As seen in Midwifery Today Issue 91, Autumn 2009
I am very excited that I can finally put my degree from the Boston Conservatory of Music to good use in my current career! Recently during class I have been focusing a lot on vocal toning and its benefits during labor and birth.
So let me back up a bit to my days as a singer. I had what I refer to as ÂDebra-ismsÂ, which were my own special ways (read: bad habits) of dealing with a note or part of a song about which I didnÂt feel confident. I would rush by that note or phrase and get very tight in my neck, throat and shoulders. To combat the problem, my teacher would ask me to move my hips around to encourage my body – especially my neck and throat – to relax. The result would be that the notes which once gave me problems would soar out with ease and beauty. So what does that have to do with birth and labor, you might ask?
Well, as I had suspected from my own experience of constriction and release, there is a strong connection between an open throat and an open pelvis. It is not a coincidence that the neck is called the cervical spine and the lower, narrow portion of the uterus is called the cervix (Latin for neck). In fact, the cervix and vocal fold tissue behave similarly when tested. For years I have humorously used the phrase open throat, open vagina! – but there really is truth to that statement. When the throat is open, this opening is reflected in the throat of the uterus, the cervix.
You may not be a professional singer, but chances are you have sung out loud with a strong and mighty voice in the shower, convinced you should be the next American Idol. Yes, I do believe some of my best vocal renditions have been in the peace and privacy of my own shower oasis. When I belt away under the warm waterfall, I am totally at ease. The water is relaxing me, and there is no concern for judgment (well, save for the neighbors) or fear of failure.
When anxiety or fear sets in, the body reacts by tightening. Fear releases adrenaline into the blood stream, causing the body to jump into the Âfight or flightÂ mode. If youÂve ever had to scream for help, you know that the voice often comes out tight, screechy and high-pitched. Being aware of the sounds of your voice may give you an indication as to your mental state, how you are breathing, and your bodyÂs biological reaction to what is happening.
During labor, ask your partner or doula to listen to the quality of your voice and notice if it is high-pitched and constricted. If it is, have them hum, sigh or let out a gentle ÂahhhÂ sound with you. This will help you to lengthen your breath and lower the pitch. I use this technique a lot with my clients. When I hear these sounds, I know that she is breathing deeply. This conscious way of breathing promotes the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases the heart rate and blood pressure and moves the body into a state of rest and recuperation. Practicing these sounds is called vocal toning.
Vocal toning has many benefits:
* Opens the throat, which opens and relaxes the pelvis
* Ensures deep breathing
* Promotes relaxation of the mind and body, releasing stress and anxiety
* Lengthens the breath
* Serves as a productive pain management tool
* Creates vibration in the body, which can relax your muscles
* Stops the Âfear, tension, painÂ cycle
While many women find vocal toning awkward and foreign when they try it in class, students often report back after their birth that it was a very useful tool and that they were glad they knew about it. You donÂt need a degree from a music conservatory or the nod from Simon to harness the power of your own breath. Just open up, let go, and ÂahhhÂ.