This Is A Voice

Somatic exercises, trauma, nerves & polyvagal theory with Petra Borzynski

September 26, 2022 Jeremy Fisher and Dr Gillyanne Kayes with Petra Borzynski Season 6 Episode 4
This Is A Voice
Somatic exercises, trauma, nerves & polyvagal theory with Petra Borzynski
Show Notes Transcript

Petra Borzynski, singer, cognitive behavioural therapist & somatic vocal coach, is back with Gillyanne and Jeremy for more wisdom on dealing with emotion.

Teacher boundaries, the difference between trauma and emotional discomfort, and why you don't need to be your student's therapist.

There are questions on somatic exercises for performance nerves, and Jeremy shares what he did to deal with the extreme nerves in his workshop at the PEVoC conference last month.

And a question on which exercises might stimulate the vagus nerve, and a discussion on polyvagal theory.

Also why you don't need to be an expert in every field (and what Jeremy thinks causes that problem). And building a network of like-minded experts around you.

It's an incredibly deep and useful episode for singing teachers, singers and performers alike.

You can see Gillyanne being (but not sounding) nervous and how she deals with it at the beginning of her Round Table at the Pan European Voice Conference here

Petra Borzynski's work is here -
Mental Health in the Performing Arts Studio course -

Voo breathing Peter Levine 

Polyvagal theory -
   Organising principles:
   20 page primer:

Resources from Gillyanne and Jeremy -
This Is A Voice - 99 Exercises to Train, Project and Harness the Power of Your Voice 

The Vocal Process Learning Lounge, with 16 years of voice training resources (over 600 videos) for less than the price of one singing lesson. Click and scroll down the page for the free previews 

