The Razor’s Edge – A Philosophy of Breath, Voice, and Spirit…
By Doe Kelly
Holistic Voice Teacher / Coach
NYC trained singer w/B. Mu. Degree (Voice Performance) from CU, Boulder, CO.
As a singer, voice teacher, breath/energywork practitioner as well as longtime student of metaphysics, healing, and spirituality, I have found that vocal production, breath, and emotions are integrally intertwined. In my experience, the study of voice is, in itself, an unfoldment of personal and spiritual significance, especially if viewed as such. In working with clients and their voices, I seek to assist them not only in becoming more proficient as singers and/or speakers, but also in achieving a more conscious relationship with themselves, their feelings, emotions, thoughts, and Spirits, through, and inclusive of, the medium of breath. The greater goal is, therefore, an expanded sense of Self, more fulfillment, joy, and happiness in life, and ultimately getting more of what you desire from your experience on this earth plane!
The breath plays a profound, but often ‘behind the scenes’ (i.e. often unnoticed or unconscious) role in every person’s experience. We cannot survive three minutes without it, yet, we often do not notice how (and when) we “hold” our breath in daily life, often as a hedge against unruly (and often ‘unacceptable’) emotions (such as anger, fear, sadness, excitement, etc.). We can last three or more days without water, many more without food, but only three minutes without breath! In truth, our breath is our first, as well as last (and most profound, as far as we know…) physical connection to this life; it is so integrally intertwined with the life force as to be, literally, considered our aliveness by many. Without our breath, life force goes, and so does our physical existence. How well we (do or do not) breathe in daily existence is often a measure of how fully we allow ourselves to experience as well as express ourselves in our lives (including our positive as well as negative emotions). The freedom of our breath (or lack thereof) can also be instrumental in how quickly we are able to shift from upset or disturbance to peace. Not to mention, indicative of how fully aware and in touch we are with our own bodies and emotions. How is it, therefore, that so many of us have learned (or been programmed?!) to breathe in a way that does not support our very existence?
As a young ‘seeker of truth’ in my early twenties, I remember having an experience while meditating in a local Zen center that began to alter my awareness in a way that was far reaching for me. One day, while following the meditative practice of counting my breath, I became aware of my shoulders, which in actuality is to say, I became aware that I was sitting in meditation with chronically hunched up, “stuck” shoulders!!! From that moment of awareness forward, I now had a choice, I could consciously seek to remember that I had a tendency to go into a “holding pattern” with my shoulders, and relax them whenever I became aware or remembered. I chose, and still, many years later, continue to choose to remember. This was years before I ever had a “conscious connected breathing” (or, “rebirthing” as it was called then) session, which unlocked a plethora of awareness, in body, mind, and spirit. Looking back, my experience in meditation smacked of small awakenings such as this, as I began a lifelong process as an adult, of opening my eyes to unconscious patterns and their effect on the quality of my experience, moment by moment.
In that same meditation center, I remember keeling over unconscious, one day, in the middle of meditating in the Zendo, which I believe marked the true beginning of my search for something more. I am certain that the reason I keeled over was that my breathing, in its familiar, but unconscious holding pattern of repressed, held in feelings was on a collision course with the awakening spiritual energy beginning to course through me, instigated by my meditation. This collision resulted in me passing out and falling over (lucky for me, I was sitting on the floor, and did not have far to fall!). It was at that point that I began a more urgent search for something that could free me from the reverberating constraints and severe dysfunction of my upbringing in an alcoholic family, and the pain of my past, which continued to haunt and disturb me in the present. Like a steady, slow pressure-cooker, this pain continued to simmer beneath the surface, and the overwhelming desire for relief from my emotional ‘crock pot’ ultimately led me to leave behind Zen, in search of something more, and to eventually discover breathwork.
I honor all practices I have done in my lifetime as contributors to who I have become in this saging process of life. Even when I have left them behind, their residues remain within me. I like myself. I even like myself in spite of my perceived weaknesses and faults! In my daily life, I consider myself, for the most part, a happy person. I have not achieved everything I have wanted with my life, nor am I always doing things that I “like” in my life’s circumstances. Even with that truth stated, I still am, for the most part, peaceful with myself, and with my life. I could never have said that in my “Zendo days”… I was a very unhappy individual in so many respects, in my twenties. And then, that pressing unhappiness, and the quest for “something more” led me to discover the miracle of conscious connected breathing that was known as … “rebirthing.”
