Tight throat when you perform? Here’s the answer.
Our brains do crazy things to our bodies when we’re nervous. How many of you have experienced shaking limbs, sweaty palms, and panicked breathing when the pressure is on? For a singer or an actor, one of the most troubling aspects of getting nervous is a throat that tightens up. We have a series of muscles that run down the back of our throats called constrictors, and they contract when the “fight or flight” response kicks in from our sympathetic nervous system. These constrictor muscles are very strong and are part of swallowing; to get a sense of how much you don’t want these muscles on when you’re singing or speaking, just try to talk and swallow at the same time. Not so easy, right?
There are lots of great ways to release muscle tension, like meditation, mobility work, and awareness modalities such as the Alexander technique. Another great thing to try is a laryngeal massage. Many performers aren’t even aware of what the structures of the larynx (voice box) are, so learning to do some self-massage can help to reduce strain and also make you more knowledgeable about your throat. The rules of this practice are:
- Be precise with your movements.
- Use firm pressure, but not enough to cause pain.
- Assess and reassess after each part of the massage. Pick a phrase to sing or speak before and after you work with each body part. Use your voice to notice improvements.
- Keep track of what works for you, and repeat these massage elements before you perform.
There are three jaw muscles that exert a great influence on the larynx. The first is the masseter, which clenches your jaw. To massage this muscle, run your thumbs down the sides of your cheekbones in front of your ears, from your temples to the bottom of your jaw. Now find the pterygoid muscles, which are attached below your cheekbones and help you with chewing. Make small circles in this area in both directions. Finally, take your hands above your ears on both sides to find your temporal muscles. (If you open and close your mouth, you’ll feel movement here.) Make broad circles here in both directions.
Place both thumbs underneath your chin and make circles in this area (the root of your tongue). Now stick your tongue out and repeat the circles. Try this with the tip of the tongue pointing down and then the tip pointing up.
The hyoid bone is a U-shaped bone in the crook of your chin that attaches to the larynx. If you’re male, find your Adam’s apple (thyroid cartilage) with your finger and move your finger up a little. Then, press back until you feel a bone. If you’re female, it’s easier to start with your finger on the cricoid cartilage (a protruding bump about in the middle of your throat), and then move up to the thyroid cartilage and eventually the hyoid. Once you are there, put your finger and thumb on the bone (slide your finger and thumb backward from the front of the bone—it will feel firm under your fingers) and move it side to side.
Take the backs of your hands on either side of your throat, and move the larynx from side to side (the backs of your hands should be touching the middle part of your neck). Notice if your larynx moves easier to one side or the other. Now, hold the larynx to your right and take several slow, deep breaths through your nose. Repeat to the left.
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