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Change Creativity stories Story Telling Voice Writing

Transformation: A Selkie Story

The world always changes. Even in ways that may not always be visible to us and if we let ourselves, then we change too. Sometimes other people hold us back and at other times we may let them. Some stories survive all those changes and serve us. They deepen our understanding of the way we experience the world, even if we live in a different time and place entirely. Those stories belong to us all and the way we tell them tells us something about the teller themselves. So here is an offering, in this time of transformation, to hopefully help make sense of this jumbled world.


You already know this story.

A lonely man, they always are.

He found it hard to connect to others and yet he could see their joy within their families and that their hearts were full and he wanted that. He saw their heads thrown back in laughter and when out walking the weather beaten coastal paths at dusk, the warm glow of a well attended hearth spilled out of small cottage windows, and he wanted that.

In the village, he witnessed lovers walking hand in hand, eyes missing the surrounding gray world, lost deeply to each other and the promises of the happy lives they were going to have together. And he wanted that.

But time passed and as he stitched the torn nets of local fishermen, he never made a catch. With each stitch into each net his heart shrunk, his gut grew and the lines of loneliness and frustration deepened. He had never been small, even as a boy, but now he was broad and tall – a hulking mass of a man. And as he swelled the women in the village were lost to him and carried into calmer waters on a more comfortable boat. They didn’t want him. 

So the man grew solitary and short tempered, his language coarse with under use and his voice carried a bark- the kind you’d hear in an agitated dog. 

One evening, as the sun slipped below the surface of the sea and the moon swelled like an empty, expectant plate, the man took a turn off his usual clifftop path and carefully picked his way over the rocks that were always shifting in the cliff face. He descended down towards the smaller smooth stones that washed up on the shoreline. 

He starred out to sea – what was the point of a man so lonely? He pulled off his boots and decided he would swim till he could swim no more. Until he would slip silently beneath the waves. And this resolve, this feeling of holding a destination in his mind, this decision lifted his eyes. What a beautiful place to die. His skin felt the wind blowing through his threadbare unpatched clothes. He tasted the salt heavy in the air and he heard the wind singing. Or did he? Amongst the whistling wind, he heard laughter and shouts and multiple voices. He wasn’t alone, somewhere nearby was a group of people. He turned towards the voices and understood that they were coming from a small inlet surrounded by rocks – a perfect place, protected from the elements. He walked over and not wanting to be seen he crawled the final section and peered through the cracks in the rocks.

A group of naked women were laughing. Their white skin seemed to glow in the moonlight, like they had a bright and brilliant light within them. The man was filled with longing, his mind turned to his empty house, his empty life, his empty heart. What life he could have if his house could be filled with such radiance. How freely these women danced and sang and swam. He quietly climbed higher to get a better look, keen to not get caught.

That is when he saw the skins – silver blotted with darker patches. They were all an arms length away from him. Seal skins. He counted them. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. He counted the women – One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. These women had not arrived on foot over land. They had come from the sea and shed their velvety skin to dance upon the sands freely under a full moon. His longing turned from want to need to must have. He was going to have one, just one, of those women, just one of those magical selkie women would be enough. He reached out and with thick fingers grabbed the nearest skin. It felt soft and thick like a scarf hugging your neck or a sleeping kitten. He pulled himself back to his hiding place behind the rocks and stuffed the skin under his jumper. He waited wondering which woman would belong to him. 

One by one, the women returned to their skins, a gray dawn was arriving over the cliftops. It was time to return home to the sea. They pulled on their skins and slipped into the incoming tide, till only one woman remained. She searched but could not find her skin. She called to her sisters to help her but they had disappeared beneath the waves.  She called and searched and called and searched until her heart grew weary and the man watched and watched, waiting for the moment when her hope would disappear.

Soon enough, the woman gave up. She sank down to the rock beneath her, hugging her knees to her chest.

The man stepped out from his hiding place.

‘I have your skin.’ he said.

The selkie woman shivered from the cold, the exposure, from the man that towered over her. 

‘Come with me.’ he said.  ‘I can give you a good life.’

‘I have a good life.’ she replied. ‘Swimming with my sisters. Please give me back my skin.’

The man’s longing burned. He thought how much better his life would be for having her in it.

