Create Your Consistency!

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Hello Friends!

So, here we are just past mid-October. The weather for many of us is crisper, perhaps there’s some beautiful foliage for you to enjoy. There is also, for many of us, a shift into the next gear of work or school as we begin the ramping up of things to accomplish before the semester (“term” for my Brits shaking their heads) or financial year ends. We confront project deadlines, late nights, and the stress that impacts us as a result. And that can mean certain things fall by the wayside. Like your attentiveness to an individual communication/voice/mindfulness practice for example. We are taking this head-on and offering some ideas to keep you engaged rather than exhausted before things really swirl into the chaos officially known as the “holiday season.”

We’re going to be very upfront here… some of you may be in full-time drama school training programs, or part-time, or something else in between. For the great spectrum of professional people out there, it may be that you take communications courses or see a coach privately or maybe you are doing entirely your own variation of unguided engagements around this kind of work, it’s all good. But you better be making a conscious effort to engage with the process in your mind/body. Most people in our line of work will tell you how frustrating it can feel when we see the people we work with expecting our contact time to simply “fix” whatever it is they want to address or that somehow by showing up and going through the motions they will be “trained”through attending classes. There’s much more to it than that, and it depends on the work you’re willing to do. As with anything in life, but particularly when it comes to communication skills. Why? HABITS.

Our habits dictate many aspects of our lives and our communication behaviors such as posture, accent, vocal patterns, gesture…you name it, it’s involved and been forming through all stages of your life. In order to increase flexibility and use of communication skills habits must be identified and replaced with habits that encourage adaptivity and awareness. Coaches and teachers are invaluable for helping this process along and guiding us through set backs and breakthroughs, but ultimately long-term progress comes back to our willingness to engage, question, and notice. Especially when we’re busy. There are so many insights that might be missed because we feel the need to constantly plough ahead instead of examining what’s happening through our experiences. That’s why we’re proposing a dedication to creating consistency by finding ways to engage with your communication skill-building work solo.

These are our suggestions:

Be Realistic: Identify a few key skills you feel confident working on individually. Write down the exercises you know to be helpful so you don’t have to scramble. Don’t set crazy time expectations. Even 5 minutes can help you on your way when consistently and thoughtfully used.

Ask For Support: Ask coaches and teachers what they recommend in terms of solo work that will help you work toward your goals. Trust us, they’ll love it.

Plan Ahead: Notice where setting time aside will be possible, it doesn’t always have to be the same. Pencil in pockets of time and do your best to stick to them.

Create Rituals: Enjoy having a candle lit during evening practice? Go for it. Have a favorite bench in the park where you can practice mindfulness in peace? Get yourself there. Find ways to create space and occasion for your practices

Talk About It: Tell your loved ones (or you know, housemates) about what you’re doing whether just casually or in a full blown detailed conversation. Either way you will be engaging your own thought process around your goals and letting them know you shouldn’t be disturbed while practicing.

Get Creative: Don’t be afraid to go off on tangents. Research and experiment, keep yourself curious so that the process isn’t a chore. Keep it spicy!

Hopefully these suggestions provide some food for thought. We truly believe communication skills goals can be achieved wherever you’re coming from, especially when you feel connected to and present with your own process. Let us know how it goes and what you think!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

Connect to Your Thought: Mindfulness Exercise for Sight-Reading and Speaking With Notes

 

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Hello Friends!

Happy October, it’s pumpkin time! This is the second part of our series on working with text and notes. We’ve put together a mindfulness exercise that aims to help you connect your breath to thought with the context of an important event or to simply get you in the headspace for practicing.

Everything starts to ramp up this time of year so please let us know in the comments if there’s anything you feel would be beneficial! And please give us any feedback you have on this exercise!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

 

Autumn Voice Review: Just Breathe!

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Me and Mom on the beach, just before the 2nd gallop.

Hello Friends!

We’ll be putting together an audiolab exercise for breath work as part of this series but in the meantime I thought I’d share a recent experience that reminded me how important the simple act of breathing is in any intense situation.

Now, of course working with the breath is a piece of advice Christine and I give a lot, in many different contexts. However there’s nothing like a visceral moment of experience to prevent advice from going stale. In traditional communication settings, working with the breath is part of my routine and at this point it flows pretty well. During this most recent experience I found myself needing my breath to affirm presence and keep my head clear, as you do in standard communication activities, but the situation was unique in that failing to do so could have ended with me being launched off a horse and into the ocean.

