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I’ve been going through the Robert Sussuma videos that I haven’t done and it’s been great and interesting and beneficial. One surprising thing was the last lesson I did, “AJUSTANDO EL SISTEMA VOCAL”, which used the tiny cough/click I wrote about in a previous article but in a different manner and sphere. I was going through all the variations in order to map the vocal folds in more and more detail, whereas Robert relates the cough more globally, specifically to variations of paradoxical breathing (inhaling – expand chest, exhaling – expand tummy). His video was posted before I wrote my article but I only went through the video today so it’s funny how I arrived at the use of the tiny click semi-independently.

One of the main nuances he had that I didn’t was the difference between left and right. As you do the tiny click, one side will be louder than the other due to tonus differences between the side. The side that’s more active will be quieter due to higher tonus/tension, despite the vocal folds being in the centre. Related to this, he had two variations – clicking while turning the head, clicking while scanning the horizon with the eyes. The eye variation was, hehe, eye opening for me because it was way more difficult than the head turning one. After I did the variations on the floor and came back to the eye variation, it was much easier.

The best ideas come from when you’re not actively thinking about them so as I was vacuuming the house and doing a few of these tiny coughs it occurred to me that I was probably coughing in chest voice and that it may be possible to do it in falsetto. This is impossible for me to tell though as the tiny clicks are done without tone. If I do add tone then I definitely can cough throughout my range. This is more difficult to do inhaling as it starts to resemble one of the ways I laugh. I dunno what benefit this falsetto variation might be, but it’s another variation to play around with and explore.

Unrelated to the tiny cough but related to Robert, I’ve also done the Untying the Tongue, Expanding what we think of as the tongue, the jaw bone’s connected to the whole self, your voice your self lessons too. The jaw one I have to be more careful with as my left jaw joint has a tendency to pop out of its socket. I want to revisit the nose lesson because of my hyponasality issues and see if there is anything of use there because I’ve forgotten what the lesson is about. The tongue lessons were pretty interesting and something I should explore more.

I’ve been hard at work recording, editing and mixing my song, “Don’t Get the Madness” and unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that I will have to rerecord the lead vocals. The main issue is the congested, blocked nose sound, especially the last third of the song. I didn’t hear it at the time, but I was ill and decided to power through because sometimes you have to and things can’t wait. In hindsight, I should’ve stopped recording and waited until things cleared up. The blocked nose sound is also present in my voice in general, particularly when anxious, nervous or excited. In other words, tension. I’m not fully acquainted on all the research and current solutions to this issue so this article just presents my initial findings.

The first thing is to name the thing. Searching for “nasal” solutions inevitable comes up with the more whiny type of nasality, which I now know is called hypernasality. The congested sound is its opposite, hyponasality, which returns fewer results and solutions.

The muscles that open and close the nostrils appear to be the ones contributing to the sound: the nasalis muscle. That muscle itself is also separated into the closing (compressor nasalis) and opening (dilator naris) functions.

One principle used in Feldenkrais is to exaggerate what you are doing even more. Completely closing the nostrils results in a strong, obvious sound, and more importantly, sensation in the nostrils. As I explored this more, I found there was a continuum from neutral to completely closed, and you can refine your control in this area by using percentages (e.g. 75% closed) or numbers (1-10). I did this silently at first, then with voice (more difficult to do with voice).

Then I did the opposite of moving from neutral to hyper-opening of the nostrils. The sensations moving in this direction is far more subtle and thus difficult to find accurate percentages. Again, voice can be added.

One benefit of doing this closing and opening exploration is that your bodymap in this area will become clearer and more detailed in addition to the extra control and co-ordination you have found. It’s kind of like made being aware of the sensations of clothes on your skin – it was always (partially) there, but you had to focus your attention in the right way to become aware of it.