In modern times, our lives have become so hectic, busy, and complex as to be unmanageable and without real ‘feeling recognition,’ or recognition of what our true feelings are, not to mention, how and where we may have hidden, suppressed or “stashed” our true feelings and emotions. The treadmill of survival, the perceived and real economic threats facing the world today, both unconscious and conscious remembrances of earlier family events, or any number of perceived emotional threats, including relationships under stress, can put us into a (recognized or not) state of high anxiety. Holding the breath is our “hedge against inflation,” quite literally! Where and how does it become possible for us to truly relax, to become reacquainted with our innate, primal breathing pattern (which is not a holding pattern) – our undulating, rhythmic, and fluid breath, with its full, natural, uninhibited inhalation and exhalation cycle, and all the feelings, good, bad or ugly that come along with this ‘rediscovered,’ “intuitive” breath?
With the tensions and stresses of modern life (coupled with parental conditioning, sometimes well-meaning, but often from emotionally unhealthy parents), many of us are accustomed and unconsciously habituated (lacking conscious awareness of our habit, that is) to breathing in a way that is truly sub-par. Often this “holding pattern” is a result of some (conscious or unconscious) image that we may both hold about ourselves, and/or wish to project about ourselves to others, but that is anything but the truth of how we may feel about ourselves on the inside!
We may “stuff” down our true feelings (which, when given full expression connect us to our spontaneous, primal breathing mechanism), becoming remote and distracted even to ourselves from what may truly be in our hearts…because to freely express our true feelings may be just too threatening to ourselves and others (or so we believe, consciously or unconsciously). And without the protective mechanism of “stuffed” feelings (or knowledge of a responsible and ‘non-violent’ way of communicating) we fear blurting out the Truth about our feelings (whatever that might be!) and our unmet needs, creating the oh-so-fearful possibility for…(oh dread!)…Change!
To escape this perceived threat, this fear of looking at ourselves in the mirror, and admitting to ourselves, then potentially others, and then even possibly acting on….the Truth – whatever it may be (with its dreaded threat of change!), we fill ourselves with food, drink and drugs of many kinds, electronic addictions, addiction to work, and couch potato behaviors at home. We numb ourselves to our-Selves with reality TV shows, “infotainment” on TV and the Net (rather than the real news), every kind of distraction, and empty pursuits. As “spiritual beings having a human experience,” but locked into unconscious “holding patterns” from the painful past, we have often become enmeshed in the mire and illusion of the physical plane at the expense of some very important parts of ourselves, including our precious intuitive breath.
The kind of chronic “holding pattern” described above, this lack of easy and spontaneous breathing under many, if not most, of life’s circumstances, is, in effect, a dumbing down of one’s spontaneous expression of aliveness (as in feelings and emotions, with their many shades and subtle hues) and can contribute to a physiology that is chronically ‘mal-nourished’ of its daily energy requirement.
Did you ever stop to focus on relaxing and taking some deep breaths, only to discover that you are suddenly overcome with the sensation of needing to yawn? I have observed this phenomenon consistently when working with the breath of my students, and also in conscious breathwork sessions. In my experience this is the body’s way of saying “thank you, I’ll have some more of that (OXYGEN/prana), please!” I have also seen the very same thing when working with a chronically ill elderly client I’ve cared for, whose breathing, due to her condition, is chronically sub-par. Once stimulated by simple vocal/breath exercises into taking fuller, deeper breaths, her mal-nourished body, too, reaches out for more energy in the form of irresistible, delicious yawning!
The breath is the razor’s edge, the narrowest of bridges between the conscious and unconscious minds, and the link between the mind and the emotions (for while to ‘re-spire,’ as in respiration, is, according to Webster, “to breathe, to inhale and exhale air successively,” ‘in-spire’ is “to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on” or, literally, ‘bring in Spirit’). Notice that I have used the terms “conscious or unconscious” several times in this writing. By working directly with the breath, we can become conscious of things that heretofore have remained in the realm of the unconscious, or, stated differently, become aware of that which we are, and have been, unaware.
The breath is also, unquestionably, the main medium by which we sing, speak, and express ourselves, the main carrier of the fuel to our fire (literally, as in oxygen to our cells) and animating force, whereby we remain alive and embodied on this earth! It is both my belief and my experience that the more we are able to become a co-creative master of our breath, the more potential there is for us to experience our own wholeness. This includes becoming aware of, and in conversation with, our heretofore unconscious parts, and our disowned thoughts and feelings. When this awareness occurs, everything about us benefits, including the voice, which is then able to find its own path to greater freedom through profound releasing of constriction in the larynx, jaw, tongue, mouth and face, as we move into greater expansion of our own Being through the freeing up of the formerly repressed breathing mechanism. At this point, we truly begin to enjoy, as singers and speakers, a new sense of what’s possible in terms of our newly freed up, sound producing physiology!
