Voice Work for Listening

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Can we harness our breathing to have a peaceful inner flow (like this river!) while we listen, so we can cultivate compassionate listening? 

Talking is only one side of communication. And sometimes, when I look at the larger sociopolitical landscape of our world, it seems like there is a lot of talking. Platforms are sprouting up everywhere that allow people to make their viewpoints known across any medium. There seems to be much value placed on self-expression across these multiple platforms. This is why communication coaching on how you talk can be so valuable.

However, what seems to be lacking across these platforms is any emphasis on the importance of listening. Whether we’re talking about Twitter or a difficult face-to-face discussion, the only value seems to be on getting heard. I as a communication coach am often guilty of this. I want to empower people’s voices— that is at the heart of what I do. Sometimes, though, I’m putting too much emphasis on being heard, and not balancing that out with teaching my clients to listen, which actually, for many of us, is the harder thing to do: listening without interrupting, listening without immediately reacting, taking the time to consider another point of view— listening compassionately.

With that in mind, if you would like to train yourself to be a better listener, here are some simple steps to follow the next time you are in conversation. These steps are particularly important if you are having a difficult discussion or talking to someone whose opinion you disagree with.

Step 1: Breathe. I cannot talk enough about how crucial this step is. A lot of us hold our breath while we are listening to others. Sometimes this is why we can become so reactive— because our bodies are starting to panic from lack of oxygen. You don’t have to control your breathing, just make sure you aren’t holding it. You can even notice how what you are hearing is affecting your breathing rhythm. Breathe throughout the listening process and use your breathing to help you allow the other person to make their whole point (instead of interrupting halfway through). This also keeps you from focusing on preparing what you’re going to say next, which is what most of us do when we are listening, rather than actually listening. And definitely take another breath right before you respond, to make sure you don’t launch into a reaction you will regret later.

Step 2: Stay aware of your body. Often, especially when a viewpoint is difficult to hear, our energy tends to shoot upwards and we lose our grounding. This can lead to holding the breath and all of the pitfalls of breath-holding that are mentioned above. So keep checking in with where you are being supported by whatever surface you’re on while you’re listening. If you are sitting, where do you feel supported by the surface you’re sitting on? If you’re standing, where do you feel supported by the floor? It’s possible to be aware of these sensations as you listen to the other person talking, and helps you stay grounded as you do so.

Step 3: Listening is not about being an open receptacle for other people’s thoughts and feelings. You are allowed to have thoughts and emotions about what other people are saying. You are human too. Non-reactive communication and allowing others to speak does not mean you don’t get to feel. But using your breathing and awareness of your body to stay grounded helps you to acknowledge those feelings without immediately communicating them, including nonverbally, while someone is talking (which is another way of interrupting). Clock your feelings, allow them in, but keep breathing and grounding yourself so that you can honor that it’s someone else’s airtime. When it’s your turn, you’ll get to voice how you feel. Giving yourself this time also allows for a shift to happen in how you feel, if that’s in the cards.

Step 4: Be aware of how much space you are taking in the conversation. If you are doing all the talking, then you’ve left no room for listening. Start to monitor, in your daily life, how much you are doing the talking when in conversation. If you’re noticing a pattern of over 50% talking over 50% of the time, consider making an adjustment. Stretch those listening muscles. I have had students in the past who have misinterpreted an empowered voice with being able to talk for as long as they wanted to, and thinking that others would just have to listen until they were done because they had the right to speak. That is no longer empowered or empowering communication. Empowered communication, in my humble view, also seeks to empower others. If it becomes about talking as much as you want, all that is is an attempt to dominate. I believe that my students were simply overcorrecting. If you feel you may be overcorrecting as well, use this awareness of space to find balance.

Listening is not easy, which is why we have to train! Try to implement these simple steps, maybe even one at a time at first, and notice what happens in your personal and professional relationships. We truly believe that listening is the missing key to a lot of current world events, both big-scale and small-scale. We would love to hear how it’s going for you!

take good care,

Christine

Wonder Woman Warm Up

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Hi Friends,

Happy New Year! This Wonder Woman-inspired audio guide is designed to help you start out 2018 communicating to yourself and to others in a strong, supported way. There’s a story behind this post. While I was on my way home for the holidays, I decided to finally watch ‘Wonder Woman.’ I was on a plane and, thankfully, I had the whole row to myself, because I had about three uncontrollable sobbing fits while watching this movie. I am not exaggerating. I was hiding my head behind my pillow as tears streamed down my face and my body was shaking with tears. It was dramatic.