Breathing through the nose in various ways (fast/slow, loud/quiet) can also highlight the condition of the nostrils, and related is making hypernasal sounds, letting most of the airflow go through the nose. Making a breathy sound through the nose provides the most obvious sensation, but is difficult to maintain due to the high amounts of air required. Steadily reducing the airflow or going from lots of air to little air whilst maintaining awareness of the constriction/opening in the nostrils allows us to apply the exploration closer to actual use. Shifting resonance from nose to mouth can also help when you’re not sure if you’re making a nasal sound.

In a particular section of the song where I sing “I don’t get the madness,” I conjectured that the consonants and the way I was hitting them was making the hyponasal sound. I tested this and sure enough I was correct. I explored various strengths of hitting the consonants with and without voice, doing it both hyper and hyponasally. I also explored doing the consonant hyponasally but as it transitioned into the vowel, releasing the nostrils e.g. “d” closed, “-on’t” open. Again, you can vary the percentage of hypo/hypernasality.

Applying it in context was more difficult and is still something I have to explore more. The issue is that it is in my high chest range, a part of the voice that is more likely to get tension, thus unsurprising that hyponasality occurs.

Feldenkrais also has a focus of working one side at a time but I’m not too sure how it would apply here. One way is to do a hyperfocus on one nostril in any particular variation, take a short break and then compare the sensations between the two nostrils. My conjecture is the one that was focused on will feel slightly different than the other but I will have to test this.

A weird and interesting thing you can do is that you can combine both nasalities. Hyponasality is characterised by the closing of the nostrils and hypernasality is airflow through the nose and its resonance. Closing the nostrils less than 100% while maintaining most of the airflow through the nose as you vocalise will result in a combination of both. My first impressions is that it’s uncomfortable to do but an interesting and unusual co-ordination.

One more thing that needs more exploration. There’s a Howcast video on nasality and the solution she gave in the video but did no elaboration on was to learn how to breathe. This makes sense because tense breathing happens during tense and anxious situations, thus creating a more relaxed and efficient breathing situation would contribute to the solution. I’ve noticed after see-sawing breathing sessions or shoulder freeing sessions my breathing does become deeper, so there is a possibility that it will help solve the hyponasal situation.

I’m gonna run through here what I’ve been experimenting on myself to map the size and location and shape of the vocal folds. For the uninitiated, bodymapping was developed by Alexander Technique teachers Barbara and William Conable, both of whom are musicians (I think). Bodymapping is basically the process of rendering and refining the map in your brain so that it is truer to reality. The concept has parallels with the older Feldenkrais term of “self image”, and Feldenkrais liked to demonstrate how inaccurate people’s conception of themselves were by making them guess the width of their lips with one finger of each hand, and some people were off by 300%. Simon Thakur describes the bodymap in much simpler and better detail than I could, so read his article.

Why would you want to bodymap? Because the action you want to improve in will, erm, improve. The information you get from calibration (zeroing in on something via many trials and errors) will be better and you can calibrate better. For instance, if the map of your arm and shoulder is smaller/larger than what it actually is, your calibration to throw a ball to a particular point will be made much more difficult due to the fundamental information and sensations you are receiving being inaccurate. A better analogy perhaps would be wearing magnifying glasses while throwing the ball, instead of glasses that will provide accurate vision. You will be able to adjust, but it will be a maladjustment.

Many moons ago when I was taking voice lessons with Michael Mayer, we used a light cough to feel where the vocal folds were, and then I was instructed to speak/sing the vowel from where I felt that location was. This light cough will be the basis of our exploration.

The following is best done lying in a bed or on the floor.

You can make the cough so light that it just becomes a click. (It is important that it is a click otherwise you may hurt your voice a bit if you do cough for an extended period of time.) Then you sense, feel and perceive. You can do variations of speed, strength of the click, rhythm, in order to gain better and different information as to the shape, size and location of the vocal folds. If you’re anything like me, the front of the vocal folds will become clearer and clearer but the back of the vocal folds won’t, so you have to make a special effort to sense and infer from the sensations you receive the whole length of the vocal fold. Asking yourself questions can help you better interpret the sensations you receive: where are my vocal folds? How long are they? How thick? What does the front, middle and back of the vocal fold feel like when compared to each other? How high/low in the throat are my vocal folds?