‘Stay with me, for 7 years. For 7 years be my wife. After those seven years have passed, I will return your skin to you. The woman thought what else could she do but accept his offer. She could not return to the sea without her skin to protect her and she could not fight a man so large. What was 7 years in a life that could stretch to 100. She agreed. The man greedily snatched her up. He set her on her feet and helped her down from the rocks. He took off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders.

The coat felt strange – coarse against her skin and the smell was odd like smoke, but what does a woman of the sea know of fire? She followed him as he led her back up off the beach and up the cliff and along the path to his village by the harbour. And there in a tumbledown cottage they made a life and the man softened, although those years of jagged loneliness could never really be smoothed.

She wore the dresses he bought her and looked like a normal wife despite not knowing the ways of a kitchen. Her belly soon swelled and carried out into the world, on a tide of fear, a child was born. A girl. The child was human. She bore no sign of being Selkie. Now the woman was tied to land in a way that was larger than the deal struck on the beach.

Seven years passed. The girl was fed on stories of sea caves and creatures. She was hushed to sleep with the songs of whales and seaweed and water.  The child grew well. Rosy skinned and full bodied in fine fettle. The woman waned.  Her skin became dryer and dryer until it cracked and her eyes suffered. The world turned into colour and indistinguishable shapes. The woman loved her child, but the longing to be back in the sea with her own kind was causing her body to shut down. 

As the seventh year drew to a close, she turned to the man and asked for her skin to be returned to her. The girl, whose parents thought she was asleep, heard the conversation between her parents.

‘7 years have passed. It is time for my skin to be returned to me.’ said the woman.

The man’s fear of being alone reared its ugly head. Left with a young girl to raise without a woman to guide her in things he did not know or understand.

‘I cannot give your skin back to you.’ he said.’ I cannot lose you to the sea.I cannot once again be alone.’

‘You will lose me, with or without returning my skin. I cannot survive here. I am fading fast. To keep me here is to kill me.’

‘What of your child? Do you not love her?’

‘ I love her with all of my body, but my body is weak and I cannot be there for her in death.’

The man shook his head. ‘You belong to me. You are mine and mine alone. I will not give you your skin. Filled with darkness, the man left the house. The woman silently mourned the fight she didn’t have 7 years earlier, now too weak, 7 years on to fight.

The girl having heard all of the exchange was horrified. She didn’t want her mother to die. For days her thoughts swilled a round and a round in her head. What could she do? How could she save her mother?

Meanwhile the woman became extremely frail. Her skin was carved up into patterns like contours and borders on a map. Her sight reduced to near blackness. Her heart, already weakened from the years out of the water, out of her skin and away from home, beat like a fading drum.

The girl drank it all in, She saw her fathers impatience and his snap at this sad, frail woman that he now had for a wife. She saw her mother shrinking and despite being young in years, she knew that her mother was dying.

One full mooned night, while the girl sat drinking in the blackness of the night and the blackness of her thoughts she heard a song on the wind. Her small bedroom rattled as the song found its way through the grains of wood holding the pane of glass in place. 

She quietly tip-toed down the stairs on soft slippered feet and made her way to the front door. After Pulling on her woollen hat and mittens and sheepskin lined coat she stepped out into the night. The song was louder out in the harbour. The wind blew from the north west along the coastal path . she followed the sound as she followed the song became louder and the girl grew in confidence, knowing that each step along the path meant discovering answers. Down onto the beach that had been the meeting place for her parents, 7 years earlier. She stopped and looked out to the sea where her mother came from. She felt a pull in her heart, a pull to walk into the waves and never feel land again under her feet , just like her father 7 years before.

But the song called soothingly from behind some rocks further along the beach. So she followed, scrambling over giant rocks, slippery with seaweed  in soft slippers. There lying on the rock below was a seal skin. It was bedraggled and torn in places. Its silver shine reduced to an asphalt gray. The girl knew it was the skin of her mother. Carefully she picked up the skin – it felt as frail as tissue paper. She folded it up with great care and tucked it into her coat. 

Dawn was now breaking from behind the cliffs. So the girl picked her path back over the rocks and up the beach. Back along the path and down to the small village by the harbour. The boats were gone, carrying the men in the village out to sea for the morning catch. The girl made her way to the cottage where she lived and found her mother luging in bed. Eyes open yet unseeing. 

