Ep#43 How to Express Yourself When Your Voice Feels Blocked with Elissa Weinzimmer
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Elissa Weinzimmer, an award-winning vocal health educator, presence coach, and the founder of Voice Body Connection.
After suddenly losing her own voice at age 21, Elissa began studying the mechanics of voice. Over time she developed a unique, concrete approach that empowers performers, leaders, and speakers to optimize their voices and share them more authentically.
What are you celebrating about yourself today?
Elissa: I’m celebrating that I am slowing down to take better care of myself. I’m unfortunately on antibiotics as we speak, but I’m healing with a functional/traditional Chinese medicine doctor to clear it for real.
How would you describe your medicine?
Elissa: I work with people on voice; specifically on embodied voice. I really, really love vibration and how we vibrate each other physically, auditorily, energetically, and emotionally.
What was the catalyst for your business?
Elissa: At nine years old, I was growing up in the San Francisco East Bay on Ohlone land where I learned about the tribe in school. During recess, I would sit at the far end of the field with a friend, write spiritual songs, and chant them. Once I started taking music classes and studied music theory with a focus on musical theatre, I came to believe for many years that what I was doing on the playground was stupid and the “wrong” way to go about music. When I was 21, I was pushing my voice so hard while I was involved in all these musical groups and ended up with a vocal hemorrhage which led to muscle tension dysphonia. I abandoned my performing career as I knew it but continued to direct theatre. I also started to study the human voice. Today, I chant and write simple mantra-like spiritual music, just like I did at nine years old at the playground.
When we heal our voice, we are also healing our yoni or vagina. What is the connection between these two?
Elissa: Biologically, in the female body, the channel that goes up at the top of the torso, in many ways, mirrors the channel that goes down at the bottom of the torso. When we think of the female human body, the throat is an empty space inside which sit two flaps of flesh. Those flaps are called the “vocal cords” or “vocal folds”. As the air flows up from the lungs through the windpipe, it sets the vocal folds into motion which chops up the airflow into sound waves, and that sound travels further through the tube that is the throat above the vocal folds into the oral cavity and the nasal cavities—there is this two-pronged tube with vocal cords sitting in the middle of it. Down at the bottom, again focusing on the female body, there is a “sack” similar to the lungs that is the uterus. The uterus has an opening that is the cervix. The cervix then opens to a channel that goes down and opens out into the world. In many ways, the throat and the vaginal canal are correlates. It’s kind of astonishing when you think about it.
One of the things we often discuss is using a vibrator to help open up your throat. Tell us more about that.
Elissa: I entered graduate school soon after I developed muscle tension dysphonia. As my life path would have it, one of my two voice professors had come up with this idea to use a vibrator for your voice. We ultimately called it vibrant voice technique. I was one of the people two started doing work on this idea and turned it into a business that allowed me to teach thousands around the world to use a vibrator for their voice. I think vibrators are a really useful kinesthetic and proprioceptive tool because our body speaks the language of vibration. When we can communicate with our bodies sympathetically, through vibration, we can literally change the frequency of the tissues of our body. We shouldn’t always rely on external tools, but vibrators really are very useful for this purpose.
How do you help those without a yoni or vagina to speak their truth and open up their voice?
Elissa: I call my work voice-body connection; so, it’s not just about the tissue and area of the yoni. It is an incredible area of dissociation for many female-bodied folks; but, we can dissociate from all parts of our body. I can dissociate from my left toe because I stubbed it really badly when I was ten years old. For, embodiment is an all-tissues, all-levels-of-the-body experience because it doesn’t really matter what your body looks like or what it’s made up of. It’s all about the body’s sentience and the fact that we’re experiencing it and moving it. There is a way of speaking that comes from the neck and the head out; but, then there is speaking with the whole self. So, gender doesn’t matter. All that matters is the vocabulary of vibration.
How do you see your work as so much more than just “vocal coaching”?
Elissa: The more that I do my work, the more that I feel that it’s nervous system training. It’s whole-body training but the nervous system is a leader in a very significant way. Our nervous system is our brain, spinal cord, and all the peripheral nerves including the vagus nerve. There is also a difference between speaking impromptu, where the right brain is in the driver’s seat; and reading off a page that you wrote on, where the left brain is in the driver’s seat. I untrain people to put the right brain in the driver’s seat. Also, the nervous system goes into logic mode whenever we feel unsafe. We need to train our nervous system to discern 1) whether or not we really are safe; and 2) if we feel safe, we can tune into the present moment and allow ourselves to deliver our story with ease and grace which is, of course, innate.
How can someone reclaim their voice and speak their truth when they feel confined in their environment and fearful of other people’s judgements?
Elissa: Our voice changes in size, shape, and range all the time. The question is: “Am I in alignment with what I want to come out right now and am I letting it out authentically and genuinely?” If you want to speak your truth, also ask yourself: “Am I meeting the outside world in a way that is balanced and kind and not harmful?”
Tell us more about the workshops that you’re doing as well as Authentic Voice Academy.
Elissa: The Voice Body Connection community is always available. We warm up together and have singalongs and monthly group coaching sessions and periodic workshops. There is less curriculum inside the community. It’s more of a place to come to exercise your muscles with support. I teach two courses every year: one is a vocal health course and the other is a confidence and presence course. As this podcast episode is being recorded, I’m getting ready to teach Authentic Voice Academy and the confidence and presence course again. As entrepreneurs, we have to put ourselves out there and, a lot of times, our nervous system does not feel comfortable about that process. Authentic Voice Academy is a nervous system training course to help you feel comfortable putting yourself out there, so to speak.
What are you doing to stay grounded and what have you learned to release?
Elissa: I have a handful of different practices that keep me grounded: I meditate, sing, and stay accountable through the Voice Body Connection community. So, even using the structure of my own work to support me is really powerful. As far as releasing, the last year-and-a-half has really given me an opportunity to get quiet, do internal, and do some very deep work on reprogramming how I show up in multiple aspects of my life.
What is one ritual or practice that you can encourage people to do in their daily lives so that they can start to reclaim their own voice?
Elissa: Humming and rocking are both great to do whenever you feel anxious. Also, be impeccable with your word: Practice saying what you mean. Practice not lying.
What would you tell your younger self as a future ancestor?
Elissa: Life is long and there are many chapters. We can never figure it out. We just need to keep showing up and being present. I mean that literally and intergenerationally—there are many stories for us to live and share.
Conclusion: When it comes to achieving voice-body connection, It doesn’t really matter what your body looks like or what it’s made up of. It’s all about the body’s sentience and the fact that we’re experiencing it and moving it. There is a way of speaking that comes from the neck and the head out; but, then there is speaking with the whole self. Male, female, or otherwise, everybody can experience voice-body connection. All that matters is the vocabulary of vibration.
Action Integration: Reclaim your voice to achieve true embodiment. You can do it right where you are. You may have to find an open space where you won’t be bothered by others. Better yet, you can find a support group that will encourage you to speak your truth such as Elissa’s Voice Body Connection community. It all starts by recognizing the power of your voice and embracing that power with confidence and love.
Learn more about Elissa and her offerings:
Visit her website: www.voicebodyconnection.com
Follow her on Instagram: www.instagram.com/voicebodyelissa