The Incredible Vocal Chords & Communication

The other night, I lay watching a National Geographic show titled, “The Incredible Human Machine.” In a segment of the show, ENTs were doing a little study with Steven Tyler’s vocal chords before and after his vocal gymnastics in a concert (this is called a video stroboscopy) to show the amazing resilience of these two little muscles in your throat, that can make, or break, your voice. It turns out that on one occasion (amazingly, only one in his long career), Tyler had to cancel a string of concerts due to some temporary damage to his vocal chords, inflicted by the vocal level at which he consistency performs: loudly, using the entire extent of his range, and for a long time…blowing us all away every time, of course . Doctors were able to help him with this temporary damage, but singing at this level is walking a fine line of balance with keeping the vocal chords healthy, while singing your best, every time. 

I studied biology in college for a year, and the more I studied, the more amazed I was at the intelligence, resiliency and healing power our bodies contain, without us thinking or doing anything. Then, when we add our own conscious thought, attitudes and beliefs, that contributes 100% to the health or demise of our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves.

I know this well, as I had a major vocal crisis in 2004, which left me thinking about life, my purpose in my life, and my gift of song and music:  was I going to be able to continue pursuing this dream, or if God forbid, I lost my voice or the capability of my voice what was I going to do then? 

It started at the end of 2003, when I had moved to Santa Fe, NM, and was at the height of my singing confidence in my performances, and having loads of fun. Slowly, I began to lose my voice, in what felt like laryngitis. But I wasn’t sick; I had no other symptoms. Since I had no insurance and couldn’t afford a local ENT, I trekked to Fort Worth, TX, to get tested at a University there with a progressive vocal research program. It cost me only $75. That was in February 2004; they told me I had the healthiest vocal chords they had seen in a long time (not helpful!). My “laryngitis” was getting worse…

When I spoke, it sounded like an intermittent signal when you can’t get good reception on the radio station.  The phone was not my friend since person on the other end couldn’t understand what I was saying. The more I tried to make the sound come out, the more the vocal chords “broke.” I could not project my voice; I could only talk in a whisper most of the time. I got fired from a great gallery job because of this issue (I looked into wrongful termination). I tried everything from going to the hospital for acid reflux to Qui Gong (that did help on others ways) to heal myself. It was endlessly frustrating, not knowing when my full voice would return, unable to communicate effectively. How was I going to make ends meet, much less live my passion?

It’s interesting how the curve balls of life bring us around to healing, knowing and becoming a better person.  I did what I had to do, from delivering phone books and pizzas to finally finding a mentor/counselor job in a foster home for Native American boys (and all the time holding the vision that I would heal from this). The pay was little, but the work and outcome more rewarding than I could have imagined. They hired me even though I had this issue. But 6 teenage, troubled boys in a home with two counselors on for 17 hours per day and a hushed voice to speak with (and being a white woman didn’t help!)? I was afraid I’d be swallowed up whole. All of this was happening for a reason (one of my strong beliefs). 

The reason: my life issue has been communication. The throat/vocal chords are the fifth chakra, the center of communication and of expressing oneself (one of the centers of creativity; the second chakra is the other center of creativity). Finding my true voice and speaking/singing/writing it is my life’s work; repressing this avenue of expression created physical illness and cuts off my connection with my soul (manifest a ruptured appendix in 1992, from repressed anger).  

Effective communication does not rely on a loud or commanding voice. or one that manipulates or coerces. It requires setting clear boundaries, emulating confidence, and walking your talk. In the midst of this challenging foster setting, I found a new person in me as an empathetic listener and teacher, providing solid leadership and consistency as a role model for these boys in my quiet communication.  It was the beginning of 2005 when my voice started to return! By February, I could project my voice again. All the boys could say to me was “shhhhhhhhhh,” your talking too loud! 

I am returning to my passion of singing in a full time manner very soon, after I get my tonsils out on January 25th (another blog). My vocal chords are healthy, but my confidence shot, so it’s just a matter of time before it all returns, as long as I am committed to myself (see my January 4th blog on commitment), have clear boundaries (something I worked on A LOT in 2010), and communicate with positivity, joy, sincerity, and enthusiasm, a BIG and important commitment in 2011.

©Shelley Carlisle 2011


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