why your voice gets stuck
I was up against a wall. Literally. My tongue was valiantly trying to poke out of my open mouth to formulate some semblance of an “ah” vowel whilst singing a downward scale. 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. The teacher was attempting to have my tongue stay politely in place when I sang anything. This seemed to me rather extreme and frankly, impossible.
What she could not sense was the hot shame smeared on my face because I was so clearly incapable of this task.
I’m happy to report that I was wrong: I learned how to sing a downward scale on an “ah” vowel. But not in the way you think. And it took me roughly 20 years to suss it out.
If only she could have said, “Allison, try not to overthink it. You are having difficulty connecting with your breath. Can you, like, inhale?”
Well, I couldn’t inhale OR exhale well or properly. My voice gremlins were running amuck, and I was debilitated by fear. I lost control and trust of my voice. I was, quite literally, stuck.
The ego voice disrupts our connection with the flow of breath.
The Sacred Voice is inherently linked to the flow of breath. This inner voice, your sacred center, your source energy, is hard-wired to your being in a state of flow, which lands you plop! in the present moment. A very important place to be if you are a human being, but especially if you are a singer.
I call this place the Flow State. It is the second pillar of the framework that I have been developing throughout the course of my singing and teaching career, and it is the most hard-won lesson I have learned. I believe it is so incredibly useful and helpful for anyone because I believe it can truly help alleviate so much pressure, worry, and anguish for singers.
The Flow State is breath flow, but more accurately breath energy flow. Breath energy is more than the binary inhale-exhale cycle we are accustomed to. It is the subtle force of life moving through you.
The basic idea is that we want to keep it moving, to be in constant flow, a breath loop. When we are in Flow State, your instrument operates with subtle brilliance. You are quite literally a sacred instrument, like some heaven-constructed oboe: neutral construct, resonant, flexible, powerful. All it needs is a clear-minded operator!
Ok, how many of us are in the constant flow of breath energy when we sing? Right.
We lose access to our breath as we live our lives on Planet Earth. It is really damn hard being a human being. The flow of life that is so natural to us as children is decreased over the course of time. This affects the flow of breath energy which affects your singing and which affects your life.
Our energy flow is compromised. Our minds become oversized. Our muscles become rigid. Our breath becomes forced.
We are out of subtle balance. We have lost our flow of breath energy.
As a result, we are indoctrinated to believe that we must fix, push, or think our voice into behaving better.
I disagree. Having won back that breath energy back myself through incredible determination, I see how detrimental and potentially destructive this mindset can be. You will feel better and experience luminous, confident, effort-free singing when you are in a flow state of breath. It is utterly possible.
So HOW do we fall out of the Flow State? How are we separated from the Sacred Voice?
When you are overthinking your singing, you SABOTAGE your natural flow of breath. You are not designed to think your voice. You are designed to allow your voice. Your body knows how to sing perfectly. (Isn’t that awesome?) Overthinking invites effort and effort begets artificial pressure throughout your entire body. This means getting tight. You experience a total contraction of self. When you overthink your singing, you feel compelled to shove, grunt, or hoist your voice, and you will feel, see, hear, and experience the effects in the quality of vibration. Your breath flow system is off-kilter and out of balance, and leads to all-encompassing tension. More to the point, your ego voice is in control, and you feel disconnected from your Sacred Voice. Loss of Flow State.
When you are scared, you STOP the natural flow of breath. Fear and singing are common bedfellows. When you encounter your fear, you seize up. You feel threatened. Imagine someone is about to smack you: what do you do? You clamp your eyes shut, suck in your gut, and hold your breath. I call this The Flinch. It is pure instinct, ancient patterning you inherited as a human being. So if you are singing and you feel scared, you hold your breath. This occurs within the span of a microsecond, mind you, but this complete stop will also cause full-scale tension throughout your instrument, starting in the brain, heading straight to your solar plexus, and then rippling throughout your system. Ultimately, this stoppage of breath flow makes us singers feel incredibly out of control and degrades trust in our voice. It is a lousy place to be and crazy-making for sure. Loss of Flow State?
3) Energy Block
When you have an energy block, you INHIBIT the natural flow of breath. Energy blocks are common to everyone I have ever met. They develop over the course of our lives, and they are part of our human experience. You block the flow of your energy, the life force moving within you, when you experience suffering, trauma, shame, or other triggering emotions. Each center (there are seven main energy centers) is related to some aspect of our Self, and they correspond to our emotional experiences. If, say, you feel threatened (as above), the energy moving through your solar plexus center is blocked. Your physical body manifests that block: the diaphragm becomes rigid, the jaw tightens, the tongue pulls backward, the soft palate droops, the pelvic floor tightens. Your instrument adapts to the quality of the energy flow. Blocked energy is a petri dish for overthinking and fear. Loss. Of. Flow. State.
The Flow State is absolutely attainable for anyone. It is, in fact, our “natural” state.
But it takes a rigorous amount of self-awareness, discipline of the mind, and a trusty map of the breathing system to hook in and re-establish the flow.
Keep your eye on the breath at all times. Never stray. When you fall off the wagon (you will), hop back on. And over and over again you practice, until you become addicted to your clear mind, your confidence, and your unadulterated joy in singing.
And the greatest reward: dancing with your Sacred Voice as you share it with the world.
IMAGE: Mario Azzi on Unsplash