“ Voice, Emotion & Transformation “ with Aisha Ali Voice-artist & Founder of Kiota Bristol.
"Speak UP!" bellowed the priest from behind me at my mother’s funeral - I was two sentences into her eulogy.
He was old, and I was in a very compassionate frame of mind, my heart centre was wide open, as grief being such a raw emotion has the power to split us open and make us fearless, simply because we don’t have the energy for pretence.
I quickly muttered back in a slightly intimidated but firm voice, "I’m trying ". I confess I might have silently added ‘you old codger’ inwardly, because it was a shitty thing to say to me as I prepared to address my family, friends and a team of highly organised nuns in the chapel at my grandmother’s residential home.
But very often that’s when it happens the most. In the time when we are at our most vulnerable and needy, still life asks us to give more, speak with more emphasis, be heard and seen in our pain and vulnerability.
The night before, my father stood beside me in that same chapel I had grown up going to mass in, I'd wanted to see the space. I was crying because I wasn’t sure I would be able to stand tall and talk about my mother's death and her life in a way that would hold space for me, my mother and all those who loved her.
I had the training, I’d just completed a whole term’s worth of voice work on rhetoric and political speech and yet in the face of this warm and austere environment, I faltered. My father placed his hand on my my upper back. I smiled, I knew what he was doing. I was raised that way you see. He was connecting to my heart centre, the strong hand of the patriarch that can either uplift or diminish in times like these, simply making his presence known in a physical statement that he knew was welcome.
Besides me, stood my best friend also male, an entirely different energy altogether. Stoic, silent and respectful, the ever present font of compassion and true space holder.
We stood in silence.
And in that moment I discovered the art of 'witnessing'.
I don’t think I had really understood the link between the autonomous nervous system, quiet support and the power to speak from a connected place until that day.
It was that combination of silent space holding, physical touch, heart-opening and a pushy, well intentioned elder that got me there. And such is the energy of transformation. From the depth of pain and destruction comes rebirth and new connections.
The throat chakra in yoga, is heavily focused on communication and is the most sensitive to truth and lies. And for women, from a bio-physical point of view it’s often been pointed out the physical structures found in the throat are a direct reflection of those found in the vagina.
As above, so below…
Graphic Courtesy of @Lianadoula "Vaginas & Vocal Chords."
It reflects a total connection of the central nervous systems and the principal energy meridian (sushumna nadi) in the body, working from the throat to the spine and to the genitalia. And so, our vocal design as women is unique and totally reflective of our emotional state at any given time.
When this connection is interrupted, or we undergo trauma, several things can manifest; an overly quiet or high pitched voice from a wonderful leader, an over-compensatory ‘boom’ from someone who ought to have nothing to prove, a silent observer with a brilliant mind that hesitates to speak up at all. They all leave the same impression on the listener- something just doesn’t add up .
Added to the bio-physical effects this can have on the voice, we also need to factor in the psycho-social cues of our upbringing and surrounding.
For women of colour this can be a complex thing.
Many of us were told to stay quiet, hide our pretty colours, not be ‘imposing’ and were even told we were aggressive or angry (here we go again) when we stood up for ourselves and gave our honest opinions on things. These messages are sent back to us from society as a whole but also sadly from family and friends who are also POC and enmeshed in the dance of cultural assimilation & female repression.
This inherited, ancestral trauma is the result of internalised oppression and the manifestation of centuries of repression and shame, as some part of us still feels stuck in survival mode- because being heard and seen in certain environments could result in loss of life, love or sanity.
Abuse of any kind, psychological, physical or sexual, will also create warring factions in the body-mind. Those of us that have been through these experiences have an inbuilt system of protection that we may not even be aware is operating.
Think of it as a trauma induced centurion 'on duty', to stop you saying something or making a sound that might mean more pain or suffering. It’s job is to ‘hide’ you, your true voice and feelings, and conversely to hamper your ability to be fully seen and heard, working on the basis that you weren’t worthy of being visible in the first place- so why bother trying to get seen now? It might be dangerous! It was then, so it probably is now...