Book a coaching session with Jeremy or Gillyanne

This is a voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This is a voice. Hello and welcome to this is a voice series six episode four. This is the podcast where we get Vocal about voice and she's back. Oh no, done, no it's all wrong. You threw me then. You threw me there. The different wording. Might even keep this in. Could be here all night. Who knows And she's back! Welcome back, Petra. Welcome back. Petra. Petra Borzynski, cognitive behavioral therapist, somatic Vocal coach therapist, voice coach, all sorts. We have had such a good, such a good episode from last time we thought we'd bring you back and do some more. I'm very interested in your distinction between trauma and emotional discomfort. And I, again, really clear that people have emotional discomfort sometimes every day, quite often, every day. Me crying this morning when I read the post is not trauma. Yeah. That's it. Um, it's not comfortable either, although sometimes it can be cathartic. Of course. Yeah. Yeah. A client may be coming in and singing a sad song and then crying because recently they lost a parent is not necessarily trauma. It's just normal human experience and we need to normalize that and we need to hold a space for that. But trauma is something else entirely. It affects you on a daily basis. It's sort of people will have flashbacks. They will be stuck in certain avoidance patterns. They will get panic attacks, whatever. And I would say that, um, I don't want to say the majority of people who now sort of self-diagnose as being traumatized, but a reasonable amount of them don't have these or don't fulfill these criteria. And when you say stuff like that, um, it's sort of immediately is being held against you for not being empathetic or for minimizing someone's experience. That's not minimizing someone's experience because you are not helping people with their resilience by sort of constantly wrapping them in cotton wool and sort of assuming that every tiny bit of emotional distress is traumatic and people, but you know what need to learn the distinction. Yeah. What's interesting about this is that if you like for somebody who has experienced a wide range of people with a wide range of emotions, what you are doing is you're actually being accurate, putting their level of discomfort on a, on a scale that says, this is the level of discomfort and it's absolutely, I get that you're experiencing it. And, and I've, I can validate that. And it isn't this level because I have worked with these people at this level. And therefore there, it just doesn't match what you are saying. The label that you've given it is not accurate. The label I'm giving it is more accurate because I have a much wider range of experience to put it on a, on a scale. And, and we do say we use the word don't we, oh, I was traumatized by that, you know, just in everyday language, but it's not actually really it's, it's the same thing as we sometimes say, oh, I'm really OCD about this stuff, if you know what I mean? Yeah. And I used to say that myself and I think that's also part of the, yeah, becoming a better practitioner that we acknowledge, you know what, I'm not judging that because I did all of that stuff myself before I learned more before I started to know better before I learned that that's not the language in which you should frame things essentially. And I'm still so far off from having the big picture. I still see new stuff every day. And I'm sometimes still even working with clients you sometimes you don't have the answers for everything and that's fine. You don't have to have the answers for everything. And I think as singing teachers, and I don't know if that's also something that came up during the pandemic or something with this sort of like so much online stuff and so much professional development, it's this constant quest of having to know more and having to do more and whatever. And maybe sometimes it's just okay to say, you know what, I don't have to know everything that doesn't mean I'm standing still, I'm still learning obviously, but I don't need to be in this frenzy to be everything to everyone and all things to all people. I don't need to be my student's counselor. I don't need to be my student's therapist. I don't need to be knowing about everything that could potentially be going on in their lives. That is not my job. It doesn't have to be. I think this is a really interesting byproduct. I really want to thank you for saying that. Absolutely. I think this is an interesting byproduct of, um, the growth of the internet. Mm-hmm because I think what's happening now is that we are daily exposed to real experts in fields, a real expert in the field of something. And because. We are exposed to so much like that. We assume that we need to be at their level. And then the same day, we are exposed to an expert in a slightly different field that also overlaps us. And we go, we need to be at that level. And another expert we go, we need to be at that level. So you are trying to become an expert in every single field when what you're actually looking at is an expert in one field who has spent a lifetime doing that. Yes mm-hmm . And so you, you, you are trying to become a very, very broad ranged person, but the level that you're trying to become is an expert in every field and you can feel, and it doesn't work. No, can't can't work. You can write an article about this. I think you can feel assaulted by this information. Yes. Yep. And, and, you know, suddenly you see this, oh, I should know this. Oh, I'm lacking now because I don't know this. I need to go off and find, I mean, I experienced this when everybody got very excited about neural function and the brain, and I thought, oh my God, I don't know about this. I'm behind, I'm behind, I'm behind. And, um, in the end I learned what I needed to know in my own good time. Um, and of course there's more