Losing your voice is a situation that can be deeply depressing. When we can’t speak, we feel isolated from family and friends, and even the simplest tasks of public life can become quite frustrating. For an actor, verbal communication is both your livelihood and your passion, so voice loss can be even more distressing.
If you experience a quick and complete hoarseness accompanied by other cold/flu symptoms, it is likely that you have laryngitis. Laryngitis is a viral infection that attacks the larynx (voice box) and causes inflammation of the vocal cords; when the cords swell, they cannot come together and your voice disappears. If you’re not sure if you have laryngitis, you can say, “ah ah ah” several times in a row. If that speaking motion causes pain in your larynx itself, it’s likely that you do have it. When the laryngitis is acute, it’s best to rest your voice as much as possible. However, while you are being quiet, there is something you can do to speed the recovery process along.
As I said above, laryngitis is a swelling of the vocal cords; to reduce swelling, you must harness your lymphatic system. You may have heard of lymph nodes before, but you may not be aware of what lymph is all about. It is a form of blood plasma that removes pathogens and bacteria from the body, thereby reducing inflammation. The average person circulates one-to-two quarts of lymph at any one time, and lymph makes up one-to-three percent of your total body weight. The lymphatic system is similar to the circulatory system, except that lymph has no pump, like the heart, to drive movement. Lymph circulates through physical exercise, and especially through breathing (for breathing exercises, click here).
There are two lymphatic ducts, located under the left and right collarbones, which are the gateways for the lymphatic system. If you run your fingers out along your collarbone from the center of your sternum, you will feel an indentation about three or four inches out, and that is where the ducts are located. Press your forefinger and middle finger firmly into this space. Is it tender? If so, the ducts may be clogged, and this stagnation can slow healing. Here is the process for unclogging the lymphatic ducts:
- Press your fingers firmly into the space under your left collarbone (three or four inches out from the center).
- Move your fingers in, out, up, and down, all the while maintaining a firm pressure.
- As you do this, breathe fully into the upper chest, trying to inflate the upper portion of the lungs. Repeat for five to 10 breath cycles.
- Repeat the process on your right side.
After going through this sequence, say, “ah ah ah” again and see if there is a reduction in pain and an improvement in vocal quality. If this process works for you, repeat it once an hour while you are getting your voice back.
On a personal note, I just got over laryngitis myself, so I decided to be a test subject for the effectiveness of lymph mobilization. In the video, I also give more detail about laryngitis and voice recovery. If you want to watch my voice respond to lymph work, check it out here.
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