The girl guided her mothers hands to the seal skin and even though it had been years and even though the soft velvety skin had decayed and even though the woman was as sightless as a moonlit night, she recognised the skin. For who doesn’t know how it feels to come home?

Tears fell from the woman’s eyes dropping like patchwork upon the skin and with each tear the skiing seemed to become healthier. The girl watched as her mother  cradled the skin in her arms just like she had cradled her daughter as a baby. She sang weakly aat first, her voice keening, breaking with the heartache of absence and the joy of the return. 

With help from her daughter the woman shuffled from the house and along the headland. Down from the cliffs and onto the beach. There she removed her nightgown and pulled on her skin. The girl watched wrapping her mother’s nightgown around her neck for change is hard and small comforts help.

Before her eyes, her mother was a seal and the girl knew this was how it was meant to be. Awkwardly the two made their way to where the salty water kissed the waves, splashing and laughing in the shallows. Further out they went and soon the girl had wrapped her arms around her seal mothers neck . The seal mother turned and breathed air over her daughter and soon enough they were diving down deeper and deeper and the girl breathed as though she was above the surface. They came to an underground cave. They swam through arriving in a vast cavern filled with other seals, other selkies who all turned to see who had entered. 

A stillness descended and slowly an elderly seal swam towards the seal mother and the girl. There was recognition and acceptance. There was grief and celebration. Before long the child had to be taken back to land for she was not Selkie, nor human. The elderly seal and her mother returned her to the shoreline. The child walked onto a beach forever changed by the homecoming she had witnessed and the journey beneath the waves. She belongs to transformation. Wherever transition took place. She was a sliding scale, perpetual movement. A cycle of breath. She was autumn leaves and spring buds, dawn and dusk, bears emerging from a long winter’s hibernation, pine trees kissing the sky and the sea embracing the land. She was her mother and her father, she was soul and ego and she could navigate an edge- her curiosity overcoming her fear. 

And she grew and as she grew she listened, knowing that the world turns and time passes and people change. And people came and they listened to her stories and for the short time that they listened they found peace within and without. She told and listened and listened and told and she saw that the world was an unending cycle of wonder.

Categories
Change Discussions Opinion Voice

Can we export Christmas to the rest of the year?

There are many things that I love about Christmas and I find that I am a late bloomer of love with it. As the day draws nearer and I look beyond the things I ‘have’ to do (present wrapping, present shopping, more wrapping, food buying, more wrapping, checking lists, checking them twice.), I am reminded of the things I love and surprisingly it’s not the vast amount of food. It got me thinking about how the world might seem a bit brighter if we exported the values of Christmas to other parts of the year.

1. Festive Family Fun

The world just opens open up for things for families to go and do together, big families or small families, young families or older families. From ice skating to crafting to visiting Father Christmas. Most people will be heading to some kind of theatre, whether its a traditional pantomime, or a magical tale or a relaxed romp for the little ones. Theatre’s (both conventional and others) through open their doors and the community descends. Here’s the thing, their are plenty of theatre’s opening their doors the rest of the year for family audiences too. Some of the smaller theatre’s host beautiful and intimate family shows and having the footfall at these places that the traditional christmas show has, could allow these companies to go further in entertaining your family.

2. Singing

City corners become the temporary dwelling of choirs and small groups, people hum along to the brass band, everyone knows the words to Christmas songs, whether its Mariah Carey or Slade. I had a realisation in a singing group for toddlers the other day that I was resisting singing the Bruce Springsteen version of ‘ Santa Claus is coming to town”. If anything makes people feel better its the singing.  We have scientific evidence to support this (http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zcc7tyc), you don’t need 3 eggnogs and a baileys to slur your way through Last Christmas at the staff Party. You could join a choir, go to open mic night or head out for Karaoke. Sing with your kids, sing to your Nan, your Brothers, your Dad!

karaoke
How happy does this dog look?!

3. Food

As I said above not the quantity (although that is great too), but all of sudden the most unexpected people are talking in culinary wizardry. They did 3 birds last year, this year their trying 5, their taking notes on Masterchef and Nigella. They have soaked the fruit for the christmas cake from the 27th December last year. the world is full of surprises, but gastronomy at Christmas is perplexing. Your Uncle Brian who doesn’t even know how to scramble an egg, is quoting Heston Blumenthal on making the perfect Persian Spiced Christmas Pudding. I mean, come on Brian, you thought Cumin was something very different in May! However if Uncle Brian rocked out those persian fusion dishes the rest of the year, then I’d be round his house for dinner more. (I don’t actually have an Unlce Brian.)

