Thursday, November 6, 2014

Voice Massage - what's that, then?

So, a while ago I posted a rather fierce rant about speech-language pathology (SLP) and how it's a valid field of academic research and so much more than just teaching correct pronunciation to preschoolers. (You can read said rant here.)

So, this semester we've had a couple of interesting classes about voice disorders and phoniatrics. I will post more info about those later, but in a nutshell voice disorders are disorders caused by organic/functional factors which fuck your voice up. Phoniatrics is a field of medicine that is specialized in staring down your throat to see what's going on down there (kind of like an Ear-Nose-Throat doctor but not quite). So, during the voice disorder classes our professor mentioned voice massage several times. I'd heard of it before, but now I really wanted to try it out.

Voice massage is a form of massage therapy that is aimed at the deep muscles that help us breathe, and the muscles that we use when we speak. It was invented in Finland in the 80's and has been a supportive therapy form for (for example) voice disorder patients, singers etc ever since.

Here's a brief explanation (which I stole from a voice massage site because they said it much better than I ever could):

"Voice Massage is a treatment that facilitates all muscle groups related to breathing and voice production by means of classical massage strokes. It is aimed at relieving tension in the muscles so that proper posture, flexibility, especially in the area of the rib cage and diaphragm, and over all relaxation will return. Breathing exercises and stretching may be used in addition. This tension release in body and mind is the prerequisite for balanced voice production.

The muscles that relate to voice production are in the middle and upper part of the body, the chest, the neck, the face and the head. Massage strokes are carefully applied in the area in question. The respiratory muscles and masticators as well as the tongue are treated."


Unfortunately there aren't many scholarly articles published about voice massage, but I managed to find one study in which voice massage had a positive effect on teachers' voices. You can find it here.

I have a normal, healthy voice (otherwise I probably couldn't be studying to become a speech therapist), but I have muscle tension in my upper body. And when I say tension, I mean TENSION. I honestly can't remember when was the last time my shoulders have been completely relaxed. I also have a tendency to hypertension of the voice, which means I do excessive muscle work when I speak. It's a bad habit, but luckily nothing irreversible. So I figured I could use a voice massage to release the tension in my neck area.

Picture from here.

I booked an appointment with a voice massage therapist that my professor recommended, and today I walked into my first voice massage, curious about what I had gotten myself into.

First the therapist asked some basic background info, mostly questions concerning my voice. Since I was there just out of curiosity and a mild case of hypertension, there were only a few questions. I told her I study logopedics and wanted to try voice massage and that I do seem to have some mild hypertension around my neck area.

Then I was asked to strip my clothes from waist up (yes, bra included, for those of you who are prissy about such matters), take off my shoes and lie face down on a massage table.

Even though I know the respiratory muscles and the anatomy and physiology of respiration, it still surprised me how low down on the back the massage goes. She massaged pretty much my entire backside from hips to neck. But it wasn't a regular back massage, like one you can get at any massage place. The pressure level was higher and concentrated mostly around the spine and a bit on the sides. She pressed down hard and I could really feel it in between my ribs.

The area between my spine and my shoulderblades earned me a few 'tsk-tsk' remarks. I was aware that I had some muscles in a knot around that area, but I had no idea they were that badly tensed. At first I started to feel slight pain in the muscles, but only after the spot had been massaged (the massaging itself did not hurt). I think it's because the muscles started functioning properly again. Like, "oh, so this is what it feels like when blood flows properly into the muscles!" :D

Picture from here.

The voice massage therapist made me do deep breathing exercises every now and then while she pressed down between my shoulder blades. It was the most amazing feeling when she lifted her hands - after breathing in and out deeply a few times with her weighing down on my back, I felt like I could float away when the weight was gone. And breathing felt so easy and light, it was amazing.

After she was done with my back and shoulders, I was asked to turn and lie on my back. She then massaged the muscles between my ribs also at the front (and yes, around your boobs if you have those, just a friendly warning if you're squeamish about that kind of stuff). Another set of deep breathing exercises followed while she pressed down on my sternum, and again when the weight was lifted I felt like I could float away as I took a breath in. Such an amazing feeling. I think I'll have to ask someone to sit on my chest every now and then so I can feel like that again when they get up :D

As my respiratory muscles were now mostly functioning, the therapist moved onto my neck. She massaged the superficial muscles and some of the deeper around the hyoid bone (the bone which your tongue is attached to) and around the cartilages of the neck. It was the funniest feeling when she massaged my tongue from the outside, below my jaw - I could feel my tongue moving but I wasn't the one moving it! :D Again I got some disapproving comments about the overall tenseness of the neck area, but the condition of my masseter muscles (the big ones in your cheeks which you use for chewing) really set her off. Apparently it's noticeable that I bite my teeth together when I sleep, and I should consider an occlusal splint (a mouthguard that prevents you from biting your teeth together when you sleep). I'll have to see to that.

After she'd massaged my face up to my forehead and temples, the massage was done. The session took around 75 minutes, but it didn't feel all that long. I was surprised to see what the time was when I got up from the massage table. The session cost 60 euros, so it's not the cheapest form of massage therapy, but it was so worth it!

See, when I got up I could feel myself breathing differently. The air went all the way down my lungs naturally, and my stomach expanded while my shoulders stayed put. And then I opened my mouth to speak, and it was a different world to me. Gone was the tense voice, gone was the occasional vocal fry at the ends of my sentences. My voice flowed out effortlessly and beautifully. I sounded like me, but a thousand times better. A nice, firm voice and not a hint of tension to be heard.

Picture from here.

I am so going again if need be. I enjoyed the massage thoroughly and I could feel the results immediately afterwards. My voice massage therapist told me not to thank her yet, though - she said that it's possible I'll be very sore tomorrow, especially around those muscles which are rarely stimulated by external forces (like the small respiratory muscles between your ribs). She also told me to drink plenty of fluids and avoid overexerting myself today, because this kind of massage therapy can cause you some weakness and weird feelings afterwards... naturally I promptly disregarded this advice and went to buy some necessities that had been on my shopping list for a while, like contact lens solution, hairspray and Q-tips. I also popped into a grocery store to buy something to eat today, so I was somewhere near the cheese aisle when the nausea and dizziness hit me.

A pro tip / note to self: when your massage therapist gives you advice, you'd better heed to that advice.

I took the bus home and ate and drank something, and then I felt better again. I can't really describe the feeling that hit me while I was shopping groceries, except for it felt a bit like when you've donated blood and feel weak and fatigued afterwards.

So now my plan for the rest of the evening is to sit on the couch and drink hot chocolate.

Picture from here.

In conclusion: voice massage is awesome and hot chocolate rocks my socks. How's your week going?