Little do we know when a new journey begins. It’s rather subtle, almost like the soft touch of a person leading us in a dance. Or even more subtle, like the first fresh breeze that announces a faraway storm, slowly approaching.
This is what happened to me one chilly morning, beginning of February 2013, in Ängsbacka, a beautiful retreat near Molkom, Sweden. I was taking part in the Yoga & Dance Festival with some friends. That morning, the daily schedule had been updated with some new optional activities, out of which one, in particular, caught my eye – it was called “Liberating the voice”.
For some reason, it felt as if an invisible hand (maybe that of my subconscious) was pushing (or pulling) me into taking part in it. As if it was the right thing to go to.
I also had some very rational reasons to join, no doubt. For example, right that moment I remembered that I often noticed how my voice was shrinking when talking to some of the people that I was interacting with in my life and work. Either out of anxiety, or because of my intention to please. Or, in other contexts, it felt like my voice was getting dry and I was “loosing” it. So I thought that maybe I’d learn something new about it…
Truth is, this was the start of the friendship with my voice, and afterwards the friendship with Kefas. Half a year after that day I decided to invite him to Bucharest and hold the workshop here. We started in 2014 and we’ve had yearly editions ever since. And the reason I still take part in the workshop as a participant is because it never ceased to bring me newness and clarity regarding myself and my personal development. Let me tell you how.
I. INTERACTION 💥
Back to that day in Ängsbacka, taking part in Kefas’s workshop turned out to be a mind-opening experience, not just a voice-liberating, or a learning one. I didn’t just use my voice in order to emit different sounds. For two hours I’ve been literally immersed in a combination of physical activities and voicing exercises. I had to move and interact with other people inside playful, funny and engaging non-formal activities.
Apart from the voice exercises, this guided interaction during the workshop plays an important role and it is often accompanied with self-reflection. An interactive activity as such can be about gifting and receiving. The group moves in a very quick pace inside a designated area and some people hold different objects (like plush toys) with their hands. At first, they start to pass them around, and who receives an object has to pass it on. Then there is a moment when the intention of the receivers switches, and they also must try to take the objects, even grab them.
Here, my reflection was realising how hard it can be, sometimes, to give or to be given. And, especially, to take. My way of being in life was easily reflected by how I acted on spot. I felt that after this exercise I got more relaxed in my life regarding the act of receiving, giving and taking.
II. SELF-ACCEPTANCE 🌜🌛
Another reason why the workshop is filled with interaction is that it helps people to be more open to use their voices inside a group of seemingly unknown people. Especially because some of the voicing exercises are quite challenging in terms of what we call social acceptance.
For example, one exercise requires to lay down and sigh loudly, then do some humming, then groan, emit sounds and sing. Another exercise requires to sit on the hands and knees and find a position with the back straight (like the cat pose in yoga), which would help the voice become deeper and stronger, also by groaning. All of this in a way that would make it really difficult for one not to feel awkward and laugh about how the group looks and what it does.
But doing the exercise and being lead by Kefas’ guiding voice, I came to realise that there is no reason for me to feel embarrassed. That it is just my mind that is so quick to judge and laugh and fear about what the others think of me. And it is this strong sense of embarrassment that often blocks me from things that I want to do in my life, but avoid them.
III. RESPECTING MY OWN NEEDS 🙌
One of the possible activities during the workshop is like this: while sitting on the floor with the eyes closed, like in a meditation position, you start to tone vowel “A”. Like “aaaaaaaaaaaaa”. When doing it, you move your arms in front of your chest, getting them farther and closer, as if inflating and deflating a big baloon. The idea is to adjust the length of the movement to the length of your toning.
It’s just that the first time we did this, I was unable to do it. I was hardly getting the hands back in a syncronized movement. I’d rather finish the toning while my hands were still far out and then just did a very short and quick move to retract them.
What brought a learning point was Kefas’s words:
I can see some of you move too quick and end up too early, before finishing toning. And some of you finish toning before getting back with the hands to yourself. How does this relate to your life? When are you taking too little, or too much, and forget about yourself?