I cried the first time because it was such a relief and a joy to watch women warrior training sequences and see women’s bodies being so empowered. I cried the second and 3rd times because I realized the main character, Wonder Woman, had no shame. What must it be like to have no shame about yourself whatsoever, about your body, your power, your sexuality, your intelligence, because no one ever taught you to feel it or tried to make you feel it? I was crying at the beauty and possibility of that idea. It was a deep couple of hours.

That is exactly what I want to spread in my voice and communication coaching– teaching people how to embody and express their ideas, passions, thoughts and emotions compassionately and with no shame. This warm up is designed to help you do just that. You do not have to be a woman to do it– just a human being who is interested in finding your full communication potential, including tackling the way you communicate with yourself. You’ll work on physical presence, energy, breath, supporting your voice, empowering your self-talk, and practice speaking about your passions/beliefs/curiosities. All in one 20-minute sequence!

Before you do this warm up, if you don’t know what ‘breath support’ is, please listen to one of our other audio guides on breath support. You can find two of them here and here. Understanding that idea will be key to this audio-guide!

I hope this helps you start off 2018 the right way. Please let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine

Mind Your Energy!

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Hello Friends!

As you might have guessed, the photo above was taken from a skyscraper in central London (we have mixed feelings about skyscrapers in London but they do make for some beautiful views). What struck me on that particular day was the contrast of the stillness, the peace, the lightness of the sky in that high up glass space with what I knew was layered underneath it: all kinds of energy moving in every direction, buzzing throughout the city from every floor of the buildings to the street, to the trains rumbling through the underground. It was a moment of accepting the power of stillness simultaneously existing with the power of dynamic energy.

That feeling is the inspiration for this week’s audio guide. It’s a brief guided meditation designed to connect you with the energetic voice, a moment of calm before you step into a more energetic situation, or when you’d simply like to have the moment of calm.

Let us know what you think!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay & Christine

Voice Work for Focus and Concentration

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Hey friends,

Meet Dotty, short for Dorothy Boots. Christine is fostering Dotty for the month while she’s in between homes, and, wow, do cats teach you a lot about voice work! Partly because Dotty is a very vocal kitty, but also because cats provide such great examples of what it is to be fully relaxed or fully engaged–  fully present. We love this picture because it shows such an open, curious sense of focus.

That is what this week’s audio guide is all about: using voice work to help you find a sense of focus and concentration. A little-known side affect of the body work that comes along with working on the voice is that it’s great to help you tune in and gain a sense of focus and concentration. This sequence is useful if you are embarking on a new project, a new school year, a new job, or looking to renew your sense of focus towards your existing ventures. It gets your body releasing and breathing, builds your proprioception (your body’s sense of itself) and in so doing, helps quiet the mind.

We would love to hear from you! How was this sequence helpful to you? What would you like to see more of? Feel free to comment below and let’s start a dialogue. Make your voice heard! Please also share with any family/friends you think might find this useful.

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

 

Get the Edge…with Vocal Energy!!

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Photo taken from Pinterest because let’s be honest it’s hilarious, and if we stretch, we could all use a little more inner child in our vocal energy.

Hello Friends!!

On the cusp of spring turning into summer we find ourselves at another time that’s often full of transitions. For some it’s graduations and the beginning of careers, for others it’s internships and summer jobs, still others are preparing to absorb and develop that new talent. Projects are picking up, people are moving in new directions. There may be presentations, interviews, auditions, and teleconferences to contend with. In the spirit of all this, including the feelings of renewal and energy that the spring and summer bring, we wanted to plant the intention to find ways of imbuing your voice with that responsive and present energy. It can make all the difference.

In our work, which encompasses the vocal demands mentioned above, there is a sadness (and often a frustration) around the cut off potential of a de-energized voice. Not to say we both haven’t been there. It’s a terrible feeling when you’re in a tense environment with your throat feeling strangled and catching on words with cracks in the voice. Often this is imagined on a large scale with presentations and performances in front of a big audience. Today we ask you to consider the more intimate moments, like interviews, important phone calls, and team presentations. In these situations the unity of energized communication with the information being conveyed is invaluable, and done consistently, may provide a whole new range of opportunities.

To be clear, we don’t advocate skimming substance and expecting to get by on glibness. Know your stuff and do your prep work! From observation though, there are too many occasions where people’s nervousness interferes with their vocal energy and there’s a flatness that strips the vibrancy of their content. Sometimes there’s over compensation instead, but the de-energizing tendency is more common across the wider range of vocal pressure situations.

You deserve to embody your full energy and engagement in an important situation and your voice can be an invaluable asset in conveying that! So here are a few simple suggestions to remind you of this power before an important occasion.

