TWM Fourteen Discoveries:
OUR BODIES EMPLOY A HIGHLY SPECIFIC REFLEXIVE PHYSICAL REACTION TO STRESS. Our choices regarding what is stressful causes two ripple effects - our mind spontaneously attempts to protect us, creating what we call "anxiety", and our body spontaneously attempts to protect us, creating what we call "muscle tension". Whenever we go through ANYTHING we don't like, we (unconsciously) tighten the upper half of our rectus abdominis (RA, six-pack) muscle in a well-meaning attempt to physically stabilize and mentally bolster ourselves in order to deal with the stressful situation. Fair enough - when we are actually under attack. This "armouring up" would not be an issue, if not for the fact that many people tend to feel as if they are always under attack, even though the incident may be months or years in the past. Over time, this subtle gripping of the RA muscle spreads thoughout the body and can have a monumental physical, mental, emotional and energetic impact on our health. I have coined this physical armouring the "Unconscious Chronic Valsalva Maneuver". It is a world-wide phenomenon.
THE UNCONSCIOUS CHRONIC VALSALVA MANEUVER (UCVM) IS TODAY'S GREATEST NON-ENVIRONMENTAL THREAT TO OUR PHYSICAL, MENTAL, EMOTIONAL AND ARTISTIC HEALTH. The UCVM is our physiological manifestation of the brain's Stress Response. Through our communications network of connective tissue (fascia), the sympathetic nervous system (associated with adrenaline and the fear response) leaps into action generating a protective muscular shield that surrounds and armours our entire torso. It is created through a hyper-tonicization (clenching) of the upper half of the rectus abdominis muscle - it's negative effects on our health are numerous, as the UCVM effectively inhibits diaphragm mobility and tonicity, constraining the proper function of many or all of our internal structures, specifically the respiratory, circulatory, digestive and lymphatic systems. The UCVM also causes a decrease in the amount of stimulation the vagus nerve (our lightswitch for our relaxation response) receives. This lack of diaphragm function creates symptoms that present as asthma or acid reflux, causes numerous vocal problems, decreases core strength, increases physical pain, can cause acid reflux, creates feelings of anxiety, heightens emotional trauma, and suppresses the immune system.
MOST PEOPLE ARE BREATHING IN AN UNHEALTHY MANNER. Most of the general public is, a) holding their collective breath, b) not using their diaphragms to breathe, and c) inhaling and exhaling too fast and too shallow. We are therefore living in Sympathetic Nervous System mode. Your diaphragm is your internal masseuse for your lungs, stomach, liver digestive tract, and most importantly your vagus nerve. When, due to the UCVM, the diaphragm isn't able to descend and ascend properly, acid reflux, indigestion and asthma may often appear. Further, as the diaphragm is rendered unusable the only place left to breathe is high, overusing the ribcage to gulp in air (known as costal breathing) which then triggers the Fight/Flight/Freeze/Faint (sympathetic) nervous system stress response: A vicious circle if there ever was one. The Wilson Method, because it increases diaphragm tonicity while manipulating the para-sympathetic nervous system, has been shown to have a positive effect on energy levels, along with overall physical, mental, vocal and emotional health.
THE "SURRENDER SIGH": HOW TO LET GO AND LET BE. The surrender sigh is our #1 best healing tool available to us. And it’s free... with no harmful side effects. The Surrender Sigh reduces pain, releases physical tension, dissipates the effects of asthma and anxiety, and strengthens our Core. It is the parasympathetic nervous system that should return the body to a calm baseline. The surrender sigh stimulates the vagus nerve, increasing relaxation chemicals (GABA levels) in key areas which raise parasympathetic nervous system tone and lowering sympathetic nervous system activity. Therefore the surrender sigh offers the nervous system permission to give the body (muscles/fascia) permission to LET GO. With practice the Surrender Sigh functions as a built-in trigger release out of asthma, anxiety and pain. We learn to manipulate our breathing and therefore nervous system in order to improve our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. As a method to counter the mental, emotional and physical effects of the UCVM, we can employ our mind-body-respiratory connection to help ourselves switch out of the Fight/Flight/Freeze/Faint (sympathetic) nervous system and drop into the Rest/Relax/Renew/Repair (para-sympathetic) nervous system (PSNS). The surrender sigh is at the basis (along with physical therapy, movement re-education, core work, restorative yoga, vocal entrainment and meditation) of TWM's highly successful work with those facing challenges of anxiety, panic attacks, asthma, GERD (acid reflux), COPD and vocal pathology.
