Our posture (the way we sit, stand, and walk) is the first way we communicate anything about ourselves. Even before we have a chance to open our mouths, our stance and the energy we emit with our physical body is out there in the world for people to take in and assess.
Are you happy, stressed, tired, angry?
It’s likely the rest of the world is already getting a strong sense of what’s going with you internally before you open your mouth to tell us.
So what happens once we do open our mouths?
The body houses the voice and its state of repair in all aspects of its condition and functions are directly reflected in the breath and voice. If certain rooms of the body are tense or something is out of place or misaligned then voice work will be either a severe effort or impossible to do properly. So, some renovation, or at least a little housework, might be necessary at the start: the roof may be leaking, the gutters trapped or the foundation sinking.
Any useless tension in the shoulders, the upper part of the chest, the neck, the jaw, the spine, the lower back, the abdominal muscles, the feet, and even the knees will lock the voice.
Not all tension is useless; some tension is very useful. Without tension, as part of the framework, our bodies would collapse into a heap on the floor. If you remove all defenses to the body’s natural tension, like when we black out, collapse is what we do.
So much of the tension that blocks out voice is used unnecessarily. It is beyond what is needed at that particular moment for that particular physical task. Healthy and appropriate tension like the fight or flight tension is necessary for survival.
When working with the body we have to address the useless tensions caused by fear, bluff and lack of ease, most of which are not necessary for survival but threaten us with habits. Step one with working with the voice is finding a feeling of ease devoid of useless tension. Any unwanted, accumulated tension pushes our body in directions we call “off center”, “out of control” or “out of body”.
Posture should be a key term when thinking of how we communicate. Unfortunately, the terms conjure up visions of rigid soldiers or students with books on their heads. Posture to most people means the straight and upright, but for our purposes, this posture is the worst kind. Pulling the shoulders back and yanking the head up tightens the throat and stops the breath from sinking low into the lungs. This is the kind of posture that creates barriers in the voice.
The way we stand or sit, the ways our heads, neck, or spines are correctly or incorrectly aligned, the carriage of our shoulders, upper chest, and torso, the habitual set of our mouth and jaw- all of these influence the balance and functioning of our voice. Anyone of these can be the landmine sitting in the path of the voice’s free passage. Breath, vocal release, range, resonance, and speech are equally interrelated.
So, if you’re preparing to give a presentation at work, or perhaps are a lawyer preparing for a day in court, a teacher giving a lecture, a student entering the workforce preparing for interviews- take a moment to pause and think about your posture.
What are you telling people about yourself the moment you walk in the door and how is it affecting your ability to communicate once you open your mouth to speak?
Are your shoulders slumped? Is your core unengaged? Is your voice feeling trapped inside of you?
Everything is connected to everything else; everything works with everything else.
We want to do it all with ease.
Click here for a tension checklist to help you assess what’s going on internally.
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Patsy Rodenburg, The Right To Speak, 1992