This process of questioning oneself and interpreting the sensations will be used for all subsequent variations. It’s handy, possibly critical to have in mind various diagrams of the vocal tract and larynx so that you can better interpret the sensations you receive. One of the issues of mapping the voice is that much of it is invisible, thus we have to rely on inference and visualisation in order to improve the accuracy of our bodymap. Here are a couple of informative links: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_tract https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLhP31dXi7dUrfWZqAwov91y2tUcKARfDu

Variation 1: inhale cough/click. Air can go both ways, so the inhale click is a nice variation. Again, same questions of location, length, size, shape, high/low in the throat. The sensations will be slightly different, helping to round out the picture more.

Variation 2: high, middle, low click. By doing a whiny cough or a dopey/yawny cough, you are changing the height of the larynx and subsequently the location of the vocal folds. Whiny is high in the throat, dopey low/deep in the throat. Middle/neutral is what we’ve been doing so far. You can also do the inhaling click with the high, middle, low larynx.

Variation 3: Vowels with the click. No vibration is being made, you are just clicking with the mouth, tongue and throat shapes of the vowels Ah-Eh-Ee-Oh-Oo. You can do this inhaling and also with high, middle, low larynx. One thing to note is that the vowels will naturally change the height of the larynx due to their requirements, and changing the height of the larynx on purpose will change the whinyness or dopeyness of the vowels.

Variation 4: Alphabet, nursery rhymes, a song you are working on. Similar to variation 3, but this time with more real world application. Again, those questions of location, size, length of the vocal folds, but this time with the combination of consonants and vowels. You can also do the inhalation and high, middle, low larynx variations too.

Variation 5: shifting the larynx to one side and clicking. You can actually grab the larynx by the thyroid cartilage, shift it to one side (gently, doesn’t have to be far), and do the clicking. This will move the vocal folds slightly left/right. You can also do another variation where you can shift your larynx to one side and either turn your whole head to the same side or turn your head to the opposite side e.g. shift larynx left with your hand, turn your head to the right. When you do the opposite version, it’s weird because your larynx and vocal folds remain in the middle but not the middle relative to your head.

Variation 6: head position. This time no larynx grabbing but simply turning, or head up/down, or tilting the head. The larynx and vocal folds remain in its usual position relative to the head but move in absolute space. You can explore using positions e.g. turning left and staying left or movements e.g head up and down, left and right, tilting left and right, circles, figure 8. The location of the folds both simultaneously changes and remains the same.

Variation 7: tongue variations. If you find the height variations a bit difficult to realise, the tongue can help. Sticking out the tongue forward and up to touch the top lip can help you find the high larynx, sticking the tongue down and in the throat will help you find the low larynx. You can also do the tongue variations of left/right corner of the mouth, although I’m not sure of the benefit aside from maybe increased independence of tongue and larynx.

Variation 8: using the voice. This time we are actually saying/singing something and again asking ourselves the questions of location, size, length, front/middle/back. If things become unclear, we can go back to clicking. Then say/sing the same thing and see if things become clearer in our perception.

Phew.

Once you’ve done all this you will ascend to vocal heaven and the angels will be jealous of your vocal prowess and purity.

That’s all I’ve got for now.

I rarely go to live events where it’s standing only because my back aches after a while. About a month ago this situation was unavoidable as I found myself packed like a sardine during Balabam’s farewell party. After standing for an hour and a half or so, my back was uncomfortable. My hypothesis was that it was tight hip flexors causing my back to overwork itself and changing the tonus of the hip flexors would solve my issue. The question was how to change the tonus. The only way I knew and had discovered for myself was to do knee circles but that wasn’t possible in this situation. I tried flexing my glutes to change the angle of the lower vertebrae and pelvis to the femurs and doing that repeatedly in various ways but it didn’t work. I tried a few other approaches that I don’t remember but they didn’t work either. Then there were some “bangers” that were played by Don Kipper. My legs were kinda tired from the standing but fuck it I’m gonna use even more energy. I found a compromise where both my feet were flat on the floor and bent at the knees and hips and sometimes side to side so at its apex, my torso was at an angle around twenty to forty degrees from verticle. I did this repeatedly in time to the music and after a while I noticed my back ache had reduced. So I did this some more and more and a few songs later my back ache was gone.