RETURNING TO NATURAL BREATHING PRACTICES IS KEY TO LIVING A HEALTHY LIFE. We are breathing poorly: We let our reactions to the rigors of life adversely affect our respiratory system. It is subtle and slow, which is why it is not being noticed much less diagnosed by the allopathic Western Medical System. Research has shown that yoga, meditation and lowering your breath cycles per minute have massive beneficial effects on many clinical conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, asthma and post-traumatic stress. This suggests that normalizing the underlying autonomic nervous system imbalance, through reversing it's physiological response on the body (UCVM) can improve symptoms and bolster resilience. In other words, returning to healthy, natural breathing patterns sends an uptake message to the brain, suggesting we are, even for a moment, safe. Muscles and fascia relax, which in turn reduces swelling, which lowers hypertension, inflammation and therefore phlegm production; we have more energy and less pain. There are hundreds of methods that work with the breath. Most of them are manipulating the breath in a manner that goes against what is NATURAL. The best methods out there are those that aim to return to the respiratory patterns of our youth, before we decided life was hard, and those which reverse the habits forced on us by the rigors of life. The Wilson Method is a leader in this area.
CORE WORK DOESN'T HAVE TO BE WORK. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about what Core is, how it functions, and how to make it stronger. These misunderstandings are taking place in gyms, voice studios, pilates, yoga classes, and even in physiotherapy offices. Many are confusing the UCVM with a "Strong Core." The UCVM does not increase Core strength; in fact, this action SHUTS OFF THE CORE. In most cases, unless we are high-level athletes or stage performers, we don't need to make the core stronger, we need to make it more effective - there is far too much straining and tightening disguised as "core work". The key is this: The sixpack, or rectus abdominis, is NOT CORE. When we stop over-exerting/over-tonicizing our (external) rectus abdominis and external obliques (UCVM) our Deep Core (Pelvic Floor, Transverse Abdominis, Quadratus Lumborum, Psoas, Diaphragm and Multifidus) ENGAGES ON IT'S OWN. Therefore, by unwinding surface tension we have access to greater core strength that has been there all along. The Wilson Method is in the process of revolutionizing the way we move, live, and exercise.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A VOCAL PROBLEM. Vocal pathology is symptomatic of issues elsewhere. Virtually ALL vocal problems are related to physical tension, postural issues, lack of diaphragm tonicity, unhealthy respiratory habits, doubt, fear or lack of permission. Therefore another (and usually more efficient and long-lasting) direction is working with the respiratory system, diaphragm, posture, fascia, movement patterns and thought processes first, and the larynx last. The vocal mechanism does what the brain tells it to - the vocal mechanism reacts much more readily to the unconscious and subconscious brains than it does to the frontal lobes. So what messages are we sending to our voice? Often, the messages are "can't", "shouldn't" and "won't". Many issues of anxiety, doubt and lack of internal permission (that all come hand-in-hand with the UCVM) are diagnosed as vocal, skill-level or capacity issues; budding singers are cast aside. Unfortunately, it is not a simple matter to notice a lack of core efficacy and diaphragm tonicity in students. Multidisciplinary training for teachers is a key to helping singers take control of the systemic issues mentioned above. Respiratory therapy, kinesiology, core awareness work, restorative yoga, myo-fascial work and functional physiology are all helpful towards changing these unhealthy patterns. The Wilson Method is in the process of attempting to revolutionize professional singing lessons, speech therapy and vocololgy.