to learn and I'm very interested in it. But I don't feel that I've got to sort of push myself in order to be in that place. And I'm really happy that you've said this because I think a lot of the younger singing teachers yeah. Really feel this at the moment. It's almost like they have to differentiate themselves with the, the longest possible string of qualifications or the, the biggest widest area of knowledge at the deepest level. And they just don't have it. And there's no reason why they should, because it's not humanly possible. No, it's not. I mean, I've, I've been at this for like what, 30 years or something. And it's sort of, it's a natural progression sometimes if you know what I mean, because I always had an interest in the human psyche and it was just something that developed organically. And if, and I know there are other there who are sort of similar in that way, who maybe also started studying psychology or whatever. And if that's a natural progression and if you feel that's your calling, that's great. If you know what I mean, there's nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with that. Mm-hmm but you don't need to do it all. You just sort of like, if it interests you and you feel like this is what I want to do, that's one thing. But if you think like you have to like what Jeremy said, um, you, you want to have the broad knowledge, but then you try to drill into every tiny aspect of it. It's impossible. And it's putting so much pressure on people and it's, I also don't think it really helps the student because it all becomes watered down. There are experts out there who can do the job. That's why I always say every singing teacher should have this network. And I know it's harder for maybe the people who are mostly private teachers who maybe don't have a massively big network of people around them, um, to find that. And that's then obviously where social media can be immensely helpful because you can find those people now and you can say, listen, followed you for a while and I like what you're doing, or like what you have to say. And, um, maybe we should, should set up a chat or something because I think I might have some clients who. I would like to hand over to you or whatever that might be. Um, so we don't have to be all things to all people. We can have all of that running in the background. Mm-hmm to different degrees depending on what we are as a person as well. Some people will go psychology yay. And other people will go like, oh no, go away with it. It's sort of, it's so personal. So, um, but you don't have to do all that stuff as the same teacher. I really don't think so. I, I agree. And I'm, again, I'm really happy you've said that. Yes. Should we have another question? I I've got a question from Sam."Hi. I'd really like to know if there are any somatic exercises that we could use, for ourselves and students, uh, to help conquer nerves before a big performance or a big event. Thank you." Okay. You have four hours, off you go. How long have I got? Yes. Right. Well, it's, it's obviously really hard to sort of condense that down and, um, maybe I can just give like one or two little pointers, um, I mean, somatics are such a big field as well. Um, it's not all one and the same. There are somatic practices, which are a bit more mindful. There are somatic practices, which are a bit more movement based and so on and so forth. So, um, I would really recommend if this is something that interests you, um, to maybe join someone like the Embody Lab, um, they have like a yearly membership going on. They have really great somatic practitioners who do regular workshops and, um, whatever. So that gives you an idea to dip your toe in if somatic work is something that interests you and if it maybe even interests you so much that you feel like, oh, maybe I look at some sort of deeper training. Um, having said that, uh, one somatic practice, um, that most people wouldn't probably even recognize as one, but it is one. Is that when students are very nervous and maybe they're about to go on or whatever, and it's just leading into that situation, um, is to help them to bring up very quickly cues of safety and connection, we call them. Because, um, humans have this very, um, unlucky habit to a degree, we have negativity bias, right? So we always zone in on what feels uncomfortable. What's not nice, what's going wrong. And then we try to get rid of it. And there's the school of thinking that says, that's actually what creates the problem. By trying to get rid of it you shine spotlight on it and you make it bigger than it has to be. So, first of all, not trying to get rid of the nerves, but allowing them. Again, physical awareness, all of that stuff, recognizing your body is not your enemy. And instead, focusing on cues of safety and connection, whatever there might be for the individual student that is obviously something, um, you can't say it will be like this for everyone. For some people, it could be, um, having a photo of a loved one on them that they just look at five minutes before they go on. Um, for someone else it could be having a chat with someone. Um, while other people go like, oh no, I want to be on my own if you know what I mean? So yeah, me too. So that's very, very individual or having some, almost like something to fidget with right before you go on like a little pebble or whatever it might be individual. So something that makes you feel safe. It could also be latching onto body sensation that feels safe. So if you're quite good with visualization, for instance, that you bring up a memory in your mind where you felt like this was where most felt like myself, this was when I was happy. This was when I was calm and using those visuals to sort of, yeah get you to a level where you feel like, oh, this is more comfortable for me. But it's not about shining the light on getting rid of something, but rather making more space for the stuff