PART 1: GOOD THINGS UP!
Perhaps your voice has really been bothering you lately, with all those online meetings or classes you’ve had to run. Not to mention vocally managing your kids, dogs, spouse, and anyone else who was stuck at home with you. Or maybe you’ve never been happy with your voice: you don’t like your voice quality, you can’t project, you’re not a confident powerful speaker, or you’d love to sing or speak better and not feel hoarseness or vocal strain afterward. And you’ve decided you’re finally going to do something to improve your voice. But where to start? Singing lessons? Working with a voice therapist? Acting coach? Take a public speaking course? Watch a YouTube video? All of the above? Getting kind of overwhelmed? Let’s help you out with a simple solution to start you on a quicker route to vocal health: Up with the Good, Down with the Bad.
So, what do we mean by that? Well, there are diet, lifestyle, and vocal behavior considerations that can either hurt your voice or improve it. Obviously, we’d like you to maximize the good behaviors, and minimize (or eliminate) the bad ones. So, let’s break this down into manageable tips that you can incorporate into your daily routine. We’ll even give you handy downloadable reminder charts for reference.
First, the Good Things you’re going to increase.
By now, you’ve probably seen a gazillion articles on the benefits of drinking water. We’ve posted blogs and videos dealing with this subject. Increasing the amount of water you drink each day is perhaps the simplest, most straightforward beneficial thing you can do to improve vocal function and reduce vocal effort. Your vocal folds (a.k.a. vocal “cords”) have to work much harder to produce sound when they’re dry than when they’re appropriately hydrated. All that increased water also thins your mucus to a more watery consistency (that’s what you want it to be to “lube your larynx”), so that you clear your throat less. We’ve linked a PDF of suggestions on how to make hydrating easier. Aim for half your body weight in ounces of water, unless there’s a medical reason why you’ve been told not to have that much.
Now before you start squawking that you don’t have time to do a luxury like steaming, let me convince you that it isn’t a luxury. Steaming is the most direct and immediate way to hydrate your vocal folds. After all, water has to go through your digestive system first. Not steam. It’s like “breathing” a glass of water right onto your vocal folds. Over the years, we’ve recommended numerous ways to steam, and even did a blog and video on it. Our newest favorite, the VocalMist voice nebulizer, is based on research that shows that use of nebulized 0.9% saline solution is the most effective way to moisturize your respiratory system, including your vocal folds. (And especially now, I’m a big believer in keeping our respiratory systems as healthy as possible!). To learn more about VocalMist or to purchase, click here.
Stretches and Massages
We’re big believers in getting the muscles limbered up, whether you’re taking a morning jog, or getting your voice ready for the vocal demands of the day. We instruct our clients in specific massages and stretches for the torso, upper chest, upper back, neck, jaw, tongue, and larynx. You can use stretches you’ve learned in yoga, gym class, dance, or from your physical therapist or other hands-on professional. Some great stretches can be found from this back and neck health resource: www.Backintelligence.com. Start with slow, easy, non-forced head circles, shoulder shrugs, and laryngeal massage (check out our Laryngeal Massage how-to video here)
Warming Up the Voice
No, this is NOT just for singers! Think about it: if an athlete wants to run faster, jump higher, pitch a perfect game, or develop the killer tennis serve, he or she knows the importance of training and conditioning the muscles. Why would we expect our posture, voice, and breathing muscles to be in perfect working order without doing anything to get them that way? This doesn’t have to be any kind of complex and lengthy warm-up. Working with a voice therapist or singing teacher, you can develop a 3-to-5-minute warm-up regimen that you can repeat several times a day to keep your voice in tip-top shape. Try doing even 1-2 minutes of voice warm-ups, up to 10x/day. These act as a warm-up in the morning, a voice reset throughout the day to keep you sounding and feeling vocally great, and a cool-down after the speaking day is done. Some of my favorites are: lip trills (or lip flutters), raspberries (those tongue-out noises a baby makes), humming, vocalizing through a straw, or even pop that straw into water and vocalize into the nice steady stream of bubbles. (See our previous blog on GPS for the Voice to learn about the use of the expression “um-hmm” as a quick and easy voice exercise).
Sleep and Stress Reduction
We put these together because fatigue and stress are the two biggest enemies of the voice (besides blood-curdling screaming, that is!). When we burn the midnight oil, stressing over a deadline or a family issue, it should be no surprise that a clear, effortless voice may be hard to find the next day. Now, I can sympathize; I’ve done my share of staying up way too late and stressing this year, and it’s NOT a good idea. Fixing this might seem easier said than done, but try making small changes. Allow an hour before bed that is “device-free”, to avoid that sleep-disturbing blue light. Do something a bit more relaxing an hour before bed: read, meditate, or practice mindfulness (use a meditation app like Insight Timer if you’re not sure what to do; It helped me sleep when I was recovering from Covid-19), take a bath and then allow your body to cool down for an hour before sleep. Do some deep-breathing exercises: lying on your back, inhale through your nose over slow count of 4, allowing your belly to rise, and then a slow exhale over a count of 6-8 through pursed lips, while you observe your belly compress back down. Practicing this relaxing breathing rhythm tells your nervous system that the “threat” it perceived is gone, and you are more likely to have a relaxing deeper sleep. See our light-hearted blog on stress reduction here: https://provoicecare.net/honor-dogs-pet-sitters-internationals-take-dog-work-day/ and our blog and video on how to do diaphragmatic breathing here: https://provoicecare.net/diaphragmatic-breathing-de-mystified-its-not-a-lot-of-b-s/.
Other Good Health Measures
It may seem obvious, but eating a healthy balanced diet and getting physical exercise as often as possible should be considered “good things” in your voice care program. After all, the voice is the HUMAN instrument, so taking care of the HUMAN body will help your voice, and your overall health, cognitive function, and energy level. Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy voice!
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