In my Olympian post a few weeks ago I touched on my past experience as a member of the United States Pony Club, which I absolutely loved. Being around horses and riding are among the things that make me the happiest in this world. So while spending some time with family in Scotland this past week my mom and I decided to look into doing a ride on the beach. We found a lovely equestrian center that was able to book us in and headed over for an early evening ride. It was exactly the kind of place I like, down to earth; we got to brush our horses and our guide Ed, was hilarious and no-nonsense. My mom was assigned a very noble steed named Snowy and I rode Ed’s beautiful chestnut mare called Charm. As we headed into the scenic Scottish countryside Ed put us through a few tests, trotting and cantering, evidently we passed because what followed was two hours of the most intense riding I had done in YEARS. Important note about my mom, it had been even longer since she’d ridden like this and she handled it like a champion.

When I say intense what I’m specifically talking about is galloping, which for those of you unfamiliar with riding, is the fastest gait of a horse where all four feet come off the ground together with each forward movement. It’s thrilling, challenging, and something I hadn’t done in quite a while. We galloped through the forests, through golden fields and finally across the beach. It was during a walking break on the beach that I realized although I was having fun and being amazed by the scenery, I was breathing in this shallow, protective way. Charm wanted to go (she is very fast) and I was fighting her because I was afraid to fully release into the moment and be there. This was not the kind of rider I had been in my younger days. In fact I can’t really ever remember feeling timid when it came to racing through fields until that moment. So I thought, this is a communication issue. If I can let my breath drop and feel grounded to connect with Charm, I can be present and let go of the fear to fully enjoy this exceptional experience. This was critical point because Ed had told us the horses go even faster when they turn to head back down the beach, it was hard to imagine that but would have been far more foolish to not take that information seriously. So I put my heels down (riderspeak), took a long, steady breath in through my nose, picked up my reins and seemed to feel Charm say “Buckle-up Buttercup!”

It was a fantastic gallop down the beach. If any of you are Lord of the Rings fans, I’ll put it like this: it was like I was a full-on Rider of Rohan with the strings music blasting in the background as I charged to save Middle Earth. The feelings of freedom and exhilaration were intoxicating. The ride was easily one of the best in my life and I was able to enjoy it because I got myself to breathe with connection.

All this is to say, autumn is a time of returning to endeavors, starting something new, gearing up for hard work, it’s a time of transition. Don’t breathe shallowly through it; find your breath and your pace. Maybe even try a gallop! You might surprise yourself.

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

Champion Presence! Channeling Your Inner Olympian

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Happy Summer Olympics!

I always enjoy the Olympics and its been great watching the Rio games so far. My favorite Summer Olympics events are the gymnastics and equestrian competitions. The former because gymnasts capabilities boggle my brain and the latter because as a former Pony clubber (it’s a real thing, and it’s amazing), I love drawing on my amateur capabilities to commentate and speculate on the events.

As incredible as the athletic feats are, I am equally fascinated by the communication behaviors that occur on the “World Stage.” Given BeSpoke’s interests, how could I not be? It’s hard to think of an interesting factor of human experience that isn’t on view and up for discussion: emotion, pressure, triumph, loss, culture, gender, and social conditioning to name a few that regularly feature in coverage articles. All of this human experience occurs with cameras and commentary intensely spotlighting it, which athletes must reconcile as an additional layer in choosing how to communicate.

I’m convinced that with varying levels of consciousness, this smorgasbord of human interaction and behavior is just as much a draw to spectators as the flurry of arms and legs swimming the length of a pool. And maybe some of the fascination drives us to question what we would do in that scenario…how would our flashes of expression in victory and defeat be scrutinized? The podcast Hidden Brain has a fun piece on the science of analyzing this: http://www.npr.org/2016/08/02/487545238/olympic-victory-and-defeat-frame-by-frame. What I want to talk about is how we can learn from Olympians to take on our own World Stage moments with presence and gravitas.