that's comfortable. Another thing that would be a somatic practice. Um, again, people just think about, um, the body, but, um, this is switching sensory channels actually when we're nervous. Um, so it's not just necessarily about movement, although that plays into it as well. But if, you know, for instance that if you are nervous, you have a tendency.. Like me, for instance, I take myself as an example, when I'm nervous, I get very hyper aware of my heart, which is probably down to my own experience because of that heart condition I have. And, um, as a younger performer, not now anymore, but as a younger performer, my legs really started to shake. So if I wore the wrong clothing, you could actually see it. And I was very hyper aware of that. And I focused right onto this physical sensation. So this kinesthetic awareness of where I was in space, what my legs were doing, interoceptive, what is my heart doing? If you know what I mean? So if you know, that's the case for you switch the sensory channel, get away from interoception. Yes. Or tuning into your body, latch onto something that you can see or hear. Find five red items in the room, listen to what's going on two rooms down the corridor or whatever it might be. If you feel like looking at other people makes you nervous because you feel like, oh, they, they look hostile. They're probably judging me, whatever. Then you're maybe when you're nervous, which is quite natural, your visual sense is quite tuned and quite switched on, which makes evolutionary sense because that's how we perceive danger first by hearing and seeing. So if you feel that is more true to you, then switch from that sensory channel. So if it's comfortable, maybe just close the eyes, blank that out, put headphones on, listen to music, whatever it might be. So get away from the channel that's active that makes you hone into your nervousness and find a different one that's not so attuned. And then last but not least movement, always movement is sort of once the adrenaline is in your system, you need to let it run its course, you. Pull it back, it's there. It will burn off usually after 10, 15 minutes, sort of, depending on how stressed you are and so on and so forth. So that's it. You can speed up that process by doing jumping jacks, running up and down the stairs. If that's possible. If you are of course just about to go on, you don't want to go on like makes no sense either, but, um, try to have a movement practice maybe sort of, yeah. Engage your body periphery in a way, arms and legs. That's three somatic practices. These, these are great. I actually really like that again, rather than either suppressing or, or going into, um, speaking for myself, I must calm my breathing. I must slow my heart rate down. No, direct, direct your, um, intentional or your sensation somewhere else. For instance, like the ears. I think that's fantastic. The other thing is, um, and I learned this from you about nerves, which is to move around. So, um, I will March up and down. I will pump my arms and, uh, suddenly I feel less nervous. It's sort of dispersed, um, And I think as well, it's knowing you need that energy, that you, you know, that's that your body is getting ready to do its job. So rather than trying to suppress it or calm it down, you direct it, you, you channel it. I mean, that's sort of what you're saying isn't it? Use another channel? Yeah. Yeah. I'm really interested in this. I mean, for various reasons, but, in the last episode of the podcast, we talked about me doing something that I was more nervous than I have been for years. And that was doing my first workshop presentation at the Pan European Voice Conference. Eek! And that I got much more nervous than I do doing concerts now. And it was very interesting because I'm recognizing some of the things that you've described. There were certain things that I did in order to make myself feel safer. Which I don't normally do. Um, so there's, there's one that we we know about and that we do do is that you either before, I mean, as it happened, I wasn't able to be in the space beforehand. It was like, you walk on stage and you're on. But it was to, to look at the four walls and go, these four walls belong to me for the next hour. Mm-hmm . Yeah. Which is a really interesting way of connecting with the building, connecting with your role, all of that. Um, the second thing I did, which I have never done before, uh, I decided because I had a Steinway concert D £200,000 piano to play, which I didn't know. So that was great. Um, I decided to play the piano and I just sat down before I officially started and I played the piano, which is a very grounding thing for me to do. Mm-hmm the thing that I don't normally do that I did was I was gonna play, I was playing, um, just the opening lines of I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables and I could not remember the chords. Very funny. So I actually sat down and played the chords, got them wrong three or four times. I never do that in public. But it was, I was chatting cuz I was on microphone. I was chatting to the people in the audience about what I was doing about playing the chords mm-hmm and that communication with the people in the audience when I wasn't officially on was a very good way of me going and now I'm connecting with the audience. So I've connected with the building. I'm connecting with the audience and sitting comfortable with the piano. So this is my comfort zone. This is nice, even though I wasn't playing the piano much at all in the workshop. And it was all about getting myself to feel safe. Yeah. Before I started and the moment I started, it's like, I'm here now. I'm on, I know what I'm doing. Presentation's really strong. So I'm good. Yeah. Safety and connection and action. Absolutely. And sometimes I think we probably have those instincts, so we've just buried them. And it's quite interesting how, if we're just, yeah, becoming