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Massage Today
March, 2012, Vol. 12, Issue 03

Singing Out Stress: A Massage Therapist's View of Singing

By Stephanie Heidemann, LMT, BA

In a nutshell, being authentic is about being entirely relaxed in the seat of who you are. Much of the world is in a constant state of frenzy, and this affects us. The amount of stimulation is overwhelming to try and filter through and keep a grasp on your sanity. Amidst all the noise, how can you unwind and uncover your authentic self?

What is Authentic Voicework?

It starts off with a calling...a longing to be heard or acknowledge a part of you that has remained hidden. Voicework is a series of tools that embraces and gently lifts a person from stress, tension, fear, grief and inhibition. Some of these tools can be but are not limited to breath work, stretching, sighing, toning, harmonizing and vocal improvisation. The intention is to peel away any anxiety or stress around the "authentic" self. As we metaphorically "open up and sing ah," singing takes us out of the mind and centers us in the heart. And, if there is any work to be done there, singing gently and lovingly massages the heart open.

Nowadays, our society suffers from an epidemic of stress. It is our job as healers to keep inspiring new ways of releasing stress, easing tension, soothing anxiety and fear. We are the mothers of this world. Unwinding fascia with myofascial release or trigger point therapy are miraculous treatments. But the knots (aka, "stress") just keep coming, don't they? We are providing a great service to the world by helping others to cope with and ease the burdens of stress on the body. I believe that we can find more ways of preventing it.

As a singer and performer for 15 years, I have something new to offer in terms of stress relief and prevention. My mentor was New York Metropolitan Opera Mezzo, Brenda Boozer, who began each of our lessons with checking the position of the feet to support the proper alignment of the body and breath, a unique practice among voice teachers. Due to this integration of voice and body, this notion of the voice as an extension of the body as one became my motto. Obviously, there is something to be said about considering the voice, as an extension of body-mind-spirit, in assessing the condition of a client. Acupuncturists look into properties of the voice in assessment of their patient's condition. If bodyworkers can treat the body, than why not include the voice in the client's healing process?

As I have massaged client after client with neck and jaw tension, I have noticed an epidemic of clients managing a storm of internal pressure. The head, neck and jaw seem to "cork" this bottled-up pressure. As neuromuscular law poses, tension rises. To me, singing would be an obvious choice as a means of popping the lid off of this rising internal pressure, and allow the steam of tension to be released from the body.

While breathing through tension is crucial to an effective release, vocalizing only takes it further. As a suggestion to LMTs, next time you are doing some neck or TMJ work, ask your client to sigh with a sound "in front of the sigh." It helps to bring the mind and body together and is a way of "dropping" the tension. Like you would ask a client to "drop their arm" while applying range of motion, sighing is a way of dropping tension around the whole upper chest and sinking breath down into the belly.

How it Works

When the voice has been shut down for very long periods of time (sometimes decades), and is finally struck (as in, a chord) or soothed with humming and sighing sounds, the client may feel an immediate rush of emotion. The process of opening the voice takes you back to the time when you last felt that freedom in the voice, when it became obstructed or inhibited and why. Clients may initially feel the grief which initially caused the blockage. Creative catharsis cleans out the cobwebs, opens the energy flow in the throat area/voice, bringing more of a sense of freedom to the individual. Voicework can bring one to an open state of awareness, acknowledging that an energetic blockage of sorts exists, and attends to it.

What Happens in a Session

Sessions begin with simple stretching and breathing exercises, grounding the connection into the body. Simple vocal warm-ups follow, drawing from classical voice techniques. Face and jaw stretches open the lining of the vocal tract, opens the breath, and draws awareness to the body as instrument. Singing games foster a place for fun exploration, bringing out the child-like essence. Improvisation is used for cutting new ground, building self trust, without harmful criticism and judgment. Much like how a massage client must learn how to relax on the table, it is a learning process to explore without self-judgment. As we vocalize, we willingly bring our selves closer to the borders of our inhibitions. When we begin to sing authentically, the heart immediately responds by melting its stiff body armor and setting it free.

The Benefits

Like massage, the benefits of voicework are endless, depending largely on the client's willingness to surrender and open. Among the benefits are stress release, energy revitalization, quieting the body and mind, emotional release, awareness building, deep inner listening, thinking "outside the box," intuition building, and soothing pain or trauma. A Voicework session can feel like you have just spent hours in a meditative state. Voicework helps to reset and center your life in a more authentic place, bringing you up to speed with your most cutting-edge self. It is about becoming centered, grounded in the seat of authenticity and letting the voice be a medium to this state of being. Unraveling your true nature reveals a higher perception, and ability to respond without feeling threatened. Once some of these inhibitions are worked out, they won't come back. Consider it a permanent shift.

As the quality of your inner state of being becomes centered and grounded, your voice mirrors your internal sphere to the external world. Beautiful things can happen. Your state of awareness becomes more transparent. The tone of your voice carries and transmits your energy. Gathering people together to sing from authentic vocal expression is an oasis of pure grace, which can bring others to that inner authentic place of peace and healing, too.

Stephanie Heidemann, LMT, BA, Expressive Arts Therapy, is a seasoned massage therapist, was an IMG-Artist (NY), and is a singer/voice coach. She teaches Authentic Voicework nationally and has spoken at conferences internationally. She brings her expertise as a healing and bodywork therapist to the realm of voicework; and now offers continuing education to massage therapists nationwide. For more information, visit


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