Breaking out of this mind-set can be challenging without support and even harder when the issues you are expected to contribute around as a POC are deeply anchored to your sense of self and security in the world.
Often these throat chakra blocks can have physical manifestations such as, dehydration, throat aches, colds, congestions and sinus problems. They can create an aura of fear and an inability to speak your truth in the moment, causing a psychological 'mind-trap' that often has you rehashing the same argument in your head over and over again, perhaps even having the conversation out loud in the privacy of your own home.
This is all good stuff if used therapeutically as a tool to harness and overcome, but if it is something happening to us rather than a choice that we make- we are at it’s mercy- and it becomes an inbuilt trauma response that is emotionally exhausting.
Part of what I look at with women in the room during our trainings is where they are on this journey, what physical and emotional tensions they may be carrying, and more importantly, asking them to have a look at their own inner process so they're in control of what they want to say, how they want to say it and when they want it said.
In the end it comes down to feeling heard and seen and soothing the parts of the nervous system that need to forge new neural pathways to heal and unlock our full potential. Whilst there are many ways to do this through improvisation and performance, this needs to be underpinned with a sound understanding of safe-guarding .
Here are a few ways we can support the women around us to express themselves freely:
1. Tell the truth
Both on an energetic and physical level- the body remembers lies and abuses of power. When we are lied to it re-enforces the link between our unhealthy flight or flight responses and our verbal reaction towards expression on neurological level. We learn to interpret data we gather through thousands of micro facial cues and emotional responses and form the conclusion we are not safe, even if in reality, we are. If we feel we do not have trust and safety, the body panics and the voice becomes loud, shrill or entirely silent. Be impeccable in expressing boundaries and needs and encourage honesty in return.
2. Ask Questions & Make Statements of Support.
It makes sense that to get to the bottom of how someone is feeling, we need to ask questions rather than bombard the listener with words. Ask precise questions that invite authentic responses, LISTEN and respond in kind with authenticity and care. If you don’t get the response you were expecting or the person cannot express, make a statement of support and leave it at that. Further down the line if the person is still not communicative, speak frankly about the effect it is having on you and and make an effort to reassess the method in which you are communicating with each other- sometimes they just need a hug or a touch to remind them you are here, now, with them, this too is a statement.
Get to know their communication style.
3. Get used to discomfort
We don’t always get what we want out of asking someone for their opinion or contribution! 'Real Talk' is not comfortable, unless of course we are already on a page with that person - but chances are if you’re encountering these blocks, you’re looking at different chapters entirely! We can make an effort to recognise and prepare for holding space for emotions by making ourselves neutral and receptive to hearing about ourselves for the betterment of our relationships.
4. Don’t name call
Verbal abuse of any kind shuts us down psychologically, even if the name-calling is delivered in jest it can trigger the person into defence mode through association with past trauma. In today’s “YAASSSS BITCH!” culture, this is tough for performers, as potty mouth humour is often the first place we reach for when we see a barrier we can’t overcome. Remember, it’s not up-to you to cause a reaction, it’s up-to you to provide safety and be in the moment- so we want to stay away from anything harsh that might trigger someone into silence or hurt. If the name calling is coming from a place of endearment and familiarity make sure you know the person really well and it’s part of their lexicon. If not avoid.
5. Witness In silence.
Many people confuse witnessing with ‘getting involved’. Whilst you can of course contribute support to situations as a witness in a non verbal way- what you can’t do is talk through, over or under someone. In facilitation circles we call this 'cross-talking'. This also includes attempting to 'rescue' someone mid-sentence. It doesn’t serve. It feels like hell if you are an expressive communicator- but until you encounter silence - don’t interrupt.
Think of the auditionee that gets stopped two sentences into a song they’ve prepared at length by an irate or dispassionately bored casting director, or an MD that’s so excited about changing the direction of what you’re doing, he didn’t even hear you to begin with- it’s a crushing experience.
Set up clear boundaries and cues for when it’s the right time for you to speak and listen to each other, and if someone misses the cues be firm about giving the power back to the original speaker.
Whichever of these things resonates with you, be sure these principles are intended for use towards others and towards ourselves.
From this comes the true answer and the free, empowered, voice.