Vocal Energy: Stretch!

BeSpoke Stretch

Hello Friends!

In keeping with our back to school/Autumn kickoff vibe here is another quick sequence designed to activate your body so it’s prepared to support a full and energetic voice. We’ll be tackling the idea of vocal energy from a few angles over the next few months, and this will start by encouraging you to consider the effect of your physical behavior.

As always we’re keen to hear how it goes and whether you have any feedback. It’s so easy to sign up to receive emails when we post something new, so get on it!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay & Christine

Keeping it Fresh: setting goals & evolving your practice

 

Hello Friends!

If you’ve followed our posts for awhile you know we love considering all things cyclical and seasonal at BeSpoke Communication. So as summer draws to a close we are taking a few more opportunities to rest, travel, and spend time with family but we are also thinking about what’s next. Key to maintaining a communication skills and presence practice is assessing where you are and what you want focus on moving forward. The foundation of core components like supportive posture, breathwork, mindfulness, and articulation exercises will always be there but depending on where we find ourselves, our attention and approaches will shift and vary. So from time to time it’s worth thinking about what you need from your practice overall and how it can support your goals.

We’re taking some time to focus on this too. As our last post mentioned, we’ll have a little end of summer hiatus where we’ll be creating some new content together and ramping up our plans. It would be great to know what you would find beneficial, what you think about when it comes to communication skills, and how you like to work.

Don’t be shy! We’d love to hear from you.

To get the ball rolling, here are some prompts to get you thinking, writing, drawing about how you’re feeling, what areas are going well, where you’d like to place more attention, and what impact you want your communication skills to have on your life. We’re not trying to give anyone an existential crisis so this could be as simple as being confident in your next performance review or taking on a monologue in a new accent. Or it might be something bigger. It’s all about where you are and what you need.

  • What is going well in your practice right now?
    • Think of something physical that’s feeling good
    • Think about an aspect of your mindset that’s positive
    • Think of one of your favorite personal speaking habits
  • Where are you feeling challenged?
    • Are there physical obstacles for how you want to communicate?
    • Think of where you can cultivate some positivity in your mind
    • Is there a communication habit you would like to shift?
  • What are the goals you’re working towards right now? What would you like to be working towards?
    • Think of a few short term goals, perhaps consider these categories:
      • Personal
      • Professional
      • Family/relationships
    • Think of a few long term goals, again considering these categories:
      • Personal
      • Professional
      • Family/relationships
    • Using whatever arises think about how your communication skills can support these goals and areas of your life:
      • What skills will help you physically?
      • What will help mentally?
      • What habits do you hope to develop in your communications?

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought! Let us know how you get on and we’ll look forward to evolving together this autumn!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay & Christine

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

De-Stimulation Sequence

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Hi Friends,

Feeling a little spread thin or stressed out? Here is a sequence that uses mindful voice work to help you de-stimulate your nervous system and chill out. This sequence is great for relaxation all by itself, but also great for your voice. Relaxed bodies lead to more relaxed breathing which leads to easier speaking. So get into something comfy and create yourself a nice little atmosphere (why not a candle? Maybe some flowers? Who says voice work can’t be romantic?) and enjoy!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

 

Be a Springtime Blossom! Tips for Spring Allergies and Vocal Care

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Hello Friends!

First of all, Happy Spring! We are very happy to see flowers blooming, the days growing longer, and even getting that little bit warmer in London, although like all early spring days things are certainly changeable. For some (including me), this changeability can cause imbalances in the sinuses and, trying to be as tasteful as possible, hefty production of mucus, which can leave my throat itchy and uncomfortable with post-nasal drip and bring an unhealthy rasp to my voice. It’s not fun and can impact range, breath support, and resonance. But no one should miss out on the fun of spring and of course there are always ways to support ourselves through pungent, pollinated times.

To that end, we thought it would be helpful to share some strategies for coping with the allergy and sinus challenges spring can pose. Because we are not ENTs or allergists these are not medical suggestions but natural means for relief that we have found effective. Please ensure you seek the advice of a doctor for your allergies, especially if you’re being severely affected. We just hope these thoughts will encourage some mindful self-care.