ALL CHALLENGES FACED IN LIFE AND IN THE CREATIVE ARTS CAN BE DISTILLED DOWN TO A LACK OF FLOW. Muscular tension, fascial rigidity and inflammation slows us down, creating extra physical efforting, draining our energy, weakening our immune systems and truncating our respiratory flow. Lack of permission, self-effacing thoughts and lack of space for choice creates a lack of mental flow. Doubt regarding our skill and talent creates a lack of vocal flow. Therefore the rigors of life tend to separate these three components, keeping the body, breath and voice from working together as a unit - we become fractured and unhappy and feel something is missing. The Wilson Method is anti-numbing, anti UCVM work, reminding you how to live in your body, in the moment, and how to develop listening skills in relation to our thoughts and feelings. For performing artists, this includes cultivating a deeper connection with text and the emotional states of our characters.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS "IT'S JUST YOUR IMAGINATION". Imagination is the gateway to the subconscious, and therefore the gateway to our unlimited potential. We often note that young actors and singers seem to be lacking objectives and tactics in their work, or are not "connecting with the text - this is usually not their issue. What we are noticing is a symptom, not a cause. The cause may be that they are in their thinking/stress brain instead their imagination sand-box-playing brain. The UCVM, because it goes hand-in-hand with living in the Fight/Flight/Freeze/Faint nervous system, takes us out of our imaginations; after all, there is no room for artistic endeavours when we are fleeing for our lives, either externally or internally. Therefore bringing them out of "work" and into "play" is an important first step in getting students to the point to where they feel safe enough INSIDE to surrender to their text, their character, their art, and their joy. Training young actors and singers to stop thinking about the wrong things and to start thinking "within character" - that is, to get out of their heads and into their imaginations; to "drop in"... to be "in it" is our goal. The Wilson Method, combining vocal entrainment, breath therapy, movement re-education, restorative yoga, meditation and awareness work, has created a physically-based, wholistic and efficient system to help in this regard.
YOUR PHYSICAL CORE IS YOUR EMOTIONAL AND ENERGETIC CORE. The more ease-based strength you feel rising from your deep core, the better your posture will be, the more confident you feel, the more emotionally stable you will be, the more empowered you are, and the stronger your voice will be. People will hear you more, listen to you more, and trust you more. You will shine brighter.
PERFORMING ARTISTS DO NOT GENERALLY RESPOND TO TALK THERAPY IN THE SAME MANNER AS THE GENERAL PUBLIC. Often, body-centered therapies are showing better results. Your body, your breath, your voice and your imagination are your four main components of creativity. The rigors of life and basic schooling tends to diminish the powers of these creative components in favour of front brain activity, such as right/wrong critical thinking. Over-thinking often leads to personal judgement, self-doubt, lack of space for choice, fear of standing out from the crowd, and a pervasive and systematic lack of permission - all of which curtails creativity. The Wilson Method works to reintegrate our four components of creativity, improving energy, focus, confidence, vocal resonance and health.
OUR SOCIETY CONFUSES POWER WITH FORCE, AND SURRENDER WITH WEAKNESS. More than just a trite saying, this issue is key to many of the challenges we face while learning how to sing. In an effort to find easeful power we are often pushing, straining and forcing. In an effort to find a "natural sound" we practice release work without a balance of energy and intention, thereby pulling off and out of our power. Often we feel like we have energy, but it is sitting atop a layer of anxiety. We feel relaxed, but it is based on an underlying reality of exhaustion. Our goal is power and energy in tandem with a sense of relaxation and ease. You can't talk someone into this, it has to be felt. The Wilson Method has created a path to living in a place of both power and ease.
OUR BRAINS MAKE MORE OF THINGS THAN WHAT THEY ARE, OR LESS OF THINGS THAN WHAT THEY ARE: NEITHER (NECESSARILY) HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE TRUTH. We either push trauma down and ignore it, or, we wear our trauma proudly like a banner ("victimhood chic") as if it gives us nobility and status. Neither method works. We all suffer from PSD. Some from PTSD. And sometimes, whether a thing is PSD or PTSD is up to us. There is no trauma, no matter how horrific, that does not allow us "space for choice". It may not feel like it, we may not want it, it may take time, but nevertheless, space for choice is there - Anne Frank and many others have taught us this. Eventually, we begin to extricate ourselves from our ego brains attempting to protect us, and see an occurrence for just what it is, and was - an occurrence. The Surrender Sigh (#4) can help us remember and reconnect with our Space for Choice... which is what the UCVM makes us think we don't have. There is light out there.
INHERENT IN OUR RESPIRATORY SYSTEM IS ACCESS TO BOTH UNLIMITED PERSONAL POWER, AND FEELINGS OF COMPLETE AND UTTER SAFETY. Holding our breath takes us out of flow. The more ease-based powerful your inhalation becomes and the more surrender-like your exhalation becomes, the more in flow YOU become. As the ancient Yin-Yang symbol tells us, ease lives within power, power lives within ease. Masculine lives within feminine, feminine lives within masculine. Water lives within fire, fire lives within water, light within darkness, darkness within light. The Wilson Method, by reminding us that power leads to surrender and that surrender leads to power, can help you find your Voice, your Power, your Ease, and your Light.