Rest is hands-down the best thing you can do for a damaged voice. But how do you know if you're actually resting it?
Simply “not speaking” isn't really enough. Vocal strain caused from overuse is due more to tension in the neck, jaw and tongue than the action of speaking. It's the way you've been speaking that is damaging. If you hold your muscles in the same position when you're not speaking (or if you clench them even tighter in order to stop yourself from speaking) are you really doing any good? Sometimes being silent can close your throat even further as your neck becomes a storage area for all the excess tension in your body when you aren't using it.
So how do you relax your throat? It's not always easy to isolate a specific muscle group. If you can bring your awareness into your shoulders, neck, jaw and tongue and mindfully relax them, great! But if you could do that you probably wouldn't have strained your voice in the first place, so let's operate from the assumption that some additional exercises would be helpful. . .
1. Breathe Deeply
Now this is not a muscular “big” breath, just a relaxed breath that travels aaaall the way down your torso into your pelvic floor. The higher the breath in your body (ie if you breathe a lot with your shoulders) the more tense your breath is. The lower you breathe in your body (ie if you can feel it in your belly or pelvis) the more relaxed your breath is. Your body knows that breath creates sound so there's an unconscious link between your breath and your throat. What you do with one will have an automatic effect on the other. Since it is so much easier to consciously relax your breathing than it is to consciously relax the little muscles around your vocal folds, relaxing your breathing will go a long way to relaxing your throat. And you can do it without making a sound!
It really doesn't matter how you steam. You can sit over a bowl of boiling water with a towel over your head. Or you can go relax in a sauna. Or just breathe with extra care when you take your morning shower. All steam is good for your vocal folds, the more steam you can breathe in and the more relaxed your body is, the more relaxed your throat will be, so take this as an excuse to go sit in that hot tub.
3. Be Gormless
You may not want to do this in public, but any chance you get when you're on your own inside (so no passing bugs fly in by mistake), especially if you sit at a desk for any part of the day, just let your jaw drop open. The key to this is letting the jaw RELAX open, you're not muscularly pushing it open, just letting it go. The jaw muscles are connected to the tongue muscles which are directly connected to the muscles around your vocal folds. Relaxing the jaw is such an uncommon thing that five whole minutes of gormlessness a day will change your life.
When doing any or all of the above you may feel the impulse to yawn. Let yourself yawn! This yawn is the rejoicing of your muscles at the freedom you are giving them. If you suffer from jaw tension make sure you smile a little as you yawn, it will help prevent that horrible popping that happens if you over-extend.
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Danielle Benzon coaches entrepreneurs and performing artists in voice, acting and audition technique. She is also certified to teach the Meisner Approach through the True Acting Institute. Danielle is based in Vancouver, Canada.