One of the most common issues my voice clients ask me about is how they can practice voice during the busy workday. Well, that’s easy if you’re a recording artist, choral director, or music teacher: you can practice all day long as part of your job! For everyone else, this isn’t so easy. After all, how many attorneys can lip trill during a deposition? How many doctors can use straw phonation while examining a patient? Of course, there are some socially-acceptable voice exercises that anyone can practice. One excellent example is humming and saying “um-hmm” (as in “”yes” or “I agree”). If you feel that pleasant buzzing sensation across your top lip, you just reset your voice to where it should be resonating. But most of our “wacky warm-ups” aren’t quite as socially acceptable in mixed company. Sure, you can vocalize in your car, in your office with the door closed, or in your classroom on a prep. (I, for one, don’t care who hears me. I’ve been known to vocalize, and compose entire songs in honor of my dogs, while walking them down the street. But that’s me.)
So what can you do throughout the workday to keep your voice healthy without creating a spectacle? Plenty! Think holistically. The voice is the human instrument, so any exercise you can do to improve the functioning of the human body will improve your voice. Specifically, I’m talking about posture, relaxation, and breathing work. Since we’ve done blogs on posture and breathing, today we’re going to focus on quick tension-busting relaxation exercises that you can do almost anywhere. Even in 1-2 minutes, you will get results. In addition to the benefit to your voice, these stretches and massages may reduce pain and increase your sense of well-being. Hopefully, keeping your muscles limber will also prevent injury, so let’s get stretching!
FOR THE NECK
Yes/No/Maybe So: Here’s a variation on neck rolls that one of my colleagues calls the “yes/no/maybe so”. Gently and slowly move your head in the directions of shaking your head “yes”, “no”, and “maybe so” (the latter is an ear-to-shoulder movement that looks like a slow-moving bobble head). Don’t go too far back with your head, and don’t force or snap your neck. For extra support, you can roll up a towel and put it behind your neck as you do the stretches.
The Camel: This is my absolute favorite for releasing neck and throat tension. I actually feel a difference in how opened-up my voice feels after I do the camel. Put one hand at the base of the neck, leaning on the upper chest. Put the other hand on top of the first hand, for extra weight. You’re going to pull downward on the base of the neck with your hands, while looking upward toward the ceiling. Once you can see the ceiling, pout your bottom lip out and over your top lip. You will begin to feel a stretch down the front of your throat. Then tilt your head toward one shoulder and look up at the ceiling on the opposite side. You’ll feel a stretch down that side of your throat. Then reverse. We recently did a video that demonstrates this technique.
Chin Tuck: For you “neck craners” who are always sticking your head out toward your laptop, here’s a quick head-aligner. Put 2 fingers against the point of your chin, and press your chin toward your neck as if you were giving yourself a double chin. It should feel like you’re getting your head aligned with your spine because…you are! Hold for 3 seconds, then release. From the side, your ears should be directly over your shoulders. (For more back, neck, and posture exercises, visit backintelligence.com. Here’s their fantastic article on fixing forward head posture. Back Intelligence has an eye-opening stat on head position: for every inch forward your head goes, it weighs the equivalent of another 10 pounds. So if you poke your normally-10-to-12-pound head 3” toward your computer screen, it now weighs 40 lbs.! That’s 40 lbs. pulling on your neck joints, your upper back, and even your throat muscles. The muscles in your upper back and neck must therefore work much harder to stabilize and support the head, leading to pain and tension. So check in with your chin tuck often.
FOR THE SHOULDERS
Shoulder Shrugs or Circles: With your arms down at your sides, lift your shoulder up toward your ears, then down (shoulder shrugs), or lift the shoulders up toward your ears and circle them back and down (shoulder circles). Repeat.
Upper Chest and Rounded Shoulder “Fixes”:
- The Eagle: I like to think of this stretch as the cure for rounded shoulders.
- Put your hands straight up to ear height, with your arms in a “W” position.
- Pull your elbows back and pinch your shoulder blades toward each other, as if you’re pinching a tennis ball between your shoulder blades. Feel your upper back activating.
- While keeping that “pinch”, tuck your elbows down into “imaginary back pockets of jeans”. Hold that position for 3 seconds and release.
- The Doorway Stretch: Thie is a variation on the Eagle.
- Stand in a doorway, and put your hands up on the door jambs at ear level
- Lean forward though the door and feel your pecs stretch.
- Shoulder blade squeeze: Whether seated or standing, extend your arms behind you, with your thumbs pointing upward. Press your hands toward each other and hold.
Any of the above can be done during a 1-2 minute break anytime throughout your day. And I always like to use a few of these first thing in the morning, or even during a shower.
As we mentioned above, you can always sneak in some abdominal breathing work: great for voice, but also a wonderful way to reduce stress. (And who couldn’t use THAT during the workday? 😊). For instance, inhale through the nose and feel your abdominal area expand. Exhale on a “shhhhh” so you can feel and hear the exhale, as you compress your abdominals inward. Sustain the “shhhhh” for at least 5 seconds. Repeat often throughout the day.
Let’s not forget one of our favorite tension-busting exercises: the laryngeal massage. You can do this along with our full-length video or with our recent video featuring a shorter version of the massage as well as the camel stretch mentioned above, and another vocal tension-reducer. You can even sneak in a 2-minute laryngeal massage while you’re stuck on hold or while proofreading something.
If you are able to do your vocal exercises while you do the stretches, you’ll get double the results: producing voice is easier while you’re relaxing the associated muscles. And that’s multi-tasking we can all handle! So give these exercises a try and see if your voice doesn’t give a big sigh of relief!