a bit more attuned to it, how we already do a lot of stuff that is helpful. And to just trust that if you know what I mean, even something that you described there, Jeremy sort of like talking to the audience and stuff. Because I think when we becoming stressed and when we feel like, oh, I fluffed that or I made a mistake or whatever, we all have the tendency to want to hide that if you know what I mean, and to go, like, I hope no one has seen it. But to actually take the pressure off by saying, oh yeah. Hmm, played a bum note there whatever, you know what I mean? It's also really, really helpful. Or to just reach out to people and connect with them, even if we're not shining a light on what we did. But, um, yeah, I think the, the instincts are all there. We just need to learn to trust them again. I think. I think you're right. It's giving yourself permission. And actually I did that with the round table. Didn't I, where before I officially started, I said, let's have a show of hands. You know, who, who in here is a voice scientist, who's a singing teacher, blah, blah, blah. And that allowed me to connect with the audience and make that bond. Once upon a time, I wouldn't have done that. I'd have been shivering and waiting and then getting ready to do my thing. And I've got to the age now where I think bugger that. Whatever exactly. We have put that video up on the YouTube channel so you can actually see Gillyanne doing that. And what is extraordinary is that she sounds so calm and so focused and so in control, right from the very beginning when clearly she wasn't. So, Petra, we've got one more question and I think in a way you've answered it, but why don't we use the first part of Jan's question? Um, yes. Uh, Jan has said, Jan Jinkerson has said,"I have a question. What exercises would Petra recommend to help settle or stimulate the vagus nerve?" Would you like to comment? I mean, that is also one, I mean, polyvagal theory is of course, very big in the voice world and it's also very big in the therapy world. And I always say take what's useful. Don't take everything as gospel. As a therapist I say there are really useful ideas in it, as long as you don't take anything as, or everything as biological and, sure, scientific truth, if you know what I mean. So, um, I think was it Ian Howell who coined the, who coined the term useful lies or something? I think it was him. Um, there might be a few of those in there, but of course, um, the vagus nerve can be helpful and to a certain degree. So, um, heart rate, variability and so on and so forth and, um, training our sort of, um, vagal system can maybe make sense. I think it's up to you to try if you feel it has any effect. What would help with that again, is movement, because we know that really helps, um, in terms of vagal tone. Um, also things like when we are talking about safety and connection, we brought this thing up, maybe it has to do, um, with the vagus. Maybe it more has to do with the hormones that are being secreted when we're doing that. Maybe it's somewhere in the middle. So if you hug people or if you give yourself a hug, that can also be extremely helpful for some people, not for everyone. So I, for instance know when I'm stressed in general, I don't want anyone near me. If someone tried to hug me, I would just be like, oh, that wouldn't be for me. Um, and even sort of like self hugs was never something why I felt like that did a lot for me, but I know it helps some people where we're obviously in that realm again, if it helps some people, what is it actually, is it placebo? Is there some truth about it? Is it hormones? Is it the vagus? We just don't know. And what definitely has an influence on, um, vagal tone and the vagus nerve, um, is cold water. Um, gargling, holding your breath. But that's already in the realm where I would say be very careful with that, because if you're someone like me, uh, and you maybe have a heart condition, you have to make sure that's actually a safe technique for you to use you don't... No breath holding for me. I do not do it. It does not work. So for me, for instance, it works really well. And I have a technique where I know it's not just a breath holding. It's actually, I need to hold my breath first and then lie down and get my legs up. That immediately stops an episode for me or nine times out of 10, but, um, that doesn't work for everyone. So, um, and obviously where the heart is involved, where you're consciously slowing down your heart rate by using a vagal maneuver of sorts, um, I don't know. I, I wouldn't go there. I wouldn't experiment with, um, ice baths, holding your breath, all of these things, without having to get the, all clear from your doctor first. Because that's tampering with the system where you never know what you're actually getting. If you're just trying it out of the blue. So I would say stick, stick with the safe stuff. Maybe see what sort of safety connections, health, hugging, hugging people, movements, safe movements. So again, if you're exercising, obviously you need to make sure that's okay for you. Um, gargling is usually also, okay. I never felt it did anything for me, but if you directly want to stimulate the vagus nerve, that might be things to try out and look into. But, um, yeah, big sort of caveats and sort of like, yeah. And maybe just to be clear, I mean, I'm not gonna get into polyvagal theory because I don't pretend to understand it. I know there are lots of different branches, but, um, If what we want to do is to kind of get the vagus working to counter our sympathetic system, which is the flight and fight. Uh, what we actually need to do is stimulate it, not calm it. So the use of the word calming there, I'm not quite sure, um, what Jan meant unless she was talking about the dorsal vagus, which is another aspect, as far as I understand. Um, I can share that I've found humming really useful. Mm-hmm I might put my hands