4. Goodwill

Friendly, helpful and a co operative attitude. Can you IMAGINE?!?!? This would be a completely different country right now if Goodwill was rolled out year round the way it is at Christmas time. We might notice each other more, we might stick up for each other more and we might listen more. This has been complicated by the boom in social media. We now have a soap box in which we can reel off our thoughts, without maybe a backward glance to what we wrote a week later and who we may have hurt in the long run. If we could share our opinions in person, I think we would be more understanding to one and other. We would find a way of working through difference co operatively. Social Media can be a friendly place, and many people are full of Goodwill year round, but if was there in the way it is at Christmas, I’m sure we all wouldn’t be looking at Scandinavia so longingly.

5. Charity

Here is where social media is an incredibly powerful tool. My Facebook newsfeed is filled with folk sharing the work of charities that they are supporting. From Lemn Sissay’s Care Leavers Christmas Dinner to Shelter, from local level charities collecting Christmas Hampers for those without, like Barakah Food Aid to funding campaigns like Bloody Good Period who bring sanitary products to women who can’t access them. It’s brilliant and inspiring to see all these forces of good and people getting behind them. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to see our level of generosity and action rolled out through the rest of the year?

So unlike Wizzard, I’m not wishing for Christmas every day, but I would like the positivity and the great atmosphere that this time of year brings to the forefront.

Although listening to The Darkness, Christmas Time, throughout the year would be great.

Categories
AtoZ: Voice Change Exercise Organs of speech Voice Voice work

A to Z Voice: C is for Clarity

A lot of clients come through the door chasing clarity, feeling like they are mumbling or loosing their thread when they are talking.

Earlier in this A-Z Voice series, I talked about Articulation. This work concentrated on the relationship between the soft palette and the tongue. This time I would like to concentrate on the Jaw.

The jaw is one of the most powerful muscles in the body. Think what we put our jaws through! How we might clench our jaws or grind our teeth. These things put unnessary strain and energy into a part of our body that we need to be loose and soft. Not sure? Try speaking throigh clenched teeth and you can hear our locked your voice is.

It may seem that your voice is fixed just because of a locked jaw but if you try and move you tongue up and down with a fixed jaw, it’s fairly immobile compared to when the jaw is soft and flexible.

Our tongue is one of our main articulators. If this is restricted in any way that our diction is not so hot. The root of the tongue is also anchored into a piece of cartilage called the Hyoid bone. Also suspended from the Hyoid bone is our vocal chords. We need our vocal chords to move up and down. So if we have a locked jaw and a fixed tongue we have restricted vocal chords, this all contributes to a flat, dull voice that sounds like it’s uninterested in the ideas it shares or the audience it speaks for.

The good news is that this is something that can be worked on. One simple way to combat Jaw tension is to have a really good yawn. Something that I am sure we can all do!

Categories
Change Discussions Education Exercise Public Speaking Voice Voice work

In my dream society….

In my dream society, all members have a voice. Everyone has a space to share their opinions, thoughts and feelings. Freedom of speech is the essence of the place I’d like to inhabit. In most ways, this is in place in the world I inhabit. However, the difference between my dream world and reality is that everyone has the ability to understand the power of their voice. Not just in the content, but in the vocal mechanism itself.

Through teaching for the last ten years, it has become apparent to me, that most people think that individuals are gifted with a beautiful speaking voice. A voice that eases into their listener’s ears and transports us with their stories, awakens us with their ideas and moves us with their view. Maybe some people are lucky to have been born with this skill. However I believe that everyone can unleash this marvellous power and use their voice to their full potential, if they are shown how.

In my dream society this is something we would teach to children as part of mainstream schooling, so as adults they contribute to society confidently and freely. In the world we inhabit, children may access this through extra curricular activities. Those who practice the creative and expressive arts are more likely to have confidence in their voice.

As adults in the society we live in, we can feel the divide between those who have accessed this and those who have not. However we perceive it as raw, unlearnable talent. This is it not the case, a clear, confident, authentic voice is available to us all, if we choose to engage with training that explores and deepens our understanding.

