Words by Phoebe White
What is our voice?
Our voice is more than our vocal chords – it is what we say, how we say it and the impact that has in both our inner (ourselves) and outer worlds (others). Almost any yoga teacher will tell you that yoga is about posture, breath and an easy confidence, using techniques to master the mind and body. Almost any singing teacher or performance coach will tell you the same! Voice is a full-bodied experience so to have impact, we need to be physically open and flexible. Yoga is therefore, voice’s best mate (yoga’s got a lot of best mates).
I’m a yoga teacher, singer, public speaker and NLP coach. Drawing on a personal journey in finding my own voice, I’m passionate about helping others with asana and coaching to develop their authentic voice. I think about voice as a portal between our conscious and unconscious worlds, and indeed the gateway to consciousness itself.
If someone says ‘I’m fine’ in a clipped and croaky tone, or ‘yeah, I’m well up for that’ in a high pitched and questioning one, something within you knows that they’re not being true, no matter the content of their words or if they can actually tell it for themselves. To speak or sing with impact, we have to mean what we’re expressing. And in order to do that, we must first connect to what is true for us.
How yoga can help
Yoga offers us a powerful way to do this. Much yoga philosophy speaks to finding oneness, opening and leaning softly into obstacles to peel back the layers to our true self. Both the mechanics of vocalising sound and being able to articulate what it is we want to say is exactly about this too – openness, softness and truth.
Maybe you’ve already experienced that deeply satisfying flow where your expression comes without trying, maybe when playing music with others, singing along to a beloved artist, or dropping a joke at the perfect time. It’s never something you were trying to do or to force, it was something that just happened – a release, a connection to a deeper awareness and others. This is a yoga.
Voice is concerned with Visuddha or throat chakra which corresponds to the element of sound or space. It is our energy in this chakra that through vibration, manifests what is thought or dreamt and liberates what is felt or experienced.
Communication is an art and journey of self-enquiry. In ‘The Right to Speak’, Patsy Rodenburg discusses declaring vocal rights, asserting that the judgements and assumptions of others (and ourselves) have a direct impact on how we put our thoughts and feelings into the realm of communication and indeed, how authentically we can connect to others.
‘The right to breathe, the right to be physically unashamed, to fully vocalise, to need, choose and make contact with a word, to release a word into space – the right to speak’
I’m sure no one reading this will think this sounds like a straight forward thing to achieve. But yoga’s eight limbs offer a seed for growth: Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, which means to bring the gaze inward let go of external perception i.e. what you might sound or look like.
No practice is much practice at all if this isn’t attempted and eventually mastered. Much like in a yoga class, where we feel into the asana with our breath, rather than seek to attain that insta-perfect pose or be ‘as good’ as the person on the next mat. In voice use, greater resonance and presence comes when feeling the voice and allowing a natural flow, instead of listening externally or emulating another, in either how they sound or what they say.
We need to free the body and mind from comparison, expectation, assumption and judgement (perceived or otherwise!) to soften into flow.
Psychology, voice, physiology and yoga is a vast topic to grasp intellectually so I recommend practice, learning through the experience what feels right for you. I’ve included an intuitive beginners sequence here for you to get started!
If you’d like personalised help with your voice goals (online or in person), or would like to attend a workshop – contact me @PhoebeWhiteYoga
A practice you can try at home
This yoga practice will help you improve mental focus and allow a deeper connection to your inner voice. It will relax your nervous system; release tension and constriction in the throat; improve flexibility to give your lungs more room to breathe and develop the muscles needed to power and control the voice (clue: they’re not in your throat).
Set aside a quiet space to follow the experience of each pose, exploring the flow of vibration as sound moves in the body and opening into resonance and vocal expression. If it feels weird to make sound, then know this is your first area to free up: your right to make noise.
Less is more with the voice, so put no effort into sounding, instead, just allow your voice to arise from the breath in the pose. Keep the throat, neck, jaw and tongue relaxed throughout. Breath always first.
Each pose included here offers a Bija or seed mantra to vocalise to help explore different vibrations present in the body and get to know the nuances of your voice.
Inhale silently through your mouth. If your inhale is ‘noisy’, you’ll likely need to relax your neck and throat some more.
Exhale the mantra in a slow and controlled manner, avoid choosing tone or monitoring how it sounds.
Relish in the feeling of initial consonant sound exploring where in the body powers the vibration.
