This weekend I cheated on my voice. I had a love affair with a few glasses of wine and some cheese. It felt amazing! But my voice and I have already talked it out and we will slowly be rebuilding trust over the next few weeks - I vowed not to cheat again (for the next few weeks). What the hell am I talking about? Welp - the biggest driving force behind this blog and my desire to share with you guys was something major that happened on my artistic journey this past summer. After having ruminated about the next step in my life, I had decided to take the leap to full-time teaching and singing. I decided to leave my Ah-Mazing job as the manager at Sacred Brooklyn, took the huge risk away from a steady source of income in a family like environment, and went with the hunch that I could convince people to let me teach them things I love to do while freeing up time to pursue my artistic dreams. After committing to this plan, going freelance, and booking gigs as a summer camp teaching artist, yoga teacher, kids yoga teacher, and after school program teaching artist, something rocked my world that I was not expecting- I lost my voice. I didn’t lose it like when you’re sick and your throat hurts, I lost it like there was an ongoing vocal problem that I’ve probably had for years that was suddenly showing up in my inability to speak loudly or sing. It lasted about 2 weeks, the hoarseness and exhaustion around just speaking, and my singing voice was completely gone for about 4 weeks.
My best friend, Linz has had vocal issues so I learned about these things at a young age and it was my number one fear that I had developed nodules or polyps on my vocal cords. Once that’s the case, you usually need surgery to correct them. As a newly freelance, uninsured teaching artist, I found myself anxiously looking ahead to impending surgery that would not only cost a WHOLE bunch of money but also keep me away from my profession and making money for over 6 weeks. It seemed impossible.
But after I stopped freaking out, I got proactive. I decided that if this was the first of such symptoms showing up, I could probably take it as a warning sign from my body and modify my life to make things easier for my vocal cords. (Truthfully, I didn’t arrive at that on my own, I was actually wallowing in self-pity and ran to my acupuncturist, Lindsay Fauntleroy of Oceans and Rivers– I told her that I had manifested vocal problems through my own self doubt about my voice and she immediately offered an alternative way of thinking about it – taking a lesson from my body was much more in my control and useful than dramatically blaming myself for something that I didn’t even yet know was unfixable.)
Anyway – I did my research, talked to some doctors, made some appointments and made some changes. I immediately cut out coffee, knowing that vocal problems can come from too much acid in your stomach attacking the cords from underneath. To tell you today that I successfully quit coffee is a miracle. If you had asked me 5 months ago if I’d ever quit my favorite thing, I would have laughed at you. But I did it – I needed less acid and I was drinking acid all day every day. Caffeine is also drying. So I cut it. Next I started drinking way less alcohol (still drank some, I’m human,) and focused on drinking more water. Again, hydration is the key to a healthy set of pipes. Then I started talking to my friends and colleagues openly about the problem. Though I was scared to admit that I had a problem at all (especially in the vulnerable arena of creating art, it’s hard to tell your colleagues that you’re operating at less than 100% while also trying to get hired for gigs), it helped to hear other people’s stories of vocal problems.
It turns out I most likely have vocal fatigue, a problem that is fixable with careful lifestyle choices. I still have to see a specialist to confirm but the last few months of changes have so drastically improved my situation that I can’t imagine I actually have nodules (knock on wood!!)
Changes I’ve made in my lifestyle and diet –
- I steam my vocal cords once or twice a day – I fill a bowl with hot water, put in a few drops of eucalyptus oil, and inhale deeply for about 15 minutes. This was suggested by a few people and it turns out is a staple practice for many professional singers. It offers softness and flexibility in the throat and voice box.
- I cut the following from my diet – sugar, alcohol, fried foods, bread, seafood, anything refined, dairy, tomatoes/ acidic foods, and anything too spicy. All for a variety of reasons but mostly to appease my acidic stomach, deal with mucus/ phlegm, and stay hydrated. This list looks small typing it but it’s got some of my hugest vices and loves in my food-related world. I would have laughed at you suggesting I quit coffee months ago but would have been rolling around on the floor if you had asked me to give up sugar and dairy. No cheese, no ice-cream, no candy, not too much fruit, no honey, no nothing fun!!! But I’ve made the adjustment and though I cheat here and there, I’ve settled into my new diet.
- I take scheduled silent time throughout the day. I used to take any open time in my day to chat on the phone or hang out – and while I do still do these things, I’m much more aware of how much I’m talking throughout the day. I thought I was doing something wrong as a singer, but there’s talking to be considered as well. As a teacher, I talk more than the average person and often to rowdy groups of children who would love to make me yell – I refuse to yell in class and I refuse to talk on the phone for hours a day. I rest, meditate, and relax my throat actively once a day.
- I’ve been losing weight. This helps everyone’s health in general but is mostly due to number 2 up there.
- I made this whole situation a teaching moment for the kids in my musical theatre classes and I explained to them every change I’ve made in the classroom. One colleague of mine sent me a link to a speaker you can wear around your waist like a fanny pack with a Madonna style microphone you loop over your ear so I wouldn’t have to work to project as much in the classes– I bought it immediately. I introduced it to the class and explained exactly why I need to use it (which coincides with why we warm up our voices before singing) and I remind them often that I will not shout and need them to quiet down. I also remind them of my own issues when I hear them screaming or making terrible choices with their voices.
- I’ve started voice lessons with an incredible singer who has the power and stamina I want to develop. She’s got some interesting methods that I’m staying open to as I explore the limitations and range of my voice.
- I took a break from singing for a few months – Though this was torture, I put my EP on hold (more on the EP later!), stopped singing with the band, and generally took it easy.
- I. Drink. So. Much. Water. That will heal me – water.
This list is extensive and some days I’m lazy and skip a step or some days I feel like I’ve earned a cheat. On those days I let myself have it! Cheating is an important part of the process and an important part of developing lifelong sustainable habits. I don’t love that I have a huge list of restrictions but they are just for now as I heal and find what’s right for me – eventually I’ll ease into a more moderate relationship with all the things (sugar, my dear friend, I’ll be back just in a more mindful and healthy way!)
When I have a serious craving for something I am not allowed to eat, like pizza or fried chicken or ice cream, I simply ask myself – “Lauren, do you prefer a moment spent with ice-cream or a lifetime spent singing and sharing your art?” The answer is a no brainer. So I’ve created this blog to share with you as I develop habits that will bring together my lifestyle, my chosen professions, and my journey for wellness. I’ve always wanted to work with artists on their general wellness – I believe guitar players need more hand, wrist, and shoulder love, writers need to get up and walk around more, actors need more self-love in the face of constant auditions and rejections, singers need all the habits I’ve listed above and more, touring artists need help feeling grounded, we all need more sleep, and we can find this all through healthy choices that we integrate into our unique lifestyles. Many a singer will be up all night at a gig, but maybe together we can develop the habit of taking a yoga class beforehand and cutting the whiskeys off after just a few. Together we can learn how to afford delicious, healthy, whole, nourishing foods on our tight or sometimes non-existent budgets. Together we can overcome our dependency on feeling ALL the feelings and wallowing in the darkness that we believe creates the best art. As I strive to be well, these simple habits being just one list of many self-care practices I hold dear to my heart, I hope to spread the wellness through our whole artistic community.