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

Support Work for Camera

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Ron Burgundy from “Anchorman” 

Hey Friends,

Lindsay and I are both big fans of Ron Burgundy– especially the way he warms up before getting on camera! Who doesn’t love a little “How now brown cow?” This week’s audio guide is a sequence to help you support your voice when you’re working on camera or when you are using a microphone. Microphones only amplify what’s already there, so this sequence helps ensure you’re still supporting and directing your sound in a way that allows you to be heard. It’s great for actors and public speakers.

Let us know how it goes!

Take good care,

Christine & Lindsay

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

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

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 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

Rib Opening Sequence

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Hey friends,

This week we’re offering a gentle rib opening sequence that will help you breathe more easily. This is great if you find deep breathing difficult or if you find you often hold your ribs in place and they don’t seem to move with ease. Having easy rib movement is key to a powerful voice. So get something comfortable to lie on and grab some pillows– you definitely want to be comfy for this gentle sequence.

Happy breathing!

Christine and Lindsay

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.

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