This moment gave me a clear insight about my tendency to want to do or take on more than I am able to manage, rather than be balanced. It was about overestimating my capabilities. Forcing things and forcing myself. Getting exhausted. Getting fed up. What a wonderful way of learning!
IV. EMOTIONAL STATE METER 🎚
Lately, I keep saying this to people when I talk about the workshop. I’ve begun to see my voice as an unequalled accurate measuring instrument that lets me know how my inner state is, at any given time during the day.
When we interact with people and situations, in our daily lives and in our work, we loose contact with ourselves and we stop pying attention to the flow of emotions and thoughts. It gets harder to be present, to connect with others and loose our authenticity. We often end up saying yes, when we wanna say no, shutting ourselves when we need to express, or enter unapropriate reactions.
The voice can help here. This is the one ability we use the most in our day-to-day interactions.
Once I got to know how I sounded, a quick access to my emotional life unfolded. Just by listening to my voice, it becomes easier to know what happens inside myself. Because the voice comes from within and manifests outwards. And it cannot lie about what’s going on in there. It tells the truth about how I am in this moment. I can easily notice if there’s something out of balance. And if it is, I can check what’s going on with me. What part of that interaction might get me imbllanced and what can I do about it?
V. PAIN IS NOT SUFFERING 😔
This is one of my favourite lessons. It happened during one Q&A session at the end of day 1, in a past edition of the workshop. Someone asked if, by singing, we can make the suffering of a physical pain go away. Kefas took quite some time before answering – he usually does this, like he’s pulling water from a deep well. It was a tough question. And the answer was:
No. Singing can’t make the pain go away, he said. But it can help you to be more comfortable with the pain. Because pain, he went on explaining, is not necessarily suffering. Pain is just enhanced awareness. If you have a tooth pain. Or a back pain. Or a finger hurts you. It’s as if, for a limited time, you have access to a very particular part of your body and become very aware of its existence. Whereas usually this is not the case with our bodies. We walk through life and never feel most of the body parts, especially if they are fine. If you look at pain as an opportunity for enhanced awareness, for being present, for feeling even places from the outskirts of your body, then it is not suffering. And in this matter, voice and singing can help, supporting your presence, especially when the pain gets quite naughty. But if you want to make the pain go away, it you want it to disappear, then it becomes suffering. And then the voice has no effect.
VI. RELAXATION FROM WITHIN 🙏🏻
There are times when I feel agitated (though, it’s not that often anymore). I am prone to overthink things, build a very busy schedule, live in a daily hurry, try to do too many things, solve too many problems etc.
A large part of the exercises that complement the singing part of the workshop focus on relaxing the body: through lack of movement, breathing techniques, body postures, melodic sounds and the safe space in which we are doing all these things. Therefore, the main feeling I get is that of peace and relaxation and being at home in my own body. Which… is a bliss.
Tasting this state of being brought me an undoubted example of my own capability of relaxing myself. I have the tools and the power to lay down, to breathe, to sing and to get centered. This has brought calmness to my life and I’ve started to feel better in the most delicate of situations and the bussiest of days.
VII. WELLBEING 💖
Having said all these, there is no doubt that feeling better in general is a natural consequence of the workshop for me. The overall experience, the singing, the lessons, they bring an enhanced internal state of being (which actually stays with me afterwards, through a steady practice of some of the exercises).
But the good aftertaste also has to do with the other participants. During the workshop I get to connect with so many people: we sing together, improvise, smile, play, gain more courage, wonder together about things we learn, experiment. This experience is also a lot about togetherness. And in it lies an important part of our sense of belonging and joy.
This is, in part, how the journey with my voice started. Back in Ängsbacka, in that cold winter morning, looking at the title of the workshop, I could only guess it might be of help. Or maybe I just felt the first fresh breeze of a faraway storm, slowly aproaching. Only to find out it wasn’t a storm, but the pleasant feeling of being alive.