“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Dr. Brené Brown
Control is such a tricky subject in singing, in yoga or any physical discipline, and also in life. We can’t go around controlling every little thing in our lives, but we also don’t want to completely “lose control” and become so passive that we let go of responsibility (the ability to respond!) and taking action towards our deeper dreams and desires. As I discussed in this blog entry, in singing and yoga we want to determine how much muscular (or energetic) engagement is necessary and helpful and how much is simply trying too hard. In this way, we aim to strike a balance between relaxation and receptivity and committed, dynamic engagement. This is yet another area where my yoga and singing practice is a rich reflection or microcosm of the inner work I need to do and bring into my everyday life; as I become more aware of the tension in my jaw and tongue and practice releasing it, it becomes easier for me to release control in my personal relationships and in the every day ways I choose to spend my time.
This common issue of tension in the jaw and tongue area is connected with the throat chakra and may point to issues of expression – speaking your truth, voicing yourself without holding back, etc. – but also I’ve found that issues in that area specifically relate to themes of control in one’s life. There are two common ways in which the jaw and tongue tend to want to “help” and we end up asserting too much control: 1. By clenching the jaw shut and the tongue becoming wide and highly arched, often pulling the tip of the tongue away from the teeth. The palette often drops, as well, resulting in a nasal, forced sound. 2. By shoving the jaw down from the front, without awareness of the release needed in the back of the jaw and going all the way up to the muscle insertion just above and behind the temples. In this scenario, the tongue often gets shoved down the throat, resulting in an overly darkened sound, losing the instrument’s true resonance.
In both cases, we are exerting control out of some sort of fear or mistrust of our own breath support or true resonance. This fear and mistrust often manifests in our everyday lives, as well, and the two ways in which we exert control in our singing practice may correlate, in a sort-of fun-house mirror way, to the ways in which we exert control in our lives. In the first case, we are suppressing an emotion, an expression – repressing and holding something in, perhaps avoiding something we don’t feel we can confront. In the second case, we are exerting control externally in a forceful way, perhaps intimidating others in an attempt to get one’s way. Neither methods of “control” are, in fact, effective.
But wait, you might say – does this mean if I tend to shove my jaw down, that I am an anxiously-attached person who tends to try and exert control outside of myself? If I tend to clench my jaw when I sing, does that mean that I’m an avoidant-attached individual who tends to suppress my feelings and emotions? Not necessarily – remember, it is a fun-house mirror…try to stay curious and open, exploring the tendencies in your body and how they might show up in your life. Perhaps you’ve experienced both ways of controlling, at different times, depending on the situation!
Once you’ve observed your tendencies and “caught yourself in the act,” invite in the possibility of full breath engagement connected with vulnerable open-ness through the resonator – let the jaw hang in a neutral position and release from the back when needed. Get out of your head and into your body, and observe and respond in the moment with truth and trust! Breathe in and go – surprise yourself and sing openly, despite the fear – that is true courage!