If the eyes are the soul’s window, then the voice is its loudspeaker. So when vocal awareness expert Arthur Joseph tells me he can hear all of a person in their voice, can know who they are, even over the phone, I feel a little nervous, a little naked. Later, I’m relieved, if not flattered, when he tells me I sound like a gentle soul. I wonder how it is that the sound of my voice is also the sound of my soul.
"In all cultures, all walks of life, our breathing patterns hold our traumas and our emotional history in the same way," Joseph explains. "If we are in trauma, we hold our breath the same. If we are in fear, our jaw tightens. If we have esteem issues, we tend to raise our pitch or speak breathily."
A voice specialist and communications strategist, Joseph believes that our speaking voice reveals our inner voice, and that vocal awareness isn’t so much about teaching us how to be present, but simply how to be. Vocal awareness is consciousness-awareness. "We begin to learn how not to be afraid, to learn how to claim ‘who I am.’ Is that too big, too strong, does it reveal too much?" Joseph says. "You don’t have to be bombastic to be powerful [he says in a loud voice], you can be more intimate [he says in a quieter voice]."
Through vocal training, Joseph has seen clients — ranging from participants at Esalen Institute Retreats in Big Sur, California (an alternative education and retreat center devoted to the exploration of human potential) to people often on the public stage — experience greater emotional and physical health. The emotional stress, for instance, of having your voice shut down as a child can create patterns of muscular tension throughout the body, especially in the jaw, tongue, neck, and shoulders.
Mastery of vocal awareness comes from a mind/body/spirit integration that requires the observation of subtleties, such as how to breathe. Joseph describes allowing a breath, rather than taking a breath. He instructs that the breath should be a loving, down-through-the-body breath that begins laterally. This diaphragmatic breath that gets into the intercostal muscles is the breath of a newborn — a breath he says our bodies have never forgotten.
The energy of the breath feeds the vibration that is the voice. Two principles, the nasal edge and the arc of sound, form the basis of a daily workout designed to harness your vocal power. The edge of your upper lip is the nasal edge; focus on projecting sound forward and through this spot. The nasal edge is also the jumping off point for your arc of sound; as you exhale and vocalize, visualize your voice soaring up and out at a 45-degree angle, like a ski jumper.
With those basics in mind — allowing a breath, the nasal edge, and the arc of sound — Joseph prescribes the following daily routine for freeing your inner voice by cultivating your speaking one.
Seven Minutes a Day to Vocal Power
Sit or stand in stature, head erect, shoulders level, feet about hip-width apart. The basic movement for each of these exercises is the jaw release and the yawn-sigh. For jaw release, form a V with your hand by spreading thumb away from forefinger. Rest your hand against the ledge of your chin, just below your mouth, with your chin in the center of the V. Play with your hand position until it feels secure. Use gentle pressure to ease your jaw downward until your mouth is open, released, and as comfortable as possible. The mouth should be open to a length of about three fingers. Don’t force the release; continue breathing deeply and lovingly down through your body.
From the jaw release pose, do a yawn-sigh. Express an open Hah sound (as in "hat"). As you make sound, continue releasing the lower jaw without forcing it. Pull the belly in and up as you exhale the sound.
Minute 1: Tongue-Pull Yawn-Sigh — Come into jaw release pose. Use a washcloth or handkerchief to gently grasp and pull the tongue down and out of your mouth, carefully and steadily. Do not yank on it. If your tongue quivers, simply keep pulling it gently downward. Then yawn-sigh. Notice the sensation of stretching.
Minute 2: Two-Finger Yawn-Sigh — Come into jaw release pose. Place your index and middle fingers under your tongue — not too far back — allowing it to release forward onto your fingers. Use the thumb of that same hand to gently press under your chin at the spot where you can feel the base of the tongue muscle to check for tension. Your tongue should feel soft and released, rather than bunched up and hard. Yawn-sigh Hah with your fingers under your tongue. Notice the sensation of space created in your mouth, and listen for a richer, warmer tone in your voice.
Minute 3: Pencil Technique Yawn-Sigh — In jaw release pose, place a pencil in your mouth, gently holding it just in front of your eyeteeth. Rest your tongue lightly against your bottom teeth. Release any tension you notice alongside your jaw and in the soft spot under your chin. Yawn-sigh Hah, focusing on projecting this sound nasally over the top of the pencil, very forward in your mouth.
For minutes four, five, and six, repeat the exercises above, replacing the vocalization of Hah with the lines below, or your own choice of text. Keep your mouth and tongue flaccid. The words and phrasing here must be extremely fluid.
Minute 4: Tongue-Pull Yawn-Sigh with text — "When I speak, I need to be aware of projecting my voice in a very specific arc."
Minute 5: Two-Finger Yawn Sigh with text — "It doesn’t matter whether it’s loud or whether it’s soft."
Minute 6: Pencil Technique Yawn-Sigh with text or song — "The energy remains constant even though the volume may change."
Minute 7: Performance — Stand in stature, and without using the jaw release or yawn-sigh techniques, speak the lines from your vocal practice: "When I speak, I need to be aware of projecting my voice in a very specific arc. It doesn’t matter whether it’s loud or whether it’s soft. The energy remains constant even though the volume may change."
Throughout or after the practice, you may want to record your impressions, feelings, and observations about your experience as a way of tracking the transformation of your voice. As you further your practice, play with vocal themes such as loud/soft, high/low, duration, emotion, and vowels. More importantly, Joseph says, as you cultivate vocal awareness, don’t just leave it in your seven minutes a day; learn the principles and apply them everywhere.
Jennifer Derryberry is a freelance writer and yoga teacher from Geneva, Illinois. She is the former editor of Science & Spirit