Anatomy and Physiology
Some anatomy and physiology of breathing for singers! A wonderfully clear article! The more you are able to hold a mental image of your anatomy at work while singing, the better your technique will be. Lack of a mental image = mental block. And the mind/body connection will not allow you to improve in that particular area, or you will be truly unable to feel the sensation that we're striving for.
Stuffy Nose Help
From voice teacher, Feldenkrais practitioner, and health goddess Carol McAmis, voice professor at Ithaca College: "Some good suggestions here, singers. Be sure to look at all three posts and videos on this subject. Even the weird-sounding technique of breath holding and shallow nose breathing works really well. Check out Buteyko Breathing if you want to know more. Also love the massage of the sides of the nose in Part 2. And then....my favorite...spend 10-15 minutes humming on a single comfortable pitch. The vibration and extended exhalation re-balance oxygen and Co2 (similar to the Buteyko idea) and not only do the sinuses open up, but mental focus gets sharper and you get calmer. And free!"
Rock the Audition
Sheri Sanders has an incredible website that teaches singers the technique and skills needed to ROCK their rock and pop auditions! Her site allows singers to access hundreds of rock and pop songs in their keys with GOOD ARRANGEMENTS(!), and guides them through the process of making it GREAT. I love her spirit and unbelievable passion and energy while working with young people.
I highly recommend getting a neti pot to relieve sinus issues related to allergies or illnesses contracted while stressed and exhausted at school! I think neti pots are a very good way to lessen sinus-related illnesses and loss of voice. Stay hydrated, sleep, and eat well, too!
Inspired by some excellent articles on Playbill.com, I'd like to share some expert advice on vocal (and full-body) health. Every winter I lose students to illness that I feel can be prevented with better care of the instrument. Your body is a temple and the source of your art, and needs to be treated as such.
Liz Caplan is an expert vocal coach in NYC, with too many credits to list here. Look her up if you're interested. She's amazing.
Here is some of her advice that I've compiled from different articles that I find especially helpful. There is a lot to read here. Please try to take a few minutes to read through carefully. It's all such good information, and all things I have talked about and believe in strongly. In the words of a Very Wise Woman, I quote, "I'm going to go home, eat some broccoli, and take a nap".
Here's to your health!
When you find yourself getting sick, or in danger of losing your voice - and still have to audition or perform - what are the best ways to prepare and to take care of your voice?
Caplan: As long as one stays on top of one's immune system (ability to get through typical bugs quickly by maintaining good health), there are many remedies and witchy brews that I recommend to my students for quick health boosts: immediate large doses of Ester-C (the body depletes of this immune support supplement when under the weather) in combination with Zinc, oregano (supplements or oil on tongue), ginger tea, echinacea/goldenseal tea or drops, as well as garlic (nature's antibiotic).
Besides these immune boosting supplements and remedies, one can vocalize slowly and gently in order to get muscles supple. If the sinuses are congested, I have specific vocal exercises that bulldoze through them in order to feel oxygen moving through the sinus passages. This is to ensure the singer does not succumb to using compensatory muscles (which create excess laryngeal pressure) in lieu of nasal resonance.
It's important to keep the sinuses and throat moisturized. I recommend having either Ayr or Ocean Saline mists standing by for sinuses and Entertainer's Secret Throat Relief for the larynx. These sprays (homeopathic and over the counter) will also keep any bacteria from getting deeper into the upper respiratory cavities.
Caplan: The winter months in NYC are challenging for the singer/actor. Keeping the neck and throat warm are of paramount importance. In Chinese medicine, the head (base of skull), neck and throat are referred to as wind points. If you are feeling vulnerable in any way (this includes both physically and emotionally), and you get a draft or chill on these areas, it's likely that the seasonal bug will get you.
I recommend to all my students to stick to drinking warm or hot beverages and cooked food. The lungs tend toward dampness during these months, so warm beverages and warm/hot food will help remove the clammy cold feeling.