1. Starting with the obvious and eternal advice: HYDRATE

We regularly mention hydration on this blog so I’ll stick to the spring-relevant points here. When temperatures are going up and we’re feeling warmer and perhaps sweating a bit more, drinking hydrating fluids is very important for overall health. In the case of assisting allergies and sinuses, maintaining a good level of hydration can dilute mucus thickness and combat the drying effect that allergy medications like antihistamines and decongestants have on the throat. Just remember drinking water does not instantly hydrate your throat, vital organs reap the benefits first. By some measures it takes at least 20 minutes for your throat and vocal folds to feel any benefit of drinking water while some sticklers say overall hydration is only achieved after 4 hours. Don’t drive yourself crazy with these timelines, just drink throughout the day. A glass of water first thing in the morning and before bed will help too. Spring is a great time of year to make some trendy water infusions so pile in the mint, strawberry, and cucumber!

2. Take a sinus rinse…NETI POT

We could probably write an entire manifesto on Neti pots. Using them has been a game-changer in terms of caring for our voices while living in a big city and suffering from sensitive sinuses. Because they only use salt packets and water we’ve found them to be a great alternative to nasal sprays. Neti pots and salt packets can be found in the allergy treatment sections of drugstores or on Amazon. A written explanation of how to use them is difficult but luckily the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene has a video on the subject. Check it out and see what you think. For our part, we’ve looked back.

3. Soothing Smells…AROMATHERAPY

This is a simple suggestion, but sometimes experiencing lots of congestion during warmer weather can feel very oppressive. A little essential oil action can go a long way. My preferred oils for this scenario are peppermint and eucalyptus. Just putting a few drops on a tissue, holding it to my nose and gently breathing in goes a long way. I also like to place a few drops on my pillow before bed. Whether it’s essential oils or a lavender infused eye pillow, soothing smell and sensory stimulation can be an easy way to alleviate pressure and provide yourself with some lovely smells!

4. Maintain useful habits…BREATHE AND MOVE

When we don’t feel well it’s tempting to feel like moving should be put on the back burner. Despite this, stretching and tying movement to breath offers the chance to find gentle relief through working muscles and moving the breath, which will gently work on the throat and sinuses. Turning to Adriene again, this is a sequence I like to do when I’m feeling particularly bad (it’s really great for a bad cold as well as allergies).

5. Fresh air, plenty of sleep, good food…SELF CARE

When your allergies are making you all kinds of sniffly don’t shut the windows and stay in a stuffy room, let some air in and get outside. It will help you acclimate to the changes in pollen levels and avoid the dust you find indoors. Pair this with getting enough sleep and eating plenty of good vitamin-packed foods. Dust off that nutri bullet, personal blender, giant blender and make some smoothies! In short, find ways to give yourself extra healthy support.

Please let us know what you find most helpful and we would love to hear your favorite strategies!

Take Care and Be Well,

Lindsay and Christine

The Value of Process

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“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” — John C. Maxwell

Lindsay wrote an (in my humble opinion) important post a couple of months ago about the significance of creating your consistency in your voice/communication practice. In this post she made a crucial point: voice and communication training can’t only happen in the classroom or with a coach if you really want life-long change. Skills and techniques have to be practiced consistently on your own if you really want to instill permanent shifts.

Why? Because when you are working on your voice, you are facing strong habits that are deeply instilled in your body’s muscle memory. For the voice to truly change, it requires a process of consciously changing those habits. We are the first to admit: changing habits is hard. As Rob Gilbert says: “First we form habits, then they form us.”

In my experience, changing habits doesn’t happen with a quick fix. It’s a process. At first, this process can feel daunting, but if you stick to it, the process itself is the reward, and you may make new discoveries you were never intending to make along the way.