Along with the rest of the world, I have been amazed by the performances from the United States women’s gymnastics team. Simone Biles has been setting the pace for the US team and the rest of the field. As a three-time all-around world champion it isn’t a surprise that she’s thriving in the highly pressurized Rio environment. And while her athletic prowess is dazzling, I am equally impressed by how grounded and open she is in the moments between competing. The communication skill generally proscribed to this behavior is Presence. She is not resisting being in the moment, which means her skills and instincts are not impeded by extraneous factors. She knows cameras and fans are watching and meets their collective gaze evenly, not allowing it to control her. The next time you find yourself on view, whether it’s a presentation, speech, audition, or wedding toast remember that energy expended on resisting being seen will draw energy from being fully available and present in performance. While you watch the Olympics see if you can spot how athletes use presence as an aid to competition.

Of course there are many other lovely communication skills on display at the Olympics, particularly around teamwork and nations coming together for the enjoyment and intensity of sport. There’s an optimism and joy in seeing the world come together, especially in a time where so much communication is polarized. So find your favorite events, watch some interesting back story interviews, and game on!

Let us know what interesting communication behavior you spot in your favorite events!

Take Good Care,

Lindsay and Christine

 

At Home with Breath, Body, and Voice

IMG_3986Photo from the amazing boardwalk murals in Asbury Park, NJ.

Hello Friends!

The last few weeks Christine and I have been traveling, we’ve actually both gone to visit our families in the States. I’ve returned to London now and I’ve been thinking about the idea of home, and beyond that what it means to be at home in a metaphorical way. At home in the voice and in the body.

Being in my childhood home was so comforting, especially with my family and friends around me. I notice sometimes that my voice feels louder there, although now I get teased for using British expressions. In the midst of all that comfort though, I missed my life and home in London too. Since returning I’ve been thinking of all the ways I carry my original home with me, my accent and various attitudes and beliefs, my love of diners. Of course while I was there I couldn’t help but contemplate the traces of my more recent home. Especially in the airport/subway where I longed for the passive aggressive civilization and efficiency of British queuing attitudes. This new blend of my sense of authenticity is interesting to me, at times it feels odd but overall I’ve grown to enjoy it. On the plane back to London I watched Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s film Sisters, which I have to say really did make me laugh. At one of the more poignant (cheesy) moments Amy Poehler’s love interest shares this pearl of wisdom: “Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” It’s not exactly a fresh concept but given my recent travels it resonated. Then I started thinking about it in relation to Christine’s post last week.

For me a lot of voicework is about coming home to ourselves, not, as Christine so eloquently discussed, trying to meet aesthetic standards that we may feel no connection to. We come home to our bodies to find support, in breath, posture, thought and our voice. Sometimes home is elusive and shifting or surprises us with its presence, but the feeling is clear.

After a long journey or stressful day I like to take some time to come home. This is a simple exercise that can be done on its own or at the end of a yoga sequence, however you’d like to try it. There’s no audio so you can go over the instructions and make them your own.

  • Find a place you can rest comfortably on your back. Get a mat, towel, or whatever will make you comfortable and place it down. You may also want a cushion or two for under your knees or the back of your head.
  • Create some ambiance, whether that’s lighting a favorite candle, selecting the right music or getting a cool cloth with a drop of an essential oil to place wherever you need it. Do something to make the space particular to you.
  • Take time to become comfortable on your back. If you need cushions or other props, grab them. Move between supine and semi-supine to establish what feels best for your body today. Go through a few gentle stretches to get comfortable.
  • Allow yourself to find stillness in the body and focus on the movement of the breath. Don’t worry about controlling it, but be aware of how it’s moving through your body.
  • Notice where your thoughts are going and try not to judge them. Without judgement, allow yourself to think about anything you associate with home in each passing moment. Return to this anchor as often as you wish to.
  • Stay on your back as long as is comfortable. When you decide to get up, ease yourself there. Take some gentle stretches on the floor and mindfully return to standing. Note anything interesting that occurred and carry on with your day.

I hope you enjoy this. As always please feel free to send us your thoughts and questions.

Take Good Care,

Lindsay

To Be or Not to Be: What is Presence?

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Presence. Everyone seems to be talking about this word at the moment. As Lindsay astutely observed in our first blog post, Mindfulness is ‘so hot right now’, and presence is a key principle in Mindfulness. I have taught several communication workshops lately where I’ve stated from the beginning that ‘presence’ was going to be the theme, and no one ever questions it. I guess being present with oneself and with others seems like a logical concept to consider when working on one’s communication— in fact it is a concept that is mentioned all over the place on this website.

