Why it’s important to find your voice
Many cultures have vocal techniques which, when practised, induce a feeling of spiritual elevation. These are usually based on the repetition of particular tones and can be seen in traditions as diverse as Christian choral singing, the chants of the Tibetan monks and the vocal sounds of indigenous Australians and Native Americans.
Do you like the sound of your own voice when you are speaking or singing? Some professional singers or a handful of bathroom singers might reply in the positive, but usually people say they don’t like the sound of their voice or they don’t think they can sing in tune. Numerous studies have shown one of the things people most dread is speaking in public. The idea of singing in public is so terrifying that most people would avoid it at all costs.
The voice is one of our principal methods of communication. Yet how this extraordinary instrument works is unknown to most people; we simply open our mouths and hope for the best. Most people now have a chance to hear their recorded voice on a telephone answering machine or on the soundtrack of a home video. The most common response to this is usually a puzzled, “Surely I don’t sound like that?”
What you are actually hearing is what everyone else hears when you speak. Your voice, along with your physical appearance, sets up the image you project to the world. You know you can empower yourself by improving your external appearance but the power of the voice is often ignored.
Even people who are successful in every other aspect of their lives will usually have had their vocal development arrested quite early in life. Imagine if we understood that our voice is sending out a strong message how differently then might we view it? People hear not just the words we speak, but the emotional and personal state our voice is announcing, albeit unconsciously. It is possible to apply just as much care to our voice as we have given to our physical appearance. If we choose to do so the rewards are inestimable.
We are all born with a beautiful voice, acute listening skills and an ability to sing in tune and recognise pitch. Despite this, most people are totally convinced they cannot sing in tune. The key to reclaiming your natural voice is to develop resonance in your voice. Resonance gives the voice quality and presence.
The areas of the brain that govern listening, and how you interpret what you hear, are closely linked to the mind’s emotional systems. Knowing this, it is not surprising that just a single distressing incident can effect your ability to hear and even speak. It is possible to understand the significance these emotional experiences have on the listening and hearing centres of the brain and reverse their effects.
Frequently, vocal shutting down has its roots in childhood and it is here that many of us learn "not to speak unless spoken to". Children also learn to put in place natural filters to block out harmful sound from hurtful, angry voices. These protective filters can result in tone deafness, hearing loss and even an inability to concentrate. The psyche of the child is doing its best to protect itself. Given how commonplace these childhood experiences are it is a remarkable reflection on the resilient human spirit that any of us can speak or hear at all. Grief, loss and shock in adulthood are often reflected in a vocal shutdown. A timid voice and an inability to project are common indicators that personal power is at a low ebb.
Considering all this, it can be hard to remember you were actually born with a beautiful, natural, healing voice and the ability to use it with ease. The process of discovering this voice is really an uncovering, or a rediscovering, and holds the key to many creative aspects of the self.
We have been given some amazing tools to explore our potential as human beings. The abilities to perceive the extraordinary colours of our planet and smell and experience the effect aromas have on the brain are all part of our potential. Another part of your potential is to have a free-flowing instrument of expression: your voice.
You are also born with the ability to heal with your voice. The healing quality of the voice can range from the communication of wonder that comes with just listening to a beautiful singing voice, to the actual pure quality of a tone affecting the physica, emotional and spiritual body of the person to whom it is directed. With techniques of voice, breath, movement and meditation you can tune yourself back into balance. You can also reduce anxiety and stress, promote relaxation and reduce blood pressure. Sound is one of the great gifts you have to explore and expand your awareness and help you remove blocks on all levels, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
One of the immediate and tangible results of freeing your voice is the enhancement of your ability to listen. Studies show that the average adult hears approximately eight per cent of their aural environment. We have all experienced talking to someone who is not really listening. In fact, this can be the norm for many people. Within you there is the ability to listen without judgment, to listen without thinking what you would say or without wanting to jump in to correct or even agree with the speaker. The ability to be a true listener is like giving a gift to someone. When they experience the safety net of your non-judgmental attention and focus they have the chance to express feelings they been unable to express before.
Speaking your truth
Another benefit of discovering your natural voice is the ability to speak your truth. Many of the things we want to say, but don’t, stay stored in the body. The freedom you experience when you speak your truth, whether this is simply saying "no" or "yes" clearly (and being heard), or communicating a more complicated message, can be felt in every aspect of your life.
You can also access your spirituality through your voice. In order to use your voice to communicate with the divine you do not have to subscribe to a particular belief. Many cultures have vocal techniques which, when practised, induce a feeling of spiritual elevation. These are usually based on the repetition of particular tones and can be seen in traditions as diverse as Christian choral singing, the chants of the Tibetan monks and the vocal sounds of indigenous Australians and Native Americans.
Nature has provided us with so many aural cues to elevate our consciousness. As we start to access the purity of our own vocal tone, our senses are heightened, our listening improves and we become aware of these aural cues in the wind, in the ocean and in the beauty of bird songs. Sound and nature are intrinsically linked. It is possible to bring the healing essence of nature back into your life. When you are in a state of heightened listening awareness, you can actually feel the effect of a birds song. A simple bird song, one that you may hear every day you can feel it ripple through your body and subtly alter your awareness.
Uncovering your natural voice is really very simple. You can start by finding the stillness inside, a place where you can really listen from. Then the healing process can be allowed to start to take place, gently and joyfully making the most of this wonderful instrument, your voice.