The “traditional” way to change the tonus of hip flexors is to go the opposite way by stretching them. Stretching appears to change the tonus (when done well) and also affects the ligaments and fascia too. What I’d done with the mini-squats was a more Feldenkrais way where you exaggerate what is already happening. In this case, making the hip flexors work even more. For some magical reason I haven’t been able to discern, the brain gets the message to change the tonus of the hip flexors. Maybe it’s due to heightened demand and bloodflow to the area. Maybe it’s due to better clarification of the bodymap of the area. In any case, it removed my back ache at that time during that situation. Needless to say a hip flexor stretch was not possible in that situation and I’m not sure if it would’ve helped.

My vision has been getting worse and worse. I have never needed glasses and still don’t but things are trending towards that direction. Too much time in small spaces in front of a computer and phone and poor sleep contribute to the problem most likely. The scientific consensus is that eye exercises like the ones by Bates do not work. However, with my empirical and biased sample size of one, I am finding some minor improvements to my vision. My current guess is due to the low severity of my dysfunction is that what mostly needs to happen is less of a physical change but more of a neurological change. You can think of it as improving my eye technique.

The primary principles and experiences I’m drawing upon is Feldenkrais. Feldenkrais created a bunch of lessons on vision, likely inspired by Bates. In Feldenkrais’s lessons, they tend to be a more sophisticated expansion of Bates’s exercises (at least what I’ve come across with Bates). They are largely done eyes closed with the imagination being the primary movements. Lessons where the movements are done with the imagination rather than being actually done are on the lower ratio to real movements in Feldenkrais, but they produce a similar effect. My personal problem is that these imagination lessons are difficult and I feel that I am doing the imagined movements with far less precision despite the improvement by the end of the lesson. Thus the excursions I have done recently are all actual movements rather than imagined.

My primary focus has been my, erm, focus. The other eye movements I’ve come across involve moving the eyes in various ways, left, right, up, down and circles, but I’ve been playing around with my focus. Feldenkrais is primarily starting with what you can do rather than what you can’t, and in my case my eyes, especially my right eye has difficulty focusing on things that are far away. So, I usually use a piece of text that my right eye can focus or almost focus on, and I play around with adjusting my focus like using the focus ring on a camera lens. Currently I find it much easier to adjust my focus closer to me, but find it quite difficult to focus further than the piece of text. When I use both eyes, I can focus further fairly easily. What I’ve discovered as I change my focus back and forth is that my default focusing for the piece of text is incorrect. The default focus is a particular kind of feeling and that feeling is wrong for the purposes of a sharp image. When I do get the text sharp, it is somewhat difficult to keep it sharp as my eye wavers from the new sharp image back to the default slightly blurred image.

The two main Feldenkrais things I do during these explorations are to take lots of breaks and to play with variations on the focusing. Feldenkrais is often about smooth controlled movement, so each time I go through the process of refocusing I aim to get the focusing more smooth and less jerky. With vision, a lot of things tend to be bumpy in movement because it has to be quick to do things like changing your vision from gathering potatoes to seeing the bear charging at you from a distance. So another variation is to make the refocusing as quick as possible and in the words of Feldenkrais, “without hurrying”.

That’s mainly it. An important point is that when I’m doing single eye work I’m covering the other eye with my hand rather than keeping one eye closed unaided as the latter tends to result in strain for me. Further improvements to my vision require more research, especially with the anatomy of the eyes, but also the relation of the facial muscles, the tongue and throat, and the neck with vision, as there are Feldenkrais lessons that connect these.