In learning these things, we free our voice. In freeing our voice, we share our ideas. In sharing our ideas, we evolve and grow our communities.

My dream society isn’t as unattainable as perhaps it first seems. Maybe yours isn’t either.

Categories
Change Creativity Education Listening Opinion Story Telling Voice

Once upon a time lasts forever

0562333a751cc59a1b96f3fb8d282114-reading-quotes-reading-books

 

I stumbled across the above quote, and it resonates incredibly powerfully. Early on this summer I completed a course called The Performer’s Playground with ClownLab. It was a 12 week exploration of playfulness. We had a lot of conversation about finding the joy or the fun in something and enjoying being beautiful even if we were playing something ugly. How do we create fun or channel playfulness?

On reflection, I think the things that inhibit me are the parameters that I  have either set myself or the the ones that I have allowed others to set for me – ‘the table of do’s and don’ts‘ as Pullman calls it. There are a list of things I can do and a list of things I can’t do. I wrote a while back about Growth Mindset, the idea that through a shift in personal attitude can alter our potential. How do we know that our personal attitude needs to shift? How do we believe that our potential is unlimited?

Neil Gaiman wrote in Coraline “Fairy tales are more then true; Not because they tell us the Dragons exist, but because they tell us that Dragons can be beaten”.

22dcff855e9d55c56c9425e0e8c8fea1
illustrations by F. D. Bedford  J.M. Barrie’s Peter & Wendy

Stories allow us to see that we can do, or be anything. Some of our favourite characters in our most loved tales and stories have the hardest start; they are orphans. Harry Potter to Cinderella; Superman to Peter Pan; Mowgli to Sophie in the BFG. Their world has been disrupted in a way that no one would want for a child.  Yet, these characters go on amazing adventures, and overcome huge obstacles and show a resourcefulness and resilience to find their way through. Peter Pan has no ‘list of right or wrongs’ just a love of play and make believe. His game playing allows him survive and outwit his enemies.

The art of oral storytelling transcends age, ethnicity, education, borders and gender whilst also recording and reflecting our difference in those things. This kind of storytelling is a shared act between teller and listener. Jane B. Wilson tells us in her book The Story Experience, “Those who tell tales are both speakers and listeners. They have heard and remember”.

We are all storytellers and we are all listeners, if we allow ourselves the possibility to listen. We can all believe that we can do more, be more then we think we are. If we see others have defeated the bad guys, maybe we can too.

“The listener is caught and whirled into a talk, living for a single moment in the good, the great, the naughty, the lost. The tellers voice awakes dreams and spins stuff for thought; incites to contemplation.”

The Story Experience, Jane B. Wilson

 

 

 

Categories
AtoZ: Voice Change Discussions Opinion Voice

A to Z Voice: M is for Mindset.

I was thinking I would be logical and deliver this series of blogs alphabetically but it actually turns out that my creative brain won’t beat to the drum of alphabetical order!

Here I am, jumping in at the letter M! In one to one coaching I am always finding that people’s opinion of their own voices is actually a bit of a barrier when it comes to working on their voice.

Your voice is a deeply personal vessel, that centres you and connects you to the world around you. Maybe someone has made comment on you voice previously or you feel you struggle to be heard? Maybe you really don’t like the sound of your own voice? Maybe some people’s voices are better then others.

This last idea is a common thought. A good speaking voice is a natural talent. Some people are just talented. It makes me think of the Iceberg analogy of only seeing what’s above the surface….

img_7504

I don’t believe that a strong speaking voice is a birth right belonging to a lucky and articulate few. Like anybody can sing, anybody can find authenticity, connectivity and confidence in their voice.

However the first step on the journey to finding your voice is most likely a case of changing how you view your voice. Dr Carol Dweck, psychologist, coined the terms ‘growth’ mindset and ‘fixed’ mindset. It looks like this:

img_7503

This principle is obviously applicable to more then just your relationship to your voice, it’s to do with your outlook on yourself and the world. Growth Mindset is simple, accessible and possible for all. We just have to put it in to practice.

Categories
Change Exercise Voice Voice work

A to Z Voice: B is for Breath

Breath is the driving force four body. We take 17,000-30,000 breaths in a day. That’s 7,363,289 breaths per year. However, how often does our breath end up taking for granted?

flowerduet-babysbreath-closeup
Babies take 30 or more breaths per minute.