Through the ages, many cultures have called upon humankind to reflect in silence. Within silence you can find your place in the big picture. Sound meditation calls us to tune in beyond the silence. There is another extraordinary gift that waits within us to be experienced: the music of the spheres, the unstruck sound, the anahad nada. Esoteric texts give us the key to this realisation, which is to tune in to magical internal sounds that we can hear. This technique involves either blocking off ones ears to all external sound, or being in a silent place, which for most ancient mystics was a cave. They would play flutes, gongs and conches to lead them into the inner sound. Tibetan singing bowls and toning are all excellent aids for tuning into the inner sound.
When you first start this technique you may hear a cacophony of noise, which can be wondrous or a bit off-putting at first. For the first couple of years of this practice, which I was doing for one to two hours a day, I continually had to come out of the meditation to see if the roof of the house was still on! The progression of sounds one can hear are the rushing of winds, the roar of the sea, the tinkling of soft bells, bird songs, soft choirs and flutes, until one is resting in the Hu, the Om, the unstruck essence of sound. These initial sounds are cleansing or purging the emotional body. The key lies in staying focused with the breath as the eternal anchor of consciousness. Tune into the sound until it leads you to yet more subtle sounds.
The evolution of the unified field of consciousness of humanity is such now that there is a river of grace flowing very near to the surface of our collective awareness and it only takes the smallest step to become aware. Its as if the spiritual world rushes to support us. I hear reports from many people of beautiful experiences at the very start of this technique. This gift of deep peace is an inspiration and a reinforcement of the importance of daily meditation, toning and stillness.
Inner sound meditation
Start to introduce inner listening into your meditations. For most people without access to caves or soundproof rooms this will involve blocking off your ears with your thumbs or fingers. Find a way to comfortably do this. You may lie down on your back with cushions under both elbows to support your arms comfortably, blocking off your ears and listening. You may choose to sit with your elbows supported on a very large cushion or you may build a T shape of wood on which you can comfortably rest your elbows.
Have no expectations. Just listen, tuning in to the subtlest sound that you can hear. At the start you will sometimes feel you are just listening to the blood rushing through your ears or fingers. Persevere. You will experience quite soon a feeling of purification and peace and a refinement of your inner awareness.
Concentration and the ability to focus are important attributes when discovering your natural voice. This is why singing as a spiritual path has been recognised in many cultures. When people start to sing it can be at times an unformed sound that is a reflection of a wandering mind. A wandering mind is not very in tune.
When starting out, your attention is on the refining of your tone, and this learning affects your day-to-day life. You become aware of the tone of your voice; you also become aware of the tone and colour of your environment. As you explore more of the dimensions of your voice you are also tuning into finer or more intense levels of concentration.
To start with, you need to learn how to tone. Toning is the production of soft, pure, sculpted sound created by the voice; it transforms an ordinary sung note into something special. Moinuddin, a 16th century Sufi master, said: "Three basic sounds are the long vowel sounds of A, I and U." These are what Sufis call the universal harmonic constants and are used in all mystic paths that utilise sound.
The first sound we learn is the soft "oo" sound, as in the word moon. With this sound we first discover that true vocal power comes from resonance and not from projection. The soft oo sound is also the easiest to form. This is when the first true indication of how learning toning can reflect on and affect our everyday life. Most people end up feeling they have to push through life to achieve their goals. This pushing reflects in their first tone the sound is forced and has a hard edge. As you learn toning the hard edges become soft, the push disappears, leaving the power of the voice coming from resonance. It is now that your whole body becomes your instrument. It is as if your whole being participates in holding the sound. With your new resonant voice you can now practise your first beautiful tones.
If you have the WellBeing Volume One CD (featured on the cover of issue 87), play the track titled Aion. If you do not have this CD, practise on your own or with an accompanying CD that you would like to tone with. Something soft and flowing is suitable. Sit upright in a chair or relaxed and upright on a cushion on the floor. Listen to the music with your eyes closed for a short time. Relax your breath and imagine you are actually breathing in the sound. You will find that just doing this exercise is extremely pleasant and relaxing.
Now, sculpt your lips into an oo shape. Create a very round small hole with your lips, like a kiss or a whistle. It will probably feel a bit exaggerated. Now start toning anywhere that is comfortable for you and start to explore the softness of your own voice. You are finding a pitch that suits your voice. Imagine you are resting your voice on the toning on the CD. This will give you a sense of being supported.
Stay relaxed, as the softness cannot be forced. Feel how your breathing becomes more regular and relaxed. Take long breaths, relax in between each tone and let the sound become softer and softer. As you are enveloped by the softness of the sound you will feel the effect of this resonance throughout your body. If you start to feel frustrated by an inability to make a soft sound, take the time to still yourself. It is a gentle and rewarding process and you will be there soon.
This is an excellent excercise to help you start your day on the right note and to clear your mind at the end of the day, letting go of anxiety and stress. Toning is also wonderful for stilling the mind before meditation.
This is just the start of discovering your natural voice. There are many other sounds, soft and loud, that have wonderful healing effects on mind, body and spirit.
Chris James has been teaching internationally for over 17 years. He is the founder of the UK registered charity The Sound Foundation and the School of Sacred Sound in Australia, which holds annual teacher training seminars. Chris has released eight CDs of songs, healing music, meditation and a Voice Workshop. For further information visit our websites at ”www.chrisjames.net and www.sacredsound.com.