-If you’re walking anywhere leading up to your occasion it is great to start by connecting breath with movement. I like to count ten steps on an inhale and then ten on an exhale. This will encourage sustained, supportive breath while you speak.

-Find somewhere private (bathrooms work pretty well) and take a few yawns with sound, an easy “ah” sound works well. Try to slide from the top of your voice down and from the bottom up.

-When you’re speaking see if it’s helpful to imagine your thoughts as beams of light (I like to picture mine as a nice golden beam). Send those beams to the person, or people, you’re talking to and imagine you need to sustain the energy of your message so that the beam can illuminate their face. The idea behind the metaphor is to maintain vocal energy all the way through each and every thought.

-Choose excitement over ennui. As a general observation, there can be a tendency to downplay knowledge, experience, and ideas in an attempt to “play it cool” or not convey emotion or not appear affected by the stakes of the situation. We are not advocating moving yourself to tears while discussing your skills, accomplishments, and insights, but be careful of the effects the ennui attitude can have on your voice. It can make you sound unenthusiastic and disinterested. And the concept of mirroring tells us that this can affect the people you’re interacting with. If you send messages of energetic enthusiasm people may well reciprocate that and recall energy and enthusiasm while thinking about YOU.

-Consider clothing. On important occasions we usually want to look our best, which is great. It’s helpful to bear in mind that when communication is a factor there may be a few helpful considerations: 1. Can you breathe comfortably? Wearing a super streamlined, restrictive piece of clothing may impact your ability to breathe and make sustaining vocal energy more of a challenge. Ideally opt for something that won’t overly restrictive. Especially around your shoulders, abdomen, lower belly, and hips.
2. Can you stand/walk/get a connection with the ground? Whether what you’re doing involves sitting, standing or more movement, consider your footwear. If you’re super comfortable in high heels that’s great, wear the pair you feel most grounded and powerful in. If you’re not a heels person, maybe stick with that instinct. Where heels aren’t involved avoid shoes that pinch and squeeze. Impeding your ability to connect with solid ground is another way to literally (and metaphorically) throw yourself off balance. 3. Just a little positive energy tip, wear at least one thing that makes you feel fantastic. Whether it’s a clothing item, accessory, something no one will see, or a spritz of perfume, give yourself that secret extra boost.

Hopefully these vocal energy tips have given you some good food for thought. Let us know if you have anything to add or any feedback. We wish all the best to those celebrating milestones themselves or supporting the milestones of friends, family and loved ones.

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

Find your Ground! Connecting to Vocal Authority

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Hey Friends,

If you have ever been told that you don’t sound authoritative enough, or that you aren’t grounded enough, then this sequence is for you. This week, we explore finding an authoritative sound that feels authentic to you and helps you connect on a deeper level to what you are saying. It’s good for public speakers who want to convey their message with credibility and for actors (or anyone!)  who feel like their emotions cause them to constrict and lose their ground.

On another note, this week is BeSpoke’s birthday! March 8th will be our 1st anniversary of having a live site. Help us celebrate– comment below and let us know what your favorite post has been in the last year! We would also love to hear from you if there is something you would like us to cover.

So let’s all say together (authoritatively!)… Happy birthday BeSpoke!!!!!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

Open Your Heart! (Be our communication Valentines?)

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Hello Friends, 

So it’s mid-February, the Valentine’s Day displays are upon on us. They’re cheesy, some of them are fun, some of them makes us deeply frustrated with society, but at the very least it’s possible to find good deals on wine and chocolate regardless of your celebration inclinations.  We both like to be a bit “light-hearted,” if you will, (sorry I can’t help myself) about the holiday, so we thought let’s make a self-love sequence that focuses on keeping the heart open, literally and metaphorically.

Extremes in the chest impede our ability to breathe with ease and support. Collapse through rounded shoulders or forcing the chest forward through shoulders pressed back leaves the body vulnerable to tension and sends a consistent message of stress. Whatever your stance is on the metaphorical concept of an open heart, the physical situation bears on our ability to access our thoughts and feelings with clarity and presence. So grab an empowered, upright seat and take the time to give your heart some love this Valentine’s Day. That’s all we ask from our communication Valentines.

Let us know how it goes and remember:

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” -Oscar Wilde

Lots of Love,

Lindsay and Christine

The Clock: For Abdominal Release

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Hi Friends,

This week we’re offering a Shiatsu abdominal self-massage called “The Clock, ” which was introduced to Christine by her teacher, Catherine Fitzmaurice. Shiatsu is a type of Japanese massage that uses acupressure. This is a great abdominal release sequence for those of you who feel like you often walk around holding your abs in– not so useful for deep breathing or connected, supported speaking. You can do this sequence any time, but it can be particularly useful after having done an ab workout. Remember, a fully flexible muscle is one that can fully engage and can fully release. If you are only working out your muscles, they are only fully engaging, so over time they will grow tighter and tighter and lose their flexibility. Release work is therefore a really important antidote to any workout– to keep those muscles nice and flexible.