The freely pulsating, instinctive and healthy breath of a baby or small child is ultimately socialized out of most of us through unhealthy parental conditioning of us, and by punishment, meted out from those in authority, of unwelcome emotions, behaviors, and rebellious attitudes (and sometimes, in extreme cases, our ‘socialized suppression’ comes from emotional and physical abuse by those in positions of power over us). To me, becoming a co-creative breath master implies a re-learning or remembering of how to surrender, in our bodies, to our innate and instinctive way of breathing, through the gentle unwinding of some old, unhealthy habits. If we attempt breath mastery, as singers and speakers, by enforced breathing techniques via mental concept only, with little or no relaxed attention and surrender to the discovery or our innate breath (that being too scary because of all those suppressed and to a degree, unconscious, feelings that are stored in the body-mind’s various stuck places), we risk the frustrated treadmill of “more of the same” – a continued reinforcement of our habitual holding patterns. (See the work of Wilhelm Reich for more on the concept of body armor, ie, where chronic holding patterns reflect a societally imposed, habituated musculature that is “stuck,” unable to fully and freely access the breath, physiology, and emotions in order to live a life free of mental and emotional rigidity.)
It is this state of conscious, relaxed freedom that we seek to embody in order to sing and express in all the fullness of our Being. Discovering (remembering) and then, surrendering to one’s innate, intuitive breath (and accompanying feelings), brings us more access to our life force and Spirit, for singing or expressing ourselves, or just for optimal health. As we work towards this mastery, we are consciously able to utilize our breath-stream, or Life Force, ever more freely, even playfully, letting go of excessive struggle, in order to express through sound. The study of voice in this context can, therefore, become more than just the study of sound production; it can, if desired, become something much more personally profound.
You can look all of these up in Webster’s Dictionary:
spire – pinnacle, steeple
spire – to rise in or as if in a spiral
spirare – to blow, breathe
spire – to rise like a spire – literal def.
spirited – full of energy, animation, or courage
spiritus lit. breath; spirare, to blow, breathe
spirit – an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms
aspire – to rise like a spire; aspire (aspirare) – to breath upon (lit.); to seek to attain or accomplish a particular goal
respire – to inhale and exhale air successively
inspire (inspirare – to breathe); to breathe or blow into or upon; to infuse (as life) by breathing; to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on; to spur on, impel, motivate
About Vocal Lessons
In vocal sessions, I use my extensive experience and background as a singer/performer, teacher/counselor/coach, breathworker, long-term meditator, energy worker, and “everything else,” enhanced by my intuition (and a great set of ears!), to give you the constructive feedback which helps gets you in touch with your voice, breath, emotions and Spirit in a way that leaves you enlivened and, hopefully, Self-inspired. If you desire to do the breathwork only, that is also an option.
The initial 1¼ hr. session, whose purpose is ‘getting to know you,’ and which includes an intake, disclaimer, questionnaire, and discussion of what might best serve you in vocal and/or breath studies, as well as your initial vocal lesson/assessment, costs $55.00. Subsequent voice sessions are approximately 1 hour in length and cost $38 – $45 (depending on choice of payment plan).
Lengthier sessions, the purpose of which could be to focus on specialized needs (such as infrequent sessions on account of distance, or the need for more in-depth breath training) are approximately 2 hours in length, and cost $75. Occasionally, someone requests a half hour lesson. I don’t encourage this as, in my opinion, a lesson should be allowed to unfold without undue time constraints. However, with some students, and in certain circumstances, I will do a half hour session, which costs $30.
If you live where it is not possible to come to study in person, SKYPE vocal sessions (although not ideal) are also a possibility, please inquire.
Making An Appointment
Please email me to arrange an exploratory phone chat/consultation; then, if you are eager to get started, we will schedule an initial 1 1/4 hr. session for $55.00 (with no obligation to continue) to see if we are a good fit!
Doe Kelly – B.Music (Voice Performance)
Holistic Voice Teacher/Coach
Breath & Energyworker
Voice Over Actor
LEARN MORE about Doe Kelly
CLICK HERE to go to my dedicated Voice Teaching, Coaching, and Performance website.