This post is for everyone who is afraid of or feels overwhelmed by the “process.” It’s especially for my students who ask me after only a short time of working together (or even in our first session), “How can I change my voice without having to think about it?” My answer is— you can’t. But you can reap tremendous rewards by becoming conscious about your voice use (or becoming conscious, in general!). To illustrate the benefits of process, I would like to share with you a snippet of my own story.

My whole life, I’ve wanted to be an actress (except for my very early years, when I wanted to be a teacher— see how things come full circle?). I was very impatient about it. I got my BA in theatre at an institution in the States that had very little voice or movement training. I moved to New York immediately after graduating, and wanted success now now now. I felt tremendous social and financial pressure to be a successful working actress, to prove to everyone that I was good enough to be in this profession. But because of my lack of vocal and movement training, I didn’t have the chops. I had some good instincts, but I didn’t have enough of a relationship with my body, and my voice was tight and couldn’t carry in large spaces. A little voice in my heart kept saying that if I really wanted this, I was going to have to go back to school. This was extremely distressing, as it disrupted my plan of having success NOW. It felt like too much of a hurdle to jump— to disrupt the life I was building in New York to go back to school. So instead, I started making small changes, in manageable bites. Here was the progression:

I had always hated working out. I have never been very flexible and had bad memories of breathing problems when I was in school physical education classes, so I used to avoid working out because it brought up memories of shame and inadequacy. However, because I didn’t work out or have any kind of movement training, I had no relationship with my body. This meant that in rehearsals, even if I had a strong mental connection to the characters I was playing, I struggled to embody them. A teacher I was working with at the time told me— if you are serious about acting, you have to cultivate a relationship with your body.

I started slowly— with a few stretches every morning, no more than about 5 minutes. I realized quickly that those 5 minutes were making a huge difference to the rest of my day. So I increased that time to a 20-minute pilates video every morning. Twenty minutes is a lot to add to your morning routine, but within a few weeks I couldn’t imagine my mornings without this time. It was the time I woke up, came into my body, and set the tone for the rest of my day. My interest in mind-body connection eventually led me to yoga, which, thanks to technology and youtube channels, I practice now almost daily. This consistent practice has completely revolutionized my life. I went from a person who had no connection to her body to, through mindful, consistent, incremental practice over several years, has a daily habit of connecting to herself physically. I successfully made this shift by choosing a kind of work out that I love, that makes me feel good. I truly enjoy my yoga practice, so I look for ways of fitting it into my day.

This connection with my body made me increasingly aware of my disconnection with my voice. I began taking voice classes on my own, and perhaps like some of you, I hoped that things would magically change in class. Luckily, I had good teachers who were insistent that I find a way of making this work my own— of practicing at home. Based on my previous experience with building a work out routine, I knew I needed to start small, then build. I also knew that I needed to find a kind of voice work that I enjoyed, so that it wouldn’t feel like a chore. For me, that’s Fitzmaurice Voicework(R). I started practicing 5/10 minutes a day, but because I enjoyed the work so much, that time continued to grow, and again, I looked actively for ways to make that practice a part of my daily routine. In fact, I became so enamored with the changes I was noticing, that, in the end, I did uproot my whole life to go back to school— but for something different than I originally intended. I moved to London to train to be a voice teacher.

What started as small, incremental changes to my daily routine led eventually to a whole life shift. This kind of growth could only happen because I stuck to and trusted my process. When I talk about it in hindsight, it all seems very rosy. But the process is always filled with struggle and pitfalls. Struggle and pitfalls are an important part of learning— and  I am learning that struggle is often the step before a big discovery— an important part of the process to move through, rather than to avoid, if I want to get to the next step.

So that is my story. To sum it up, if you want to change something in a big way, start small. Think about something you can add to your daily routine, and then stick to it and watch what grows. It may take you in a totally different direction than you ever intended. What a delightful surprise that could be!

Please let us know what steps you are taking in your daily routine, and what your struggles and triumphs are. We would love to start a dialogue with you. Let’s make process cool again!

