Our society suffers from an epidemic of stress. As Facilitators of Expressive Arts, we inspire new ways of releasing stress, easing tension, soothing anxiety and fear. We are caretakers of this world. We are providing a great service to the world by helping others to cope with and ease the burdens of stress on the body. Acupuncturists assess many properties of the body-mind in their extensive client intake information, including their client’s speech, tone and qualities as it relates to the 5-element theory in Chinese medicine.
As a singer for more than 20 years, I see something new to offer to the world of Holistic Healing: Voicework. Massage Therapists have seen an epidemic of clients managing a storm of internal pressure. The head, neck and jaw seem to “cork” this bottled-up pressure. As Neuromuscular law suggests, tension rises. Singing is a way to uncork this rising internal tension and release energetic pressure from the body. While breathing through tension is crucial to an effective release, conscientious, intentional vocalizing takes this further.
What is Voicework?
Consider the voice as an extension of the body-mind-spirit. Voicework is a series of tools that gently relieves stress, tension, fear, grief and inhibition. Some of these tools may include breath work, stretching, sighing, yawning, toning, harmonizing and vocal improvisation. The intention is to peel away anxiety and stress that is preventing the person from feeling safe in the world. Safety is the key ingredient to setting the stage for unraveling and revealing the “authentic” self. As a singer, I would go father to say that voicework opens the door to another state of consciousness, a creative space, that requires both the left and right brain working together to execute.
How it Works
When the voice has been shut down for very long periods of time (sometimes decades), we go through life making choices to avoid and prevent the experience of shame. We avoid situations which cause us to feel vulnerable. We keep intimacy at an arms length to prevent pain, discomfort, fear, humiliation and ultimately, change. In doing so, we also prevent love, joy, courage, to the point of even preventing the life we long to live and breathe. There is never a convenient time to make room for this voice of wisdom to be heard, and for our true self to be seen.
The truth is, our ego is trying to stop us from rocking the boat, and having the courage to follow our heart.
Practicing voicework is a doorway into a safe space, without risk, judgment, criticism or social consequences. The only risk is letting go of fear and the guarantee that your life WILL change, if you do so. Practicing voicework is an experience of letting guards down, peeling off the mask, in the safe comforts of an embracing environment and letting what is true, honest and authentic come through you.
Sociologist, Researcher and Storyteller, Brene Brown, claims that vulnerability is necessary as a requirement to creativity. And that it is the grounds for innovation, joy, creativity, courage. In short, if you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying to get out of your comfort zone, in which case, your voice will remain unexplored.
When we awaken the voice, emotions arise. The process of opening the voice may remind you of the time when you last felt that freedom in the voice, perhaps as a child, or to the moment when it became inhibited. You may recall the reason why you shut it down in the first place. It is less confrontational to stay hidden rather than cause controversy, and to be questioned. Many times, this is the body-mind’s natural defense mechanism. Clients may feel grief or anger. This is the healing energy of creative catharsis cleaning out the cobwebs, and opening the energy flow in the throat area/voice. Voicework can bring awareness to the reason the block was implemented or “installed” initially (to protect you and prevent damage, humiliation, vulnerability). There is an enormous energy flow that follows opening an energy block. It is an influx of energy that can improve relationships, as it improves your communication. That energy may provide a new sense of courage to make change in your life, and not live in fear of it.
As we metaphorically “open up and sing ah,” singing takes us out of the mind and centers us in the heart. And, if there is any work to be done there, singing gently and lovingly massages open the heart.
Sessions begin with simple stretching and breathing exercises, grounding the connection into the body. Simple vocal warm-ups follow, drawing from classical voice techniques. Face and jaw stretches open the jaw, lining of the vocal tract, opens the breath, and draws awareness to the body as instrument. Singing games foster a place for fun exploration, bringing out the child-like essence. Improvisation is used for cutting new ground, building self trust, without harmful criticism and judgment. Much like how a massage client must learn how to relax on the table, it is a learning process to explore without self-judgment. As we vocalize, we willingly bring our selves closer to the borders of our inhibitions. When we begin to sing authentically, the heart immediately responds by melting its stiff body armor and setting it free.
Like massage, the benefits of Voicework are endless, depending largely on the client’s willingness to surrender and open. The benefits are similar to those of meditation- stress release, energy revitalization, quieting the body and mind, emotional release, awareness building, deep inner listening, thinking “outside the box,” intuition building, and getting out of the “fight or flight” state, into the “rest and digest” parasympathetic state. Voicework helps to reset and center your life in a way that is true to your heart.
As the quality of your inner state of being becomes centered and grounded, your voice mirrors your internal sphere to the external world. Your state of awareness becomes more transparent. The tone of your voice carries and transmits your energy. Gathering people together to sing with authenticity can bring peace and healing.
I have always viewed voicework as being akin to softly caressing the heart open. The heart likes to be heard! By following and listening to our inner voice, it ultimately leads us into the path of the heart.
Stephanie Heidemann, has a B.A. (Major-Expressive Arts Therapy) from Indiana University, and was a Licensed Massage Therapist for 12-years. She is the Founder, of Authentic Voicework, a Ringling Towers Award Recipient, and Artist in Residence at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. She has taught at yoga centers, retreat centers, and conferences- including the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association conference. Stephanie Heidemann is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork (NCBTMB) as a continuing education Approved Provider (#451581-11). For more information, please visit www.authenticvoicework.com.