Open out into the ‘ahhh’ vowel sound allowing the vibration to move and rise.
Conserve enough breath to indulge in the final hum of the ‘m’ bring the sound to a natural close as the breath ends, keeping the throat constriction free.
If the mantras don’t work for you, just sigh out in an easy relaxed tone.
How long you stay with each asana will dictate how long the practice takes you. If you follow my suggested number of repetitions, it’ll be about 60 minutes. You don’t have to do all the poses every time, I suggest coming to this work once a week at first.
When you have closed the practice, sit quietly listening internally for any reflections. You might like to journal at this point too.
Set an intention to explore how voice feels internally paying no mind to information brought in through the external senses and to let go of any need to achieve perfection, any croaks and crackles are very much welcome!
Witness the breath
as it releases the sound, feeling where and how voice vibrates through body.
Sit in easy crossed legged or kneeling, making sure lower back feels comfortable.
Inhale belly, ribcage, collar bones, and exhale ‘Auuuuummmmm’
Loosen physical tension
in the neck, shoulders and upper back, free up the channel between the gross and subtle energies
Sit, even sit bones into ground (use cushion if needed), lengthen crown up to sky, release shoulders down spine and loosen legs. Soften brow, jaw, roof of the mouth, base of the tongue.
Inhale through nose
Exhale turn chin and head to right. Look right. Sound Om internally.
Inhale to centre
Exhale to left. Look left. Sound Om internally.
Inhale to centre
Exhale chin to chest. Look down. Sound Om internally.
Inhale to centre
Exhale chin toward sky, heart centre lifting to avoid crunching into neck. Look up. Sound Om internally.
Explore the muscles of breathing
in a supine position (these are the same muscles that maintain your posture when standing), pay attention to the inner sensations of breathing and practice controlling the exhale using the muscles in the ribs and abdominals.
Lie on back, feet standing on the floor, hip width apart and close enough to sit bones so thighs can relax. Rest hands on belly, elbows heavy to ground.
Inhale through nose, fill belly first. Let breath rise to ribs, allow them to expand upwards, to the sides and into the earth. Finally, sip breath up into collar bones. Pause here, relax shoulders and throat.
Gently exhale from collar bones, then ribs, and bellyPress last breath out by gently engaging navel toward spine.Pause here, relax back of pelvis into earth.
Inhale to belly, fill up each part of torso. Pause at top and relax
Exhale ‘LAM’. Pause at bottom
Ground in a sense of security
Release any holding in lower back and inner thighs helping to stretch the diaphragm. Know that everything’s ok.
Squat, feet slightly turned out, knees pointing in same direction as toes. Use blocks or blankets to ground heels if don’t reach the ground.
Relax into hips.
Drop awareness to pelvic floor.
Hands to prayer at heart centre, draw thumbs toward sternum and sternum toward thumbs, lengthen crown of head to sky.
Press elbows to inner thighs
Imagine a long shaft of light from crown of head, through body and into the earth
Breath into lower back and release whatever sound wants to come on the exhale.
A gentle ‘huh’ can be pleasing.
Explore movement in heart centre
when grounding down through hips, develop intercostal muscles in between ribs and diaphragm.
From squat: tuck left shoulder inside of left thigh
Place left hand in front of left foot.
Join right hand to left.
Inhale right hand up toward right, like an archer draws back an arrow.
Open heart centre to right side.
Exhale ‘LAM’ as right hand re-joins left.
Repeat four times.
Return to centre and repeat with right hand on floor in front of right foot, raising left hand.
Repeat on both sides exhaling ‘VAM’ or ‘YAM’.
Open side ribs and front hips
Power voice with lower belly and allow vulnerability as front body opens
Ground back body to floor, weight in shoulders and hips even left and right, legs lengthened ankles close together or touching.
Inhale arms above head and exhale to rest elbows down, release shoulders and open chest
Walk hands and feet over to right side, keep shoulders and hips evenly grounded.
Hold left wrist with right hand
Place left ankle over right.
Inhale into right ribs
Repeat four times
Gently return to centre
Repeat on left side.
Allow movement to start with the breath
instead of the mind, connecting unconsciously, internally to the relationships between body, breath and movement
All fours - knees under hips, hands under shoulders, back of neck long and belly drawn in.
Inhale and allow the expansion of lungs to fill the entire body.
Exhale and move. Maybe chest comes forward, or shoulder blades round. Perhaps hips lean left or right. Anything goes.