Christine & Lindsay

The Eyes: Finding an Aligned Perspective

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Hi Friends,

Look at this poor monster waiting for the bus stop. (My partner took this picture in Brooklyn in 2012– the “monster” was shooting a cold medicine commercial.) He is almost standing in his alignment, but because his eyes are looking down, his whole head-neck relationship is off and he has shortened himself.

Thinking about how you use your eyes (and how you see the world) is an easy way to check in with your alignment and your perspective. Being in your alignment is key to finding groundedness, presence, and grace. It also makes breathing easier, which makes speaking easier. This will be an especially useful sequence for you if you tend to get rigid when finding your alignment, or if you tend to hyper-focus with your vision.

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine and Lindsay

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

 

 

 

 

Get Vocal about New Year’s Resolutions!

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Happy New Year everyone! We hope you had a festive and restful holiday season. We both got to go home for Christmas, and both had a great time visiting friends and family. But now we are back and ready for 2017.

January is always an interesting time. A time of recovering from the holidays and getting back to reality, but also a time filled with hope and newness— a chance to reflect, shift perspectives, try on new habits. You may have already made some personal new year’s resolutions, but have you thought about how you would like to grow vocally in 2017?

These are some shaky times we live in, and this would be a good year to cultivate a strong voice— you may need it! The more mindful you can be about setting yourself some goals for your vocal growth and health, the more likely you are to stick to them. Here are some good examples of New Year’s Resolutions* for the voice:

  1. Incorporate a voice warm-up into your regular routine. Voice work is like exercise, the more you do, the more you’ll notice a lasting change and impact. As we always say, a little often is better than a lot sometimes. Even 5 minutes a day every day is better than none at all. Start small and see how it grows from there. If you get lost for warm up ideas, use our audio guides to guide you! This one is a good place to start.
  2. Make speaking from support a consistent habit. Habits take time to form, and new, healthier vocal habits often have to be formed quite consciously, because they involve un-doing less healthy habits. Speaking from support on a regular basis will not only keep your voice healthy, but will help you speak from a place of connection and engagement. So make this a priority this year— if supporting your voice is not your habit, then begin to get conscious. Every time you speak, ask yourself: am I supporting this? And if not, do it! But do take this in digestible bites. Maybe start with only your phone conversations. Then at least one in-person conversation a day. Then work your way up to thinking about this every time you speak.We have excellent audio guides that describe what “support” is and help you find it here, here, here and here.
  3. Practice Listening. Voice work is about a lot more than just working on the sound of your own voice— it’s about becoming an engaging and engaged speaker. Being engaged requires the ability to listen and receive, something this world will be in desperate need of in 2017! We can all get better at listening, which just like anything else, is a practice. A good place to start is to practice listening to yourself. Voice warm ups provide a good platform for this self-listening. What does your body/voice/mind/spirit need today to warm up and be present? Here are some good mindful voice work audio guides that can help you practice. Then the question becomes, how can you transfer this practice into listening to others?
  4. Be generous with your speech. This is purposefully worded broadly, because you can take that in many directions. Be generous with your words and your approach to others. Also, be generous to others by speaking clearly, sending them your sound and clearly articulating your words, so that they don’t have to work to hear you. You will sound more committed to what you are saying because you are willing to be heard, but you will also engage your audience more because they can just focus on your words, rather than on trying to understand you. (I use that term audience loosely— it could be a theatre audience or your mom.) Here and here are some good audio guides that can help you find that clear speech.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully a good starting place to get you thinking about how you would like to grow vocally this year. In our experience, following through with goals or resolutions happens more easily when we write them down first (giving that writing voice a platform too! Hey, that could be resolution #5!). So take a moment, grab some pen and paper and maybe even a nice cup of tea, sit somewhere comfy and write down some plans for your vocal growth this next year. Email us or comment below to let us know how it goes. We want to hear your resolutions and help support you in them!
Happy New Year,

Christine and Lindsay
*If you don’t like New Year’s resolutions, don’t worry! These don’t have to be resolutions. They can also be straight-up goals.