For an unknown reason, I decided to do a web search on “spiral movement” again recently, and came across Simon Thakur’s excellent article and demonstrations of spiral movement.

My initial contact with spiral movement was mentioned by one of my Feldenkrais teachers in passing, who said something to the effect of, “You know, there’s a whole movement system that’s based on spiraling,” after having taught me about the double helix or wringing of the human foot.

In Simon’s article, he speaks about the head and eyes following the mouth, and this intention to feed leads to particular types of movements and how it plays out in a human being, leading to this fun and interesting video series.  Simon presents it well, beginning from the basic principles leading to the more complex, and how you can transition from any position to any other position, which leads to a gorgeous improvisatory and fun movement exploration.  When you combine this with rolling it becomes even more gorgeous.

The rolling part links it to what I’ve been exploring since attending the Feldenkrais London training. The day I visited was the apex of a 6 day series exploring the intricacies of rolling. The particular lesson I witnessed was a backward rolling lesson and watching the lesson I realised I did a version of this from The Potent Self book. In the subsequent days, having some discussion with my friend in training where she sent a couple of videos of her demonstrating the roll, I realised there are a few things in which I am inadequate. She could do the roll without pushing her arms on the floor, whereas I couldn’t. My current guess is that I lack the range of spinal flexion to allow this to happen. In basic physics, the further away a weight or force is from the pivot/fulcrum, the heavier it will be, and this weight/force is multiplied. Thus if I am unable to curl as much as her in my body, the heavier it will be and the more force I would have to use. Also we have different body proportions and so she may have some mechanical advantages.

In any case, it has awakened a desire to learn to roll well. Unfortunately at home I do not have much space to experiment with this fully and I also don’t have enough space to do all those spiral variations in the videos above. I also have to be careful not to break any collarbones in the pursuit of rolling. In primary school, I recall us doing rolling but I could never do it well. I also recall some of the fear involved in rolling. As I’ve been experimenting and exploring, I sense the fear again, this time round being a much bigger human and less flexible. On the other hand, the rotations are safe to explore and are fun and also physically demanding after a while. My current favourite is going from supine to prone and back again. I find after these explorations my movement improves and I find myself rotating and doing certain things more smoothly than before. I do these explorations with a slight Feldenkrais perspective on refining smoothness, reversibility and reducing effort. In particular, no falling or momentum based movement. All the rotational movements can be done without momentum and any falling implies a loss of control somewhere along the movement. I do wonder about this desire to roll a little bit. Feldenkrais said once his definition of health was “to realise one’s unavowed dreams.” I wonder if rolling is one of my unavowed dreams?

These explorations are fun in a way Feldenkrais lessons usually aren’t. Occasionally Feldenkrais lessons are fun, but generally they’re more interesting and intriguing. There is probably a niche for fun, playful Feldenkrais lessons. These explorations are also a workout and I find there are muscles aching that haven’t ached in a while.

As I write this, there are like several text files of first drafts of blog posts laying around in my documents folder waiting to be uploaded but probably might never make the light of day. Upon reflection, it’s something about the emotional urgency of that moment as I create the article that leads it to being published and when I’m no longer in the same space, it feels weird to reconsider them being uploaded. Instead I want to do a new article instead. Also as I write this, I’m writing straight into the wordpress editor as opposed to my usual darkroom thing. So, here it goes.

When Dogen came back from China to Japan after having studied Buddhism there, people were eager to know what he had learned. After some pestering, Dogen said, “The eyes are horizontal, the nose perpendicular.”

Case 28: Nansen’s “Dharma That Has Never Been Preached”

Nansen went to see Master Hyakujo Nehan.

Hyakujo asked,

“Is there any Dharma that the sages of the past have never preached to the people?”

Nansen said,

“There is.”

Hyakujo asked,

“What is this Dharma that has never been preached to the people?”

Nansen said,

“This is not mind, this is not Buddha, this is not thing.”

Hyakujo said,

“You did preach like that.”

Nansen said,

“That’s how it is with me. How about you, Master?”