Focus on the in and out breath as body moves to accommodate it.
Foster connection between breath and muscles
in the torso to produce vocal sound, observe how voice resonates in the skull.
Start in all fours with knees wider than hips and toes touching, inhale
Exhale seat toward heels ‘aauuuuuuummmmm’, forehead to floor for final hum
Inhale back to all fours initiating movement from lower belly, keeping shoulders blades relaxed away from ears
Exhale back to childs pose ‘aauuuuuuummmmm’
Plank and downward facing dog
which power voice. Foster connection between physical strength and a calm determined out breath. Observe the sensations of resonance from within.
In plank - hands under shoulders, hips in line with shoulders, round upper back, firm inner thighs and lower belly. Exhale ’RAM’ as lift hips and press into hands to move back to downward facing dog (soften knees if helpful)
Inhale high on toes, curl through lower, mid and upper back to plank. Keep chin softly tucked toward chest in both poses to maintain space in the back of the throat.
Repeat four times
Chaturanga dandasana on wall
of diaphragm and muscles that power the breath and voice. Develop felt sense of strength in centre of torso to articulating sound
Stand an arm’s length away from a wall
Bend elbows into side ribs, draw shoulder blades down back, open palms of hands forward
Lengthen arms, place palms flat on wall at level of low ribs
Feet stay grounded in place, elbows bend back into ribs. Firm inner thighs and lower belly.
Inhale to ribcage
Stay for four more breaths
Explore the relationship
between vocalising and flexibility in backand how breath moves through the upper part of the body, and . Control mind dialogue to release holding in the muscles.
Draw knees to chest
Keeping knees high, open arms out to sides at shoulder height, heavy upper body evenly to ground
Send both knees to right side, allowing them to relax to the earth (or a prop), keep them as close to elbows as possible
Inhale to back of heart centre, left side ribs, and lower back
Repeat four times
Repeat on left side
between breath and resonance when heart centre opening at front, explore space in back of neck and tops of shoulders
Lie on back, feet standing, knees pointing up. Feet hip width apart and close to sit bones.
Softy tuck chin and lengthen shoulders away from ears. Arms can be by sides or above head.
Inhale press into feet, curl pelvis toward face and lift hips high.
Release buttocks engage inner thighs.
Exhale ‘YAM’ whilst hips stay lifted
Repeat four times
Slowly release hips to ground
Inhale move hands from sides to above head as hips lift.
Exhale ‘HAM’ release hips to ground, returning arms to sides.
Seated forward fold. Yin variation
Explore space in the back body
opening through tightness in back of neck, shoulders. Connecting sound and vibration to the back of heart centre.
Sit, legs long hip and width apart (use sitting block or blanket to raise hips if lower back is tight)
Inhale draw lower belly to spine to press sit bones backward, exhale here.
Inhale lift ribcage away from pelvis, lengthen back of neck.
Sip further breath to collar bones and fold belly toward thighs as far forward as is comfortable
Exhale and heavy head, release arms, shoulders ‘YAM’
Soften jaw, roof of mouth, base of tongue, remaining continue to inhale space to back body and exhale with ‘YAM’
Legs long and wide apart
Crossed legged, repeating with other leg in front
Exhale ‘HAM’ with any leg variation
Release through the throat, back of neck and each side of spine
observe sound and vibration moving to skull
Sit cross legged, hands on knees
Inhale raise arms, draw shoulder blades down back
Rotate from navel to right side
Exhale release left hand to right knee, right hand to ground behind sit bones.
From here, inhale lengthen crown toward sky and open heart to left side
Inhale to centre
Repeat on left side
Cross legs other way and repeat on both sides
for the voice that comes from the silence. Lie on back, pelvis even to ground, legs long, feet wider than hip width apart.
Open palms away from body, release shoulders
Softy tuck chin, soften brow, roof of mouth, jaw, base of tongue
Let go of any breath control
Repeat Om silently in the mind
Deepen the breath and return from savasana gently
Roll to one side and come to seated.
Sit, crossed legs or kneeling
Inhale sit bones heavy and crown light.
May you flow freely with the world and every being within in
A long serving Londoner, Phoebe is a qualified practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming, life coach and yoga teacher, and experienced singer songwriter. She’s been leading workshops in a range of personal development topics and supporting people to achieve their goals for over 15 years. She teaches and sings regularly in North London and all around the world. You can find her over on instagram, facebook
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