These next recommendations for the season come with a caveat: Hot and spicy foods and condiments actually increase metabolism (heat) and clear all sorts of phlegm from lungs and mucus from sinuses from stagnation. However (big however), spicy foods tend to create acidity in the throat. We have to be careful as to when we take such foods in. Turmeric, oregano, garlic and cinnamon help to get mucus and phlegm stagnation out. Wasabi is also excellent. Imagine how your body reacts when you eat wasabi. You tear up and generally get a runny nose. This is actually excellent--things are moving and moving out.
Excellent winter foods:
Winter Squash (There are many varieties of winter squash — including butternut, acorn, delicata and spaghetti squash — and they are all excellent choices in the winter.)
Dark leafy greens (such as kale, chard and collards; [they] thrive in the chill of winter when the rest of the produce section looks bleak. In fact, a frost can take away the bitterness of kale. These greens are particularly rich in vitamins A, C and K).
Got a Cold?
Caplan: Taking a probiotic daily acts as a preventative. Most illnesses begin in an unstable digestive tract. To get the yeast and bacteria balance in the digestion is a good way to achieve successful immune support. (Read more about probiotics.)
Throat coat tea works well for some people. It does tend to dry some people's throats out. The ingredients within might be healing, but we have to watch out for immediate side effects. Adding organic local honey could help offset the dryness. I like drinking echinacea tea from either traditional medicinals or Yogi teas. Hydration is crucial at this time of year. I like coconut water (if too sweet, [it] can be mixed with smart water for the electrolytes). Coconut water lubricates the throat (larynx and vocal cords) well. Between the heat inside apartments and buildings and the extreme cold, one does need to rehydrate and often.
Sleep is of the utmost importance when one is feeling under the weather. The cells need to reboot, and sleep is the only instance where one can shut down to let the body miraculously heal. And the throat is quiet for a change. Meditation, when practiced regularly, has the same benefits. Placing heat on the chest at night is also wonderful for keeping warm. And it is also relaxing.
Try to avoid coughing and clearing your throat as much as you can. Both of these things irritate the delicate membranes of your vocal cords, which will cause them to swell.
Inhale steam. This will help soothe your cords and loosen some of the congestion in your lungs naturally. Be very careful, though, as hot steam has the potential to burn your mouth or throat.
Gargle salt water. Like inhaling steam, this will naturally clear away some of the phlegm that lives on your cords, clearing them up for those beautiful tones to come through.
Warm up. This is the absolute best thing you can do for yourself and your voice. Start with a very quiet hum or hum related exercises on a consistent and comfortable pitch to warm up the cords. Your cords will need the extra warm-up time to loosen up and shake off the phlegm and infection.
Be careful with decongestants. Although they can clear away the phlegm, they do so by drying out the mucous that your body is producing to help clear away the infection, so you will ultimately take longer to heal. In addition, they dry out the membranes, which could cause you to lose your voice entirely. So it's better to consider medication decongestants as an absolute last resort. Keep in mind, too, that you won't entirely know what you sound like on the decongestants, so it's better to experiment with them a day or two before the performance or concert, just to see what happens.
Singing with congestion: Excess mucus forms due to stomach-spleen disharmony. So, based on this thought, one should eliminate all dairy products if congestion is a normal state.
Of course, if you are staying away from dairy products, it will be important to get your calcium supply elsewhere. One can take calcium supplements. Calcium can be found in leafy green vegetables as well. One can substitute milk products with almond milk, rice milk and other non dairy beverages all which contain tremendous amounts of calcium.
Doing a netti-pot once a day is advantageous to keeping the sinus cavity clear. As well, homeopathic and non-medicinal sprays would help keep bacteria out and sinuses lubricated. Any saline-based product is valuable.
Turn to your private teachers as well for sinus-busting exercises. There are certain combinations of consonants and vowels that work together to help release the soft palate and move some congestion around so that you can feel your sinus cavity resonance.
For full articles, click here: