The Feldenkrais Method is a system of learning that was developed by Moshé Pinchas Feldenkrais during the mid-1900s. This groundbreaking method uses gentle movement in combination with awareness to help you to discover new ways of living the life you want. In trans voice training, the Feldenkrais Method can be a powerful ally to help you discover and embody your true voice. The pressures of the binary world can be a crushing pressure that forces your authentic expression to hide away within. With Feldenkrais, you can gently learn to loosen the hold of the past by doing something beautiful: discovering that you have options. Right now it may seem like you have only one option for your voice: to do it the way you’ve always done it, but that is only an illusion! There is a bright, beautiful world of possibilities that lives within you, waiting to be discovered.
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Why Feldenkrais is helpful for trans voice training
If you’re a student of trans voice training, then you know that finding your authentic voice requires change. Change makes it possible for you to discover new methods of self expression, and ultimately, to find and embody your true voice. So of course, you want to change, but this doesn’t alter the fact that change can be very difficult for your brain to receive. Throughout the day, your brain is making predictions about everything. When you reach out to take a sip of your morning coffee your brain already has a million different predictions about how the experience is going to be: the taste, the smell, the sensation, the way you will hold the cup, the way you will prepare your lips, the emotion you will experience when you drink – all of this is predicted by your brain before you take the first sip. These predictions will tell your body how you “should” perform the gesture. In this way, your past memories may determine your present movement. This is very important to understand in trans voice training because the voice is movement. The breath, the movement of the tongue, the vibration of the vocal folds- all of these moving elements make up the voice. If we truly want to change the voice, then we must somehow learn to move in a new way that our brain does not have a memory of. With the Feldenkrais Method, you can learn to create new neural pathways by building greater sensory awareness for how you move through the world. Because awareness equals options. to slow down the process of your brain, giving you the opportunity to build awareness of exactly how you are moving through the world. And with awareness comes options.
In order to better understand how the Feldenkrais Method can aid in trans voice training, let’s first explore how the brain learns. As humans, we learn through mirror neurons. These neurons allow you to learn in two ways: by observing another person performing an act, or by completing a motor act yourself.1 This means that you can learn how to throw a frisbee by watching someone else do it, or, by having the physical experience of throwing it yourself. When it comes to learning by observation, you’re likely to be greatly influenced by the behavior of your primary caregivers. Meaning that you may find yourself inhabiting the movement of your parents. This is exactly what many trans people are seeking to change. You may have been brought up in an environment that had a particular gender bias that does not match the way you feel on the inside. You may have been taught a particular way to move, to walk, and to talk, and after years of having this drilled into you, your body may not know how to access the true voice you so dearly want to find. How can we even recognize our true voice when everything around us has been telling us it is wrong? Take a gentle breath and remember: you are not alone in this, and there is a way forward. The beauty of the Feldenkrais method is that it doesn’t teach you what is “right” or “wrong,” what is “good” or “bad.” Instead, it offers a gentle portal inward where you can learn about yourself, and experience the many wonderful voice options that are waiting to be discovered. As these options present themselves, you will have the power to choose what you love. To choose what is best for you. In this way, Feldenkrais can help build something that is truly precious: your inner authority.
Awareness through movement
Have you ever noticed that talking about something is different than doing something? It’s a normal impulse to talk about the things you want to do: Perhaps you want to get up earlier, eat more leafy greens, or maybe, you really want to find your true voice; so you might talk about this desire with a trusted friend or therapist, or maybe write about it in your journal. And yet, at the end of the day, doing the things you talk about can be extremely hard. From scientific research we know that movement in the body bi-passes the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is where reasoning happens. The Feldenkrais Method understands that while you can talk about how something is, and how you want it to be, it is the physical experience of doing it with awareness that truly helps you to learn a new way of being. With awareness of movement you can experience many movements that may have previously been unavailable, or unnoticed. You may notice movements that you like, movements you want to experience more of, and you may also notice movements that are efficient or inefficient. Efficiency is an important factor in the Feldenkrais Method, because a movement’s level of efficiency reveals how your body is functioning. An inefficient movement will take a great deal of physical effort to sustain, while an efficient movement will take much less effort.
Let’s explore this idea of awareness in movement and efficiency by looking at the act of swimming: Eva wants to improve her ability as a swimmer, however she is struggling. Everytime she gets to the edge of the pool she’s out of breath and exhausted. She decides to search for answers by using the Feldenkrais Method.
- While swimming, she asks herself, “What is my experience?” She opens up her awareness to find the answer.
- Her answer: I feel like I’m drowning!
- She asks, “How is my movement efficient or inefficient?” And she notices these inefficient movements:
- My breath is shallow, and because of that I am constantly gasping for air
- My arms (the smaller muscles) are doing most of the work, rather than my legs (the larger muscles)
- My legs are running in place, rather than working as paddles
- She asks, “What would efficient swimming look like?” She decides:
- My breath would go deeper, into my belly rather than my upper chest
- My legs would do the big work, and my arms would do the smaller dexterous movements
- My feet would engage as paddles
- My body would be in harmony with the surface of the water rather than fighting against it.
Now, take a look back at Eva’s list of inefficient movements. Every movement on this list is reminiscent of a drowning person. Eva feels like she’s drowning, and her body moves like she’s drowning. Her experience is one of survival. Without realizing it, Eva has brought a survival mentality into her swimming practice, and this has caused her body to go into survival mode. Instead of swimming, she is spending all of her time trying not to drown. But imagine, if you were to tell a drowning person that they’re drowning, would it help them? No. It is Eva’s process of awareness while in movement that allows her to discover a lack of efficiency, to implement change where she wants it, and in the end, to shift her mental intention from survival to harmony.
Many people in the trans community have first hand experience of being in survival mode. If you had a traumatic upbringing you may know survival mode well, or you may have experienced it during activities such as traveling to a new place, going for a job interview, or in any experience where you fear that being outed could put you in danger. Perhaps you’ve “learned to get by,” “learned to hide,” “learned to lie,” or “learned to suppress.” This undercurrent of survival may put your body into a state of constriction and fear, and, just like Eva in the swimming pool, your voice will move accordingly. This can be an extremely frustrating place to be, because even if you are practicing your trans voice exercises everyday you may not be able to find the true voice you’re looking for. So how do we begin to address this? How do you show your voice that it’s an option to step out of survival mode? Start by doing the exact same Feldenkrais process that Eva used: While speaking, ask yourself: “What is my experience of my voice? “Where is my voice efficient or inefficient?” “What is an efficient voice?” From this gentle inquiry you can gain the awareness to open up new modes of movement for your voice. So, what kinds of movements might you discover? Let’s discuss this below in “awareness of breathing.”
Awareness of breathing
Did you know that your breath and your brain are communicating at all times? Whether you’re sleeping, running, singing, or talking, your brain is using the information it gets from your breath to interpret your level of safety. That’s right, your brain determines whether or not you are in survival mode based on your breath movement. If your breath is communicating “fight or flight,” your body may go into constricted movement, creating inefficient movement in your voice. If your breath is communicating safely, your body may be able to relax its movement, allowing for the discovery of efficient vocal movement. Let’s explore this idea further below with some Feldenkrais exercises.
To put it simply, the exercises of the Feldenkrais Method help you to learn what you want to learn by using the movement of your choice. As we discussed above, the breath is movement. Therefore, you can learn about our breath by moving your breath. Let’s get into the exercises and have some fun!
Awaking awareness of breath
First, let’s start by awakening your awareness of the options you have:
- Ask yourself, how many choices of breathing do I have? Anxious breath? Relaxed breath? Angry breath? Shy breath? Confident breath? How many can you think of? Have fun and get creative! Try each of these breaths on for size. How do they feel? How do they sound? Where do you feel each of these breaths in your body? Are they in the belly, the chest, the throat, the head?
- Next, ask yourself: What is my breath telling me? What is my breath telling the person that I’m talking to? Anxiety, confidence, sleepiness, excitement, pain, wonder?
- Now, ask yourself: What do I want more of? Do you want to feel more anxiety? Or perhaps you want to experience more confidence?
With this simple exercise you have already deepened your awareness of breath. Right now, you have more options for your breath movement than you started with. By building awareness of your breath, you are gently developing the ability to communicate directly with the nervous system. Want to tell your nervous system you’re in danger? You can do that with your breath! Want to tell your nervous system that you’re relaxed? You can do that with your breath!
Breathing can be notoriously difficult to train. You may have heard the terms “low breathing” “belly breathing” “breath support” and “breath pressure,” but as much as we can talk about these concepts, it can be very difficult to actually feel these movements in your own body. Because of this, successful breathwork is elusive to many. See-saw breathing is a simple and elegant Feldenkrais exercise that allows us to truly feel the breath as it moves inside of us, thus we experience how our body facilitates this movement in real time. See-saw breathing should only be practiced under the guidance of a licensed Feldenkrais practitioner, so instead of giving step-by-step instructions, we will roughly describe how it works: We start by imagining the breath to be a ball that can be passed back and forth inside the body. We inhale, hold the breath inside our body, and then gently move the ball of breath down to the belly, then up to the basket of our ribs, and then back down to the belly. With this motion, the many parts of the breathing apparatus come into awareness, perhaps for the first time, giving you a clearer image of what’s involved in breath: it’s not one single movement, but a symphony of movement! This may seem simple, but it is quite profound. If you don’t ever have this experience of breath, then you won’t know that this movement is an option. The more information you have about what you can do, the more ability you have to create what you want.
Paradoxical breathing is not a term that is used in the Feldenkrais Method, however it sometimes comes up when Feldenkrais is discussed, so we will take the opportunity to address the topic here. Paradoxical breathing is when your chest expands during inhalation and your belly draws inwards. Then, when you exhale, your belly moves outward. Paradoxical breathing is dubbed paradoxical because it is considered to be the inverse of efficient breath movement (where the belly moves outward as you inhale, and draws inward as you exhale.)
The see saw breathing exercise is a great way to address paradoxical breathing. As we move through the see-saw exercise, our big muscles, which may be off our radar, get a chance to be taken through their full range of motion in a fun and interesting way. When our nervous system starts to receive clear communication from this movement, it begins to reorganize itself towards efficiency on its own. The solution is discovered through respect for your individual ability to learn. The only reason you may be stuck in the ‘wrong’ thing is because you don’t have all of the information…yet!
The Feldenkrais Method is not a form of therapy, however the phrase “Feldenkrais therapy” is commonly searched for online, so we thought it would be helpful to discuss here. It is often part of the human experience to see the world in terms of “problems” and “solutions.” We even extend this thinking to ourselves, saying “something is wrong with me, how do I make it right?” This phenomenon can lead us in self-judgment, is a challenging position to be in if you are trying to learn and create change. In the Feldenkrais Method there is no pathology (pathology is the study and diagnosis of disease), there is nothing wrong, nothing to correct. Instead, the Feldenkrais Method is simply to learn what you want to learn through movement. In this way, we can gently put down the labels of “right” and “wrong,” and make way for the vast and beautiful world of unique self expression.
The Linklater Voice Method
The Linklater Voice Method often comes up in conversation with the Feldenkrais Method. It was created by Kristin Linklater as a method to “bring the experience of language out of the head and into the body” by using a series of step by step exercises. This practical method touches on awareness of breathing, relaxation, the experience of the voice vibrating inside the body, and the movement of various parts of your voice apparatus. Linklater was an advocate of the Feldenkrais method, and had a deep understanding of awareness. In the Linklater Voice Method awareness is everything. The more we are aware of, the more options we have.
One fun exercise from the Linklater Voice Method is “drawing your voice.” Go ahead, give it a try, what does your voice look like? Getting your other senses involved may allow you to access a part of the brain that you’re not used to using. Look at the picture of your voice and ask yourself: “What do I want more of?” If you can draw it, then you can do it.
Find your true voice
Are you ready to discover your true voice? Click here to connect with our friendly staff to learn more about the Feldenkrais Method and the wonderful team of coaches at Seattle Voice Lab. Don’t be shy, we’d love to meet you!