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    Vocal Tension - Why Your Treadmill or Elliptical Trainer May Be Part of the Problem

    John Melley - Monday, April 22, 2013

    Ok, this is a little different than the typical posts I put here, but it is relevant to our vocal performance.

    Some of you may know I have been on an amazing journey in an attempt to become more fit and healthy. One of the most amazing things I have learned through my work with my trainer is how important our nervous system is. That may seem like a completely obvious statement that needs no explanation, but please… let me explain.

    Our brain is amazing.

    Its number one job is to keep us alive. Its number 2 job is to move us around. In many cases it moves us around in order to fulfill objective number one (Get food, move out of harm’s way, etc.)

    In order to protect us, one of the things our brain is really good at is pattern recognition. All of our senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch all send signals to our brain with various pieces of information. The brain assembles those pieces and recognizes patterns and adapts our movements accordingly. Depending on the pattern, the brain determines whether or not everything is Hunky Dory, or whether it should start to take steps to protect itself.

    The Startle Reflex

    These protection steps are collectively called the “Startle Reflex.” It’s hard wired in our brain. We all pretty much physically respond to threat the same way. Among other things the head tips down to protect the eyes and throat. The jaw clenches to harden against a blow to the head. The shoulders come up and forward to give more of a base of support to the neck and more protection to the heart and lungs. The arms come up to block anything coming toward your torso. Your rib muscles tighten. Your pelvis tilts and you bend forward to protect your vital organs. Adrenaline and other hormones and chemicals kick in to get you ready to move out of harm’s way.

    Here’s the thing. The startle reflex can be at varying levels of intensity. You don’t need to have a rock flying toward your head to initiate the startle reflex. Driving your car in bumper to bumper traffic, the phone ringing unexpectedly and a 1000 other things can create a low level startle reflex.

    How does all this have anything to do with treadmills and vocal tension?

    When your senses compile information and the information doesn’t match up with the brain’s expected pattern it’s called a “Sensory Mismatch” and that triggers an appropriate level of the startle reflex. Remember I said it happens at varying levels of intensity.

    I’ll pull this together for you by asking a question.

    What happens when you walk/run down the hall, or along the street?

    Answer: You move forward.

    When you walk or run forward, your eyes see things come toward you and move past you in your peripheral vision. Your skin feels the air moving past you. Your ears pick up the sound of that moving air and other sounds coming from different directions.

    The brain says: “Legs and arms are moving. Eyes are seeing things move past. Air pressure is changing depending on speed. Sounds are appropriate to the patterns I’m expecting.” With all that and about a million other inputs the brain determines everything is Ducky.

    What happens on a treadmill or elliptical trainer?

    Brain says:

    “Ok, my legs and arms are moving. I feel changing air pressure on my arms and legs, but… wait… nothing on my torso and face. Hmmm.

    Sounds aren’t changing as I expect them to. No air is rushing past my ears…. Huh….

    Hey wait a minute… nothing is moving past me either. The TV is on and it’s on a wall a lot farther away and higher up than the one in my living room.  It’s not coming closer to me like I expect it to, even though my legs are moving in a direction toward it! Jeesh!

    By the way, I’m used to a sitting position when I watch TV. Why are my legs moving? (Same thing with the book I may be reading… I’m usually sitting, or lying down before I go to sleep when I read. Should I be getting ready to rest instead of this walking/running thing?)

    This is NOT what I’m used to. What is going on? Sensory Mismatch! NOT a pattern I recognize. I’d better prepare. Initiate low-level startle reflex!”

    You might ask, “Well if I train on a treadmill or elliptical everyday then it will start to recognize the pattern, right?”

    Yes it will. It will also associate that pattern with the startle reflex. Every time you do it, you will reinforce the aggregation of those senses and your brain’s reactions to them.

    It will also be in conflict with the patterns you create/reinforce when you spend most of your time walking around normally, when things do go according to the expected pattern.

    Options?

    This low level startle reflex can accumulate over time and create vocal and other tension. I’m not saying “Don’t use a treadmill or elliptical.”

    But I am saying that what I’ve described above IS happening and it will create tension in your voice and body overall, albeit a subtle amount. Now that you’re aware of it, you may want to consider walking/running outside or on an indoor track to reduce this tension. Natural motion, like natural food, is better for you.

    And Now for Something Completely Different

    On another note, I invite you to listen and subscribe to my Voice Over Marketing Podcast, THE podcast dedicated to teaching in-depth and advanced marketing strategies for people in the voice over and audio production professions.

    My goal is to help you make more money by showing you ways to leverage your time, charge more for your talents and allow you to spend more time doing the things you want to do in your life. We interview some of the best and brightest people in Voice Over and Marketing.

    A new episode comes out about every couple of weeks.

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    I hope you enjoy it.

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