According to my clients, good voice care (what we call vocal hygiene) can seem overwhelming at first. So much to remember, so little time. Today, I’d like to simplify some of that vocal hygiene for you. What if I told you there’s something you can do, in only 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day, (even while doing something else) that could instantly moisturize your vocal folds (vocal “cords”), and make them work more easily with less effort AND have them feel less “gunky”, especially in this horrific allergy season? You’d pay attention, right? Well here goes!
It’s steaming! Steam inhalation should be a serious ammunition in everyone’s voice care arsenal. Let’s find out why.
Have you ever noticed that it’s hard to speak or sing well when you feel dry? It’s true that when you’re dehydrated it takes more effort to produce voice than if your cords are well-hydrated. And when your vocal folds are dry, there is more risk of injuring those delicate tissues. (See our Blog/video on hydration for more information here).
But, you say, if I drink some water now, won’t that help my vocal folds feel moister? The answer is… not immediately. Your vocal folds are situated inside your larynx (the “voice box”), on top of your trachea (your “windpipe”). Water certainly doesn’t go down that pipe! It goes down your esophagus and through your digestive system. It may take hours for that water to make it through your digestive system and out to the tissues of your body, including your cords. Let me be clear: of course you have to drink water all day long, approximately ½ your body weight in ounces of water, for your health and for your voice. But if you need to moisturize your vocal folds for a performance in 15 minutes, steam will be your go-to hydration tool. Steam is like a glass of water….that you breathe!
If you breathe steam one to two times a day, plus drink the recommended amount of water as we stated above, you’ll thin out your mucus secretions. (Mucus only does a good job of lubricating your vocal membranes if it’s thin). This will, in turn, make it less likely that you’ll have to clear your throat. Repeated forceful throat-clearing can injure your vocal folds, and sets up a vicious cycle of more mucus and more throat-clearing anyway. So let’s find out some simple ways of incorporating steaming into your daily voice care routine.
A quick disclaimer: Some of the methods I’ll be talking about, and that you’ll see in our video, use very hot water. You need to exercise care and caution when working with hot or boiling water. Keep cups, pots, or bottles of hot water on a flat surface. Don’t lean on them or knock them over, and be sure not to steam over a hot stove!
The old-fashioned way of steaming, using a pot of hot water with a towel over your head, is still OK as long as you’re careful. This is a great method if you’ve just cooked soup or pasta and you’re still in the kitchen! (Remember to turn the stove off first and put the pot on a trivet away from the stove!!). If you don’t feel like waiting for a pot of water to boil, put a funnel (upside down) over a steaming mug of water or tea, and carefully inhale the steam through the spout. (If it feels too hot, stay somewhat above the spout). You can also breathe steam above an insulated bottle of very hot water, but again, place the bottle on a stable surface and after you’ve breathed the steam, cover the bottle again tightly.
My preferred method of steaming is using a facial steamer, like the Conair, which we feature on our Amazon-affiliated website store (Disclaimer: Amazon pays us a fee for purchases made through the store). I use a “sipping” motion above the steamer’s hood to “sip” the steam down to my vocal folds. If my nose is stuffed, I “sniff” the steam to moisturize my nose and get things “flowing”. If you set your steamer up in the bathroom, you can steam intermittently (yes, I count that as steaming) while getting ready in the morning, or washing up at night. If your steamer is in the kitchen, then steam while you’re doing kitchen chores.
My new alternative to the hot steamer is a portable rechargeable cool-mist nebulizer, using sterile saline or distilled water. This portable mini-steamer is small enough to pop into your gig bag for auditions and performances. (See the video for examples of all of these steaming methods).
So, as you can see, it’s really not difficult to incorporate steaming into your daily voice care routine. Your clear voice will thank you. Happy Steaming!