But what is it? What does it mean to be present? How can it turn from a hot buzzword into something we can embody or be? What can we do to be present, or is presence simply being? As Kurt Vonnegut wisely said: “I’m a human being, not a human doing.”

I have struggled with being present my entire life. To me it seemed like this ethereal, mysterious thing that I was always in pursuit of and could never quite find. I cultivated my talent for not being present from an early age— I was a highly imaginative child and loved to let my mind wander anywhere other than the present moment. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that, but as I grew up and the demands of life increased, that talent for my mind wandering became increasingly more about worrying about the past or planning for/thinking about/worrying about the future, rather than being in the current moment I was in.

When I began studying to be an actor, my acting teachers at various points in my training picked up on my talent for not being present. A big part of acting training is learning how to listen to your impulses from moment to moment. But I was so busy thinking about the way I had planned the scene the night before or how my performance would be received after the scene that I often struggled to connect to my impulses. Hell, I had spent so much of my life not in the present moment that I didn’t even know how to listen to my impulses. My teachers would just tell me— “Get present. Be in the moment.” And I would think— but what does that mean??? And how do I DO it???

This is why I love voice work. Voice work provides a vehicle for exploring these ‘buzz words’—which are so often conceptual and hard to reach—physically and vocally. It was through voice work that I learned that ‘presence’ is not just a state of mind. In fact, it was through voice work that I learned that I’m not just a disembodied head with a brain in it! I have a body! I have a voice! And it is created not in my head, but through muscular actions that happen in my body. This body can feel, breathe, and respond—and it operates as one organism that works with and for the mind. This might not be news to any of you, but it was a shocking discovery for me. Through voice work, I learned that presence is not finding some ethereal state. It’s about learning how to acknowledge your whole self— your mind, body and voice.

‘Presence’ is one of the major concepts in Fitzmaurice Voicework (R), an approach to voice training that I now teach. (You may at this point be asking yourself, how does this woman have any business teaching ‘presence’ when she’s just admitted she’s bad at it? Fair question. I’m a work in progress.) Saul Kotzubei, a Master Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework, defines ‘presence’ as: ‘the ability to be with one’s internal experience and relate to one’s external environment— simultaneously and fluidly.’ In other words, it’s the ability to check in with what’s going on inside of you, as you are aware of the outside world— at the same time. A big part of that work is ‘practicing’ this ability to be present; by developing proprioception of the body, by working with the breath, by working with the thought— and by continuously coming back to what’s happening in the body, in the breath, with the thought— over and over and over again. Because that’s all it is— being present. Noticing what’s happening from moment to moment.

And that includes noticing—‘I don’t feel present in this moment.’

It was my struggle to be present physically and vocally that led me to pursue an interest in voice work, which is what I now teach. I’ve been working on cultivating my ability to be present for several years now, and I’ve been feeling pretty good about it lately. So you can imagine my dismay when, as part of a 30 day yoga challenge that includes a mantra, or an affirmation, with every day’s practice, I fell flat on day 10 when the mantra was: ‘I am present.’ **

It was as if, when my brain heard the mantra, it decided to rebel (it often does that). I kept trying to practice the mantra, but my body was doing one thing and my mind was somewhere else, and ‘never the twain shall meet’. I was getting more and more frustrated and angry. ‘Don’t I teach this for a living?’ I thought. I wondered what my students would think of me in this moment— all while moving from warrior two to downward-facing dog. Why couldn’t I just stay present?

And then I realized— I was still trying to go for my idea of being present. I was still expecting to find some ethereal, mystical state. But actually— what was happening in those moments as I moved through that yoga video— that is the practice of being present. This is how I can ‘do’ being present. I notice I’m not. That my mind is somewhere else. That awareness gives me power, because in that awareness, there is choice. I can choose to come back to focusing on the moment— on what my body is doing, on how I am breathing, on what sensations or emotions I am feeling in the present moment, or not. And I get to make that choice every time I become aware that I am indeed no longer present. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all decided to have this kind of awareness in our communication with others?

This is where I am with practicing presence. What about you? What are your thoughts on what ‘presence’ is and how you can be present? With yourself and with others? What are your struggles? What are your triumphs? Let us know in the comments below— we would love to hear!

** This was, however, a fantastic 30 day Yoga challenge, made by BeSpoke’s official favorite yoga teacher, Adriene Mishler.

Christine