Voice Lessons

I used my Alexander Technique lessons this week to develop my voice.

I tend to carry around a lot of unnecessary tension in my jaw and neck, and I get particularly tight when I start speaking provocatively.

Have you heard of the startle response? You hear a loud noise and you unconsciously react by the head jerking back and down on the neck and forward, with the torso contracting.

Research has shown that the startle reaction takes place within milliseconds of the stimulus, in a way that is designed to protect the body from attack. Frank Pierce Jones (1951) showed that the reflex starts with the head which jerks as the neck muscles contract and the eye muscles tighten and blink. Then the response moves down into the torso which flinches; the shoulders raise and arms stiffen, the abdominal muscles contract and the chest flattens, then the knees flex – all this in around one second. Alongside these external changes, breathing and blood pressure levels change and the heart rate accelerates. Interestingly, ‘the response begins with extension’ and immediately changes to flexion.

Whilst the muscular changes that take place in the startle reaction can return to normal fairly quickly if the danger recedes, breathing and the vascular system take rather longer to calm down, as the Parasympathetic Nervous System, PNS, begins to take over to bring back a state of calm to the whole system. If the perceived danger continues, then the fight/flight response may develop.

People can also react with the startle response to other milder stimuli, such as a phone ringing. The more anxious and stressed a person is, the more frequently they tend to over-react to situations with this pattern of flinching and contracting. This is very much the case in people who suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD and they can display an exaggerated startle response, or hyperekplexia.

Most people go into a mild form of startle response every time they sit down, speak, even breathe. Over the years, these thousands of patterns of clenching and unnecessary tension place a person in an ever-tightening strait-jacket of damaging habits so that the tasks of ordinary life become increasingly onerous.

How are you going to feel happy when reaching into the frig or driving a car becomes challenging?

I am not exempt from these tendencies, though three years of study and practice of the Alexander Technique has helped me reduce my layers of unnecessary tension. Still, I am distressed when I realize how much I unnecessarily tighten my neck and pull down on myself when I speak (instead of expanding like the great speakers and singers). This negatively effects my vocal quality, my thinking and my general health.

The louder I speak and the more controversial the things I say, the more I tend to tighten and contract my head, neck and back. Some of that is to be expected. You say something provocative and you better be ready for fight or flight. I just don’t want to unnecessarily wrap myself in undue compression.

Today I learned that when I smile, my jaw tends to release unnecessary tension and move forward, increasing my resonance and vocal range. Also, when I smile, my face softens and becomes more alive to the moment.

I also found out that I compress around my eyes. This is probably the result of decades of squinting against the sun. I have heavy bags under my eyes (when I have girlfriends, I get them to rub girly ointments there to reduce my wrinkles). So I’m experimenting with getting in touch with this unnecessary tension and then releasing it, thinking about my face widening as a way of finding my habits of compression and releasing them.

When I stop tightening around my eyes, my face becomes more alive, my voice improves and the women come running.

Next stop is my lips. I tend to hold way too much tension in them. My lips are made for loving, not for hating. I need them to be free, soft and agile.

Speaking of soft lips, I’ve never had a relationship with a woman where we did not make out — at least! — on the first date and then talk every day on the phone.

Unless our romance rockets out of the earth’s atmospheric pull during our first hours together, it almost never does.

By contrast, when I am stuck on the slow dating boat to China, it never turns into anything.

This woman I knew in shul, she said she slept with both of her husbands on the first date.

This is what nature intended for two people who truly care about each other and want to express their feelings in a concrete fashion.

Chaim Amalek emails:

As I recall from way back when I dated, whenever a woman was into me she did not think up excuses not to see me, but rather did the reverse, trying to see if I might not be free to see her. “I was just in the neighborhood” or perhaps writing or calling that she was interested in going to this or that event. The key is that when you are into someone you want to spend more time with them.

Her “get back to you” line = “I have to wash my hair tonight and then my grandma is coming over for a visit but maybe later on next month.”

Do you think your beard helps you find a mate? If it is doing the reverse for you, then is having it consonant with the demands of Torah?

…Wait, I thought just saying the magic words “I am a patent attorney” opens all doors and spreads all legs?

Seriously, I know this guy in SF who is a patent lawyer. He says the dating situation there, contrary to what men elsewhere may think, is the worst there is, with the women looking for men far outnumbered by the men looking for women (think hordes of Silicon Valley nerds traveling north in search of women), and most of the former far more into their careers than having any sort of a relationship with men.

As for myself, I’ve given up. My last outlet was Craigslist, and the pickings there became nearly infinitesimal, with the spammers and bots and hookers outnumbering the real women by about thirty to one. And of that “one”, the vast majority prove to be obese or black or crazy or obese and black and crazy or white and obese and crazy. I’d rather not bother than try to appeal to such women. Ain’t worth the effort.

That Luke, in his poverty still manages to make the rounds and at least momentarily interest women who in Craigslistland would be perfect tens is most impressive. I wonder how Luke’s social life will change when he moves in with his friend at the end of the month.

The beard — every girl has said she doesn’t like it, but I had 42 years without a beard, so frankly, I’m not sure it hurts me that much, and now that the beard is really long, I think it makes me more interesting to some women, even if they don’t like it. Also, it gives me a ton more credibility in the Orthodox world. It gives me street cred. Nobody questions my commitment to Judaism, to Torah, to observance, etc. People treat me with more respect with the beard. It intimidates. Make me seem fierce.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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