Myth Of Normal”, a title that truly says it all for me. I think we human creatures have an instinct for authenticity that may have been suppressed in our childhood but is still within each of us only waiting to be released. I think we can decide to free ourselves of our conscious inhibitions, and learn to unlearn the unconscious ones. I think we can be both liberated and compassionate, kind and honest, and I think this allows for a deep release throughout our physical self, and specifically our brows, throats, hearts, solar plexuses, and deep within our bellies from the “Hara” to the pelvic floor. 

…some examples of vocal authenticity…

…for which my working definition is a performer whose voice is natural and easy, without unnecessary mannerisms. I will control myself as my list of favourites is very long.

The lovely Linda Thomson sings the heartbreaking Withered And Died
Ron Sexsmith, singing a song I love to sing myself
Corinne Bailey Rae demonstrates how to write an authentic love song
The deeply human Carole King
Ease, sweetness, and warmth from Steve Miller
My favourite Bobby McFerrin performance
The magnificent Mr Yorke

Developing Your Authentic Voice

…In Performance & In Life

January 21st

Online + Recordings & Notes

2 pm – 5 pm GMT  [9 am – 12 pm EST]

£40 (suggested fee, or any donation welcome)

We do not tend to notice our breathing unless something has influenced it in some way, and even then the change in breathing may not be the first thing we notice.  This is not surprising, breathing is a constant process and were it to demand regular attention it would interfere with daily life.  Healthy natural breathing makes automatic adjustments to sudden changes of pace, and the fitter we are – i.e. the more efficiently our lungs process oxygen – the more easily we adjust to a sprint for the bus, a long flight of stairs, or perhaps even a sudden emotional shock.  

Shifting emotions also make distinctive changes to our breathing and for many of us this is why our breathing is not as free and full as it could be.  The sudden, dramatic and uncensored changes of emotion seen in young children are not acceptable in adult society, and the process of masking our emotions from those around us begins early.  Some are so successful at it they manage to conceal their feelings from themselves as well as others.  What better way to mask feelings of, say, anger, than to be unaware of those feelings yourself?  Emotions are complex, and difficult to control, but their physical manifestations are less so.  Stop and think about how it feels to cry, and notice the feelings generated in your chest, throat and belly.  How would you disguise the impulse to cry?  Probably you can sense that you would hold one or more of these areas rigid.  This bracing can become habitual, and is a common cause of the chronic muscle tension that can lead to posture problems in even young teenagers.  As adults we may start to recognise these emotional limitations and many people discover the Feldenkrais Method as part of the process of unravelling the habitual tensions that maintain their limitations.

As your diaphragm expands on inhalation the contents of your abdomen are pushed downwards and forwards causing your belly to round, and this regular massaging of the organs by the upward and downward movements of the diaphragm is another benefit of natural breathing.  Unfortunately, when the belly is hard and tight, whether for aesthetic or psychological reasons, the diaphragm cannot work as it is designed to, and instead the ribs are forced upwards into an excessively raised position.  The downward movement of the diaphragm creates about 60% of the lung’s capacity, the expansion of the ribs another 30%, and the lifting of the clavicles – which often prompts the lifting of the shoulders as well – the final 10%.  Thus a tight belly severely limits your air supply, and, to make matters worse, this lifting action both mimics an excited, anxious or distressed emotional state and requires more energy than natural breathing, as the muscles have to work against gravity.  For some of us the tension is in the upper back or the rib cage itself, making it harder to access our joy and vitality. 

All truly expressive singers and actors have a free and flexible chest to go with their soft, responsive belly, as mobility in both these areas is a major factor in the kind of  physical and emotional self-awareness that is the essence of a truly charismatic performer.  For the rest of us it is part of developing our self-awareness and freeing ourselves of the fear of expressing who we really are and how we really feel in the company of others.

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2 Replies to “Your Authentic Voice”

  1. This is so funny. I have spent half the day trying to defrost the freezer ready for floor being laid tomorrow and freezer being taken away. Nothing was going to plan so I jumped in the pool for an aqua Zumba class with a mental teacher ( she moves woo hoo)) and you’d better move too! I danced like no one was watching then came back to the (I ain’t defrosting for anyone freezer) kicking me out before I’m done!!! Ha ha
    Then after 3 hours getting the job done and sparkly fridge freezer now going to charity warehouse, I dropped a bottle of ginger beer and it smashed into millions of pieces just as I was about to sit and have a cuppa and pat myself on the back!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well the obscenities that landed on that floor but the anger gave me the energy to clear it up pronto to move on! My daughter just called me and I was telling her and I said it’s good to have a rant then you can just get it out and done with! Then job done now let’s have a little breathing some good sounds to settle and chill out which is what I did! So I’m reading your piece now and thinking WOW I’ve never held back tears I can just picture and feel what that would be like. I suppose it would be nice to be angelic all of the time…….Really! It’s nice to see you are so into the breath…I’m forever trying to get people to breathe properly and watch their breath and always learning myself. I’m so glad I have found you..I hope you have looked up Eddie Stern he’s just great. He comes over to uk often. He comes in June usually for a couple of days to do yoga and Pranayama workshops at Love Supreme Projects Ladbroke Grove area, do you know them, they would Love you, check them out. Will Close here just listening to Sade …Bring Me Home xxx

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