Hyakujo said,

“I am not a man of great wisdom. How am I to know whether there is a Dharma that has been preached or that has never been preached?”

Nansen said,

“I don’t understand.”

Hyakujo said,

“I have already preached to you fully.”

CASE 21. UMMON’S DRIED DUNG

A monk asked Ummon,”What is Buddha?” Ummon answered him, “Dried dung.”

[This occurred around 2008-9.]
Shall we talk about her? Or rather our fading recollections of her some ten years down the road?

She was hot. Big tits, blinging white smile, and an American accent. Spoilers: nothing ever happened between us. Normally I would say chalk it down to my usual timidity and risk-aversion but there were a few other factors involved. I ended up being an emotional sponge and defender from loneliness for her. In return I got to spend time with a lovely, gorgeous girl.

I can’t recall how we first met. I remember the usual circumstance: see a hot girl, figure out how on earth can I speak to her without having any mutual friends. I probably made some semi-public remark in a lecture, she turned around and responded and then it went from there. Couldn’t believe my luck.

She liked to drink. She had a table in her room just full of alcohol. A shatter hazard of Jack Daniel’s and tequila. She liked penguins. She had a picture of Jesus on her corkboard. She had Mexican parents. She had a boyfriend.

She was eager to be my friend because she was a transfer student with no friends. She had emotional and social needs and I was the one to fulfill them. She was likely having relationship problems by the time I met her and she confided more and more as time went on and the friendship grew. I took her out, she took me out.

Once again, I was hopelessly and helplessly infatuated. I was probably depressed on and off. Similar situations have happened before and since and the pattern is hilariously similar: not wanting to cross the line to spoil the friendship and terminate the companionship. Dithering on whether to say anything. Then do nothing and let things persist. Go out and do something with her and feel elated. Then back to depression and the cycle resumes. It should have a title like “Lovesick Samsara” or “The Serial Infatuator’s Almanac.”

As her relationship was ending her diet worsened. For some reason, “frozen chicken” has stuck in my mind. She put on a few kilos. Not that I cared since I was high and addicted on whatever hormonal concoction my body kept cooking up.

We should talk about the end. I was in a less easy-going phase, the kind that removes Facebook friends. During her last days in London she said she was going to come back to see me. Subsequent emails and my lack of response to them meant we never saw each other again. Thinking about this over the years I regret my immaturity. The reason for my ghosting isn’t a good one but here it is as best as I can remember: we had a conversation where I was being a bit weird and she thought I was being too weird and I thought this was weird since she had known me for a while now. The fact that she found this too weird disconcerted me and I felt that it was a strong and basic incompatibility between us. Since I was in this cutthroat phase influenced by various personal development material I had read, I concluded that it should be the end. And so it ended. And I feel I am the poorer for it. I have no contact details to apologise to her. And if I did, would it even matter?

Sometimes an ending catches you unawares. No fanfare, no warning, just done.

On Monday 16th April, I was expecting to grind through another month and a half of work before a short holiday in June. By Tuesday afternoon I was no longer employed. In hindsight, the Monday evening dinner was an unintentional leaving do.

Long story short, health problems made a couple of doctors recommend not doing my physical job of lifting things up and putting them down.

As I write this on Wednesday it feels as if I’ve lost something. Like a multi-day event you don’t want to end or realising years later a once close friend is no longer a friend. The removal of such a huge structured part of my life has left me somewhat floundering.

The short term benefits are amazing. Lying in, no need to wake early, no need to lift heavy things, no need to deal with a colleague who needs to be right about everything, no feeling of the grind anymore. It’s great.

I didn’t do much today. Did some singing practise, some piano practise, browsed reddit compulsively again and again and again, and spent much of the day indoors. I only left the house to go for dinner and then went for a walk, sitting for a while in a little green bit before feeling inspired/itchy enough to begin writing this.

It feels twisty and knotty and turny as my psyche is adjusting to these turn of events.

What now? Find something else I guess.