over my ears and hum loudly. Sort of more like a chanting kind of hum. Yes. And that seems to work better for me than holding. It is something that's also connected to, um, the breath, for instance. So again, breath from a trauma informed standpoint, always, obviously careful when you're suggest suggesting that to students, because we take so much grant for granted in the studio. Um, we always say like closing eyes, focusing on the breath directly and so on and so forth can be triggering for some people. But if you know, you're in the all clear. That is exactly sort of the stimulation of the vagus you want to look at, so to speak and Peter Levine, for instance, the father of somatic therapy almost, um, does something, he calls voo breathing, um, where you're sort of like, intoning like a really deep voo sound if you know what I mean. I've heard of this. And you're just exhaling on it essentially. And you're just going, Voo and make it resonate if you know, so, um, and that some people find that really helpful. Some people also actually get quite emotional when they're doing that, when they sort of find the, yeah, let's call it right frequency. And they feel like some things being, being set in motion and some blocks start to move or whatever. Um, so that's quite interesting that you're mentioning the humming there essentially. With direct stimulation as in terms of yeah holding breath, cold water splashes might be helpful for some people. Um, if you're thinking about the ice bath, I would already say just ease yourself and slowly don't do everything at once. Essentially. Turn, turn the shower down. I'm sorry. I just quite literally. Had an image of someone easing themselves down. Yeah, no, turn the shower down after your shower. Yeah. Um, you know, sort of gradually go from Luke warm to cold. That that's a good way to start. And actually I do that. Yeah. We could really call this episode, know yourself. Yeah. Because everything that you're saying is here are a range of things that are possible, but know yourself first so that you know, which ones are going to work for you, which ones aren't and also be aware of, of when things have an effect on you. And when they don't. Yes, love that. I'm really glad Jan asked that question cuz that's another one it's out there. Isn't it must do this with the vagus nerve, must do that. Must do you know, whatever. And actually understanding what it does is part of it. Well, that's another conversation. Um, what do you want to flag though? We haven't given you, how do we find you? Well, you find me on the internet. I have my socials, obviously as well. So if you look for either Petra Borzynski or, that's my webpage and I'm all my socials are on there. Um, so that's how you find me. You in you're in Scotland now. You're in Dumbarton, which is just underneath Loch Lomond. Yes. I, I have the good spot, right between Glasgow and Loch Lomond. So to either side, I can go, if I want the city, I can go to Glasgow and if I want nature, I can just venture out there. So it's a good space to be in. So yeah, that's where I am. And do you have a very nice online course for self-study don't you that I'm actually engaged in now. Tell us what it's called? Um, it's called Mental Health in the Performing Arts Studio. So that was born out of, I did a webinar series, um, in 2021. And, um, there were many, many people in it, but hardly anyone attended live, as sort of happens these days with webinars. And, um, sort of most people watched it back after the fact. And I thought, well, I might as well just put that on a cross platform and make it available for people. And there's a lot of the stuff in it that we talked about today in more detail, obviously about professional boundaries, how to become more trauma, aware, a big block on performance anxiety, um, mental health for performers in general and so on and so forth. So that's really quite comprehensive. So there's like five big modules in it. Also one about acceptance and commitment coaching. So where can use safe strategies that are not sort of like encroaching on the therapy territory. So like, really safe strategies, um, for the studio basically. And I also have a couple of, um, mini courses because I know that some people's interest is more singular. If you know what I mean, it's maybe just performance anxiety or something like that. So that's out there as well. That's something you'll find on my webpage. And constantly keeping on working of course. Have something else in the pipeline about sort of like, yeah recovery after Vocal injury, but that's not quite finished yet. Which looks more at the mental aspect of it. So looking, we will put, we'll put the links in the show notes for those courses. The, and the mental health in the studio is a great place for people to start. Yeah. If they're not familiar with this work. That's really important. I think this is really just, um, a starting point. And I'm always really keen to say that. That's for the person who wants to know where do I even begin? Yes. And that doesn't qualify you to do anything neither to do therapy nor to, um, become a counselor or it doesn't even make you trauma informed. It makes you more trauma aware. If you then decide you want to be a trauma informed practitioner, then you will go down that path further. So it's really just a jump off point. And in my view, that's all it should be. Much needed. It sounds like we are going to have a lot more conversations like this. This has been fascinating. Thank you so much. It's brilliant Petra. I'm so pleased we were able to do this and able to do it today. Yes. Yes. And thank you so much for having me. I've been, so looking forward to this, I've been sort of like itching to talk to you. Oh, same, same. Thank you, Petra That's wonderful. Wonderful. Okay. See you next time. Thank you so much. Bye. This is a voice, a podcast with Dr. Gillyanne Kayes and Jeremy Fisher. This is a voice.