Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Empower Your Voice

I’m interested in helping people gain more confidence – about themselves and their importance in life.

One way people project their confidence is through their voice. Too often I’ve seen a person on one side of a discussion or a debate drowned out by a person representing the other side…no matter how reasoned or articulate the first person actually sounded.

That’s because the other side managed to push his voice into the first person’s face. “Shouting someone down” is another variant on the same theme.

I don’t like to see that. It’s rude, and it is a form of attack. And I don’t like to see people retreating from such an attack.

Voice training isn’t limited only to actors, singers and public speakers. Martial artists have always taken a great interest in it. Martial artists of all stripes, from Kendo to Karate, long ago learned to turn the human voice into a weapon. (I’ve heard a story that a Karate practitioner from Okinawa was able to knock birds out of the air with the force of his Kiai! shout).

My interest here is to merge a more quiet form of confidence – found in all martial arts – with a daily application of the voice.

Martial arts voice training – as with singers and actors – starts with posture. Poor posture restricts the amount of breath that pushes a sound out of the vocal chords. And also limits the muscles of the diaphragm.

The diaphragm sits below the lungs and helps the lungs inhale and exhale. People for the most part rely on the lungs (chest breathing) to speak; martial artists train to use the abdominal muscles and the diaphragm for the major portion of their breathing – as well as to speak.

That’s why, if you watch an old samurai movie, everyone seems to be speaking from deep within the abdomen. To the samurai, the hara, or lower abdomen, was considered to be the seat of the soul. So to speak from the hara was a matter of conviction. For Japanese martial artists, the hara is also the seat of power.  So to speak from there is to empower one’s speech.

The trick is to keep the rest of the anatomical sound box relaxed. That includes the chest wall, the shoulders, the throat and larynx, the nose, the facial muscles, the tongue, and especially the muscles around the mouth. If speech starts from the hara and flows through the entire system unobstructed, then you have, in the end, a calm and confident voice.

As with everything martial arts related, the technique has to be practised. My suggestion is to learn a few phrases of a poem or run through the vowels of the alphabet, and practise speaking from deep within the abdomen. Remember to stay relaxed – and calm.

Soon enough, you’ll want to try this new way of speaking in everyday conversation. Let the others shout as loud as they want (notice how they force everything up from the area of the upper lungs and how they constrict their throats. Notice too, how tense they are).

Once your voice comes from the hara, your speech will be centered and balanced. Your voice will be comfortable wherever you are. No one will be able to bully you with his voice. No one will be able to silence your right to speak!

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