Your breath is a magical force. It gets your heart going, provides a platform for speech, it can work you up or it can calm you down.

I would like to invite you to take some time to get to know your breath.

Sit down comfortably somewhere where you feel warm and safe and close your eyes. Now breath in through your nose and as you breath in take the time to follow the journey of that breath, where you feel it is traveling to in the body. Keeping you jaw soft, let the breath out again. Repeat this for a few cycles.

On the next in breath imagine that the breath is travelling all the way through your body as you breath in. It comes in through the nose and travels all the way down to your feet. It travels through the head and the face. The arms and the shoulders. The chest, the spine, the stomach. In and across the hips and down through the thighs, the knees, the lower legs until it reaches the feet. Repeat this a few times.

Now on the next out breath imagine that the breath is travelling up from the feet and out of the body. Take your time to enjoy the feeling of air passing all the way through each and every part of the body. Repeat this a few times.

Now take the  time to observe what happens between the in breath and the out breath. Does it stop and start or does it flow continuously. Try not to force yourself to do anything, just allow your breath cycle to come to your natural rhythm.

Now bring the awareness back to the way your body feels, any sound you can here in and out of the room. and write down three words that describe how you feel.

Try this exercise for 5 days and let me know what your words were? Did they change. How did you feel?

 

 

Categories
AtoZ: Voice Change Exercise Organs of speech Voice Voice work

AtoZ -Voice: A is for Articulation

This is the first of a series of short blogs that will introduce folk to new ideas/ exercises about their voice. places-of-articulation-2-638

Good articulation needs strength, flexibility and calm! The fluffing of words or tripping over our sentences when we nervous are a good sign to your articulation needing improvement.

The Soft palette is like the unseen articulator as it is right at the back of your mouth. The palette is the roof of your mouth. Its in divided into two areas. The hard palette which has almost no give and the soft palette which is a fleshy bit of tissue. Improving flexibility in the soft palette will not only improve articulations but it will also help with colour and cadence in the voice. Opera Singers have incredibly flexible soft palettes and Beat boxers can achieve amazing sounds through clicks and tongue placement using their soft palette

If you make a ‘k’ sound you can feel the back of your tongue raising to meet the roof of you mouth, but what you may not feel is that your soft palette is also coming down to form this closure the ‘k’ sound is made when this join comes apart like a tiny explosion. In fact ‘k’ is a sound belonging to a group on consonants called plosives.

So if you repeat a ‘k’ sound your are working the two articulators -your tongue and your soft palette.  ‘g’ is made in exactly the same way but this time in stead of the sound being carried out solely on air. The vocal folds come engaged and their is now sound with it.

Try this repeating the following:

k-k

k-k-k

k-k-k-k-k

velar
Velar: A sound produced with the back of the tongue near the soft palette

k-k-k-k-k-k

g-g-g-g-g-g

g-g-g-g-g

g-g-g

g-g

 

Play around with strength of closure

tempo, volume and rhythm.

k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g

k-g-k-g-k-g-k-g-k-g-k

k-g-g  g-k-k  k-g-g  g-k-k

g-k-k   g-k-k  g-k-k  g-k-k

So there you have it A is for Articulation!

 

Categories
Exercise Listening presentations Public Speaking Voice Voice work

Are you listening comfortably?

A big factor in improving outgoing communication skills, is improving in coming communication skills. You will be a more effective speaker if you are a better listener. When I talk about listening, I’m talking about more than the ability to receive words from the mouth of others. I’m talking about our ability to read a situation, and hear more then the words that are being spoken. Take some time and reflect on some of the following areas, and ask yourself ‘Am I really listening?’

Posture

How are you stood? Are you stood or sat in a way that is receptive to information? Are you huddled over? Are you arms or legs crossed? Where are you looking? The ground, the ceiling? At the person speaking? How aware of your body are you? Take the time to reflect on these things at various points during the day. It doesn’t take long. Just check in with yourself.

Try standing feet hip width apart, feet parallel, going directly ahead of you. Knees soft, not bent or locked. A sense of widening across your hips and shoulders. Spine lengthening up to the ceiling and shoulders dropping down your back. Arms gentle dropping dow your sides. Let’s call this position neutral. It may feel a little uncomfortable, if it does, its a sign that you don’t stand like this habitually which most of us don’t. In this position, however, you are ready. To speak, to move, to respond and to listen. You will be able to hear what’s going on with a much greater understanding. This position allows your breath to flow with greater fluidity making it easier for those messages to reach your brain. Try the opposite. Try standing feet together, knees locked, buttocks clenched, shoulders hunched, hands making tight fists and head stuck forward. Bring you attention to your breath? How does it feel? Shallow? Tight? Restricted?

Now soften all these things and find that neutral position. Check your breath now. It should feel softer and easier.

The Mechanics of Breathing

What do you actually know about breathing? More specifically what do you know about the way you breath? The above exercise should enlighten you as to the way a constricted body stops us breathing effectively. Bring you attention to your breath. If it helps, lie down on the floor. See the image below.

 

imagescacm6h8bYou may what to put a yoga mat beneath you, but ideally you are lying on a solid surface such as the floor. Your head needs to be slightly raised in order to have alignment through your spine and neck. A book or a yoga block are useful. Your feet should be flat on the floor, knees hip width apart and pointing up the ceiling. This position flattens your back into the floor. Your hands can rest on your stomach or by your sides.

Bring you attention to the centre of your torso, How much can you feel the air travelling in and out? Are you sucking, or dragging or pulling big gulps of air or are you taking very small breaths? Take a look at this picture below.

breathing-diaphragm

How much can you feel you abdomen expanding as your breath in? What is the quality of this movement? Is sharp and forceful? is subtle and soft? Take your attention to the out breath. Are you pushing out powerfully, or is it quite weak? Imagine your diaphragm within your body? Imagine it like a jelly fish, floating on the tide. It contracts downwards as your breath in and relaxes upwards as your breath out. Try not to change it or alter it, find this gentle rhythm.

We have two groups of muscles that we use when we breath. Primary muscles (essential for full breathing) and Secondary muscles. The primary muscles sit lower in the torso and do most of the bulk of the work. These muscles are generally large and strong as they must work over 22,000 times each day. The diaphragm is in this group of muscles and  like the heart, works relentlessly without fatigue. The secondary muscles are higher in the body and act as auxiliary helpers. They give us adaptability in the way that we breath. These muscles are smaller and more delicate. They can act powerfully for short periods of time, such as catching your breath after running fast. They tire easily and quickly.

With modern living and work conditions we quite often neglect to keep these primary muscles in good shape in order to maintain good breath support. There are those, who do actively work the abdominal muscles when it comes to exercises, but their is preference in society for men and women to have toned flat stomachs and stomach crunches are quite oftened practiced to achieve this. The problem with working the muscle group in that way, is that it is actually restricting the muscles. We need strength and flexibility, which is why yoga or pilates is a much better exercise to practice for improved flexibility, strength and breath support.

Good breath support will enable you to receive information better as well as speak with greater clarity.

Take your Time

A huge factor that effects our ability to receive information, is the fast paced cycles of living that we are placed in. Our minds are a huge vat of soup, with all sorts of ingredients floating through them. Deadlines, childcare, loved ones, meetings, emails, appointments and people. In her opening chapter of her book Presence, Patsy Rodenburg (Voice coach, Theatre Director and Writer) tells us how anthropologists research shows us that we really only capable on connecting with 400 people in our lifetime. If you apply this to modern, urban living, it is clear that we could easily come into contact with 400 people in a day. Then there are online platforms in which we receive information about others. Social Media is a wonderful things but we know that while we have increased connectivity, our appetites from human contact and communication are  possibly not fulfilled. We increasingly feel removed and lonely.

It is not always possible to reduce the amount of people you come into contact with in a day. However, it is possible to switch off. Turn off your phone for an hour everyday and do something you love. It could be reading, or writing or crocheting a new hat. When meeting friends, place you phone on silent and keep it in your pocket or bag. When it comes to eating, leave you phone in another room. While it may not reduce the people you are coming into contact with, or the pressures of your time, it will make you feel more present. Part of the process in slowing things down is allowing yourself to take your time.

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Sylvia Plath

 

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher and Storyteller based in South Manchester. to find out more about her work, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk.

 

 

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Speaking and Listening

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