So find a comfy spot, wear some nice loose clothing, and enjoy!

Please let us know how your experience with this goes. We want to hear from you!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

Working the Balance: Listen and Be Heard

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Hello Friends!

What a week its been! First, the happiest news is that we were able to celebrate the rather wonderful birth of Christine, see below. Lindsay speaking for a moment: it was the brightest light being able to honor a dear friend who keeps my life full of laughter, love, lessons, hope,and of course quality food, and cocktails.

Now this was coupled with an inauguration, no secret if you read our post after the election, that we are deeply troubled by. However, it is our conviction not to be silenced by fear but to be courageous and stand with those who would progress equal rights,confront the battles of social justice, champion diversity, and address climate change.

The Women’s March on London was a fantastic place to start. It was filled with humor and passion, and the most AMAZING samba band to keep us going through packed streets and a delayed start due to the sheer numbers inundating Grosvenor square. In the intensity of this temporary community, brought together to be heard and show solidarity, it was striking how much listening there was to be done, from absorbing signs which covered subjects ranging from feminism to LGBTQIA to refugees to Black Lives Matter, to Climate Change, then there were the chants, and the conversations, and the simple directives that allowed the march to maintain its peaceful organization. There was something deeply moving about standing in the midst of these varied, yet aligned messages and feeling the energy of collective communication.

Communication and our choices around it will be a deeply impactful part of shaping the political climate and agenda as we move forward. Sometimes it will be a wonderful way to share and connect. Sometimes it will be much more challenging. We advocate basking in the connections and rising to the challenges wherever and whenever you’re able to. Maybe that’s in artistic expression, maybe it means being braver in your communication in everyday life. To be clear, this courageous expression needs to involve the balance of listening and being heard. Listening to understand, and not purely react, is no easy feat. Especially when what we’re hearing makes us uncomfortable. Responding from that place makes us more susceptible to losing our intention and dilutes the point we wanted to make. All this leads to to a scenario where neither party hears anything from the other.

We would like to encourage a communication practice that works to allow the most productive conversations possible. It is our hope that coming from a place of grounding and clarity may pave the way for understanding each other better. We also hope it will make those we’re speaking to more receptive, although depending on where they’re coming from this may be deeply challenging. Even if that is so, better to know we tried with integrity to build a bridge, rather than impose a wall.

Here are a few simple techniques we hope will serve you in that goal:

  • Establish the intention of this conversation for yourself. Be clear about what you are trying to understand through listening and the points you want to make by speaking.
  • Breathe to the person/people you’re speaking to. It may sound strange but try to direct you’re breathing toward them. The aim is to allow your abdominals to relax and take a full breath, if those you’re speaking to mirror you they will also be taking deeper breaths. Deep breathing combats stress hormones and will allow your thinking to remain clear.
  • Find your feet on the ground. Whether standing or sitting, actively feel your feet making contact with the surface beneath you. It’s a great reminder to be present in the moment and a literal way to “stand your ground.”
  • Notice any tension occurring in your body, especially in the face, neck, and shoulders. Try breathing to these places with the aim of allowing them to soften. Recognize this is a sign of defensiveness that may be unconsciously mirrored by the person/people you’re speaking to.

We recognize sometimes it’s necessary to be defensive to extricate yourself from a threatening situation, please be mindful and safe.

Let us know how it goes, good luck and stay present in listening and speech!

With Love,

Lindsay and Christine

 

 

 

 

Find Your Ground: Foot Massage Sequence

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Hey friends!

This is a joyous time of year, but the busyness of the holiday season can often feel a bit de-stablizing. This is a massage sequence to help you find your ground again. When you’re standing up, a good way to find your ground is to feel where your feet connect with the floor. You have three points of contact between your feet and the floor: the ball joint of the big toe, the ball joint of the little toe, and the heel. Together, they are shaped like a ‘tripod’, and balancing your weight across this tripod brings a sense of grounding that can help you stay present in the moment. Being grounded helps you breathe easier, which makes it easier to speak fluidly and clearly.

You can bring your awareness to your tripods anytime, but sometimes a little massage to that area can help increase your awareness and sensation in that area. And it just feels good! So give this a try, especially before a speech, show, Christmas pantomime, or hey, maybe even before a holiday party where you’ll be doing a lot of standing and talking. Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine and Lindsay