As winter settles in, your vocal cords enter their most challenging season. Your larynx prefers warm, moist air (think tropical rainforest; 65–70 percent humidity is ideal). So when the weather becomes cold and dry, the vocal cords can become desiccated, which can leave you more vulnerable to vocal fatigue and throat infections. Here are six steps you can take this winter to keep your cords happy.
1. Breathe through your nose.
This is the most important breathing habit that a performer can create, and winter is the perfect time to commit to it. As humans, we are designed to be nasal breathers. The nose provides much-needed humidity and warmth for air as it enters your throat and lungs. Additionally, the nose filters out allergens, viruses, and germs in a way that your mouth cannot. If your nose gets stuffy when you come in from the cold, it means you are not breathing through your nose when you are outside.
2. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Tongue position is a great way to ensure that you’re breathing properly. When we are not speaking or singing, our tongue is supposed to rest on the roof of our mouth. The tip of the tongue should be right behind the upper front teeth (where we pronounce an “n”), and the rest of the tongue should be lightly suctioned up along the hard and soft palate. If you keep your tongue in this position, you promote proper jaw function, and you also ensure that you are breathing through your nose by blocking off your mouth.
3. Steam is your friend.
The best way to rehydrate dry vocal cords is with steam. When you drink a liquid, you moisturize your pharynx (the back part of your mouth and throat) but not your vocal cords; the liquid has to travel through your system before it reaches your larynx, which takes about eight hours. When you inhale steam, you bring moisture to your cords immediately. A personal steamer should be part of every performer’s toolkit. My favorite model is the MyPurMist humidifier, because it heats up instantly and it doesn’t require any cleanup.
4. Keep your immune system happy.
To prevent seasonal sickness, you need to keep your lymph circulating properly. Lymph is your body’s garbage system; it is tasked with removing germs, viruses, and bacteria from the bloodstream. Unlike the circulatory system and the heart, the lymphatic system has no pump; it only moves through breathing and exercise. Dedicating yourself to a regular workout regimen is also essential. I’m especially fond of yoga due to its emphasis on breath and movement.
5. Work your breathing muscles.
Directly exercising the breathing muscles has a very positive effect on immunity. A simple drill you can try is to breathe in for two counts and out for eight for a total of 10 breath cycles. You can also incorporate this exercise into your walking by breathing in for two steps and out for eight.
6. Check your balance.
Immunity lives in the gut, and the nerve that controls your inner ear is in charge of your gut function. Try this test: Stand on one foot and close your eyes. How stable did you feel? Try the other foot and compare the two sides. Everyone should be able to do this for one minute on each foot with the eyes closed. If it’s hard for you, try it first with your eyes open and work up to eyes closed. If it’s easy, try shaking your head “yes” and “no” while balancing. Your immune system will thank you!
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