S2:E1 | What is Voice? With Melanie Weller

Mar 12, 2022
Embody Your Star Podcast with Melanie Weller

[00:00:00.310] Welcome!

[00:01:39.750] Your vagus nerve is really the truest expression of who you are.

[00:02:09.200] Voice comes up from the body to the brain.

[00:02:46.830] If those horizontal structures aren't working so well, the vertical structures that go through them can't relay messages as effectively.

[00:04:15.260] Our bodies really have a voice that comes up quite literally from our feet up.

[00:04:47.170] Three levels of 'Conversational Intelligence'

[00:05:39.580] The physiology of the co-creative conversations

[00:07:11.450]  Being the hero in your own story is incredibly powerful at overcoming stage fright and anxiety

[00:09:48.510] Exercise: Dialogue With a Symptom




How do you fine tune your body to fine tune your voice to convey what you're you might not understand, but your heart does?
Today I'm going to talk about voice and what it is: both in conventional and unconventional terms.

 In humans, voice is defined as the sound produced by the vocal organs or the ability to produce such sounds and the vocal cords are innervated by the vagus nerve. This has been a part of my clinical expertise as a physical therapist for a long time now. My favorite thing about the vagus nerve with respect to voice, is that when the vagus nerve exits the brainstem it goes down almost to your heart and then loops back up to innervate the vocal cords. I like to think of the vagus nerve as the nerve that allows us to speak our hearts beyond this basic anatomy and physiology of the vagus nerve, because it is our connection to pleasure and grace under pressure and reducing our stress and inflammation, which is also a pathway to pleasure because stress and inflammation certainly are the opposite of pleasure.


Your vagus nerve is really the truest expression of who you are.

It's your pathway to your authenticity and to knowing yourself better. And the research really supports this. There's contemplative practices, meditation, mindfulness all help improve vagus nerve function, and certainly they also help us get in touch with our inner voice. The dictionary defines voice also as the mind, as it produces verbal thoughts.


Having spent a lot of years giving people's bodies voices...

I've really come to understand that voice isn't just this top down thing that goes from our mind to our bodies. I would even contend that voice comes up from the body to the brain. how clear your path is between your body and brain is directly related to the clarity and positivity of thoughts that you have. I've seen this so much in patients that I've treated with mental health diagnoses. We know that trauma always affects the voice, the breath, our vocal cords and the diaphragm. The muscles we breathe with are oriented horizontally in the body.


We have other major horizontal structures, too.

If those horizontal structures aren't working so well, the vertical structures that go through them can't relay messages as effectively. This includes the vagus nerve. So people with mental health diagnoses are often quite severely restricted at these horizontal thresholds in the body - they're not getting an accurate voice. They're getting a very distorted representation of who they are in their minds or I'll say in their heads, because I think your mind and your body are the same thing. Your body is your mind. But that message, the way it gets translated to your head can get really distorted. The verbal parts of our brain operate somewhere between 40 - 8000 bits per second. I've seen different numbers and different references.

It's a loud voice. If it's distorted or has obstacles in the road, you're not going to get a fully accurate perception of yourself or your sense of reality is going to be altered in relationship to that.

In my practice, the most severely restricted people in terms of their bodies and getting those messages to the brain are always in suicide ideation.


I know exactly how to measure that and how to recognize it in the body very specifically.

So our bodies really have a voice that comes up quite literally from our feet up. That it's not just this thing that goes from our brain down to our body. The part that goes from our brain down to our body is often a little bit more like the mule path rather than the superhighway. How we speak to ourselves has a huge influence on our physiology as well.


My mentor, Judith Glaser created a beautiful system called conversational intelligence.

She talks about level one, two, and three conversations.

  • A level one conversation is tell-sell-yell. It would be like somebody in the military giving someone a direct order. There's no discussion. It's just an instruction, an imperative.
  • Level two conversations are positional, and someone is always trying to get the upper hand. It's a debate, pros and cons. 
  • Level three conversations are co-creative, where all ideas are welcome, they might not all get used, but it's a safe space to express yourself.

In the business, research companies that use more of these level three conversations, build trust within their organizations and make more money.


The physiology of the co-creative conversations also improve Vagus nerve function.

Trust is very much tied in to vagus nerve function in the body and voice. Certainly we decide whether we trust somebody or not in less than half a second of meeting them. Not only is their voice part of how we determine whether or not someone is trustworthy, but it's also the nonverbal communication, the voice of their bodies, the way they carry themselves, that leads us to that point of discernment.

So voice is also a wish, choice, or opinion. I think this is especially interesting because so often when I ask my clients what they want, what they desire, they have no idea, or they don't know how to voice it, or really being clear on what you desire and what your desires are, separate from other people in your life.

I see a lot of people who are being the hero in someone's story at the expense of their own or satisfying everybody else's desires at the expense of their own. So to know what your desires are and your story is and what your hero superpower is really critical to having your most powerful voice and your authentic voice and setting up, that's a huge asset.


Resolving just that, getting clarity around your desires and you being the hero in your own story is incredibly powerful at overcoming stage fright and anxiety, as well as things like neck pain and shoulder pain that these really show up in the body quite like in and around the area of the voice.

Voice is also influential, power. One of the things that I really love to do, and I was really ramping it up before the pandemic and haven't done as much of it since is working with groups of people and being able to take one person from that group voice what's going on. Get the group to use their voices together, or their mindset together, their imagination together, to transform what's going on with that one person and let that ripple out into a bigger transformation for the group as well.

Voicing, what's going on with someone either through imagery or through sound can be highly influential and ripple out in really big ways.

For example, I recently taught a continuing education course and taught it around the physical therapist for vagus nerve decompression and wanted to make the point about what was happening in clinicians minds eye was really important for getting an ideal outcome.

  • We took one of the participants and tested her biomechanics, and she was quite limited in a couple of places.
  • Then I gave everybody an image and had them focus on that image. The image was an owl
  • They just focused on this owl and getting it to fly with its wings outstretched and be big and beautiful.
  • We did that for a minute, maybe a minute and a half at the most.
  • After we did this imagery activity, the person who I had was using as a demonstration subject here, her biomechanical test, her range of motion was completely normal after that, the group imagery by itself gave objective changes in her body.

The fun part is, it gave objective changes in the participants bodies, in the rest of the class as well. So shifting one person can cause a whole group to shift.


So when I work with vocalists and performers...

..we work on how can you find that sweet spot in an audience or in a Stadium full of people and start to get the whole group to shift, to create a transformative experience for everybody that's there.


So next time you get a sensation in your body, whether it's pleasure or pain, whether you have a logical explanation for it or not, have a conversation with it.

One of the most powerful mind body exercises that I use with clients is dialogue with a symptom and so you can write this just like a movie script. But if you're having stage fright or if you're having knee pain, it doesn't really matter. Start having a conversation with it. "Dear stage fright, dear knee pain, what are you telling me?"

Your first thought is your best thought and you can just keep going through that and see what your body is telling you.


There's lots more to discuss about voice and I'm looking forward to bringing more episodes of Embody Your Star to you.



See you next time.




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