Your voice is your power and Alexis O’Donahue is just the person to help you claim that power! Alexis joined Radiantly You! to talk about her passion for voice work, healing and helping people be heard. Please enjoy this excerpt from our conversation. If you want to listen to or download the show podcast, just follow this link.
Susie: Thank you so much for joining us. Alexis is a voice coach, and she is truly amazing. I could probably go on for five minutes listing everything that she does, but she’s an accomplished opera singer, she’s a leader in a field of music, she’s incredibly knowledgeable about so many different techniques, and types, and styles of music and the voice as an instrument. One of her clients basically said that she is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. She really helps people connect with their voice in a way that allows them to create their own uniqueness, connect with their brilliance, and allows their voice to soar. And when people’s voices soar, they can soar also. And it’s not just about making a speech in front of a crowd or something like that, when we talk about voice, we’re really talking about that third chakra, which is how we express ourselves. How we show up in the world to tell people who we are. So Alexis, thank you so much for being here. I’m very excited to hear everything you have to offer.
Alexis: Thank you so much. I’m very glad to be here, and this is, as you know, my passion to talk about. So one of the things about my field is, there are so many avenues around it that affect everything in your life; your health, your mind, your spirit, your wellbeing, your sense of being able to express yourself and have your message heard, that it never gets boring. I need about 12 more lifetimes to explore it fully.
Susie: When I met Alexis for the first time, I was at a networking meeting for wellness professionals and she was giving a presentation. And I was wondering why there was voice person there. It didn’t really make sense to me. And then she started talking about your voice’s energy, its sound waves. And then she started projecting her voice and I could feel it. Alexis, I could feel your voice going through me. You definitely have a very powerful voice. And the energy in the room changed when you started to project that voice. So tell us about how you help people to find that part of themselves.
Alexis: Absolutely. One of the things that is very harmful for the spirit is to be told to shut up, to not make noise, to not be heard. And the reason I named my company “Voices That Get Heard” is we know when we’re heard. We know in a real sense and we know in a metaphorical sense, that somebody did or didn’t get us. And we use the word resonate when someone understands us. We resonated. We were on the same wavelength. And that energy you talk about is real. If we could see it, if we could actually see those waves going through the air, we’re moving the molecules, we’re moving the space with our sound. When we’re projecting from a strong space in our body that has power, then our message gets heard in a different level and it’s impossible to do that without a sense of integrity of yourself coming through your voice as well. We know that when someone is speaking very quietly and very hesitantly, we don’t feel that they’re confident about what they’re saying. So I work on a level of helping them technically to create a strong instrument because your body is an instrument. And also to open up that space inside where their very being, their very message is resonating from.
Susie: One of the things that you also say is, that every voice has biometric authenticity.
Alexis: As much or possibly more so than fingerprints. We are truly unique.
Susie: So no two voices are alike?
Alexis: No. Absolutely not. Voice recognition is going to be much more a big thing in the future for identifying people. And think about that, our souls are unique, our voices are unique, our sense, our sense of self, it’s unique. And if you are not expressing that because somebody said to you, “Oh, you don’t sound good,” or, “Adele, you make too much noise,” or, “Oh, you’re giving me a headache, Selena.” And we make that internal decision to not make noise, to be quiet, so that our psyches will be a little more protected and not criticized. Then all of that, all of that authenticity just gets shoved back down inside of you. So it’s not about making a perfectly pitched noise. And that’s important if you wanna be a professional singer. That’s true. But not everybody is going to go down that road, nor should they. But for everybody’s life to be heard is vital. Make a joyous noise.
Susie: With that idea of the joyful noise, when we were younger, we ran around singing and just talking and babbling and everything. And you made a comment when we were off the air about going back to that place and helping people go back to that place.
Alexis: That is something that I work with people when we work one on one or also in workshop format. To try to find that spot in your life, whereas making sound, babbling, singing, just making sound was a totally joyous feeling and it’s a very open feeling. And then something may have been said, something carelessly that made you realize you’re not suppose to make that sound. And it’s an interesting thing about voice, the way it’s connected to your sense of self. When someone tells you to be quiet, stop making so much noise, “Oh, you can’t sing. I don’t wanna hear that.” It affects not just the sense, “Oh, this is not appropriate place to make a lot of noise,” it affects something deep inside of people and even very young children.
People in their 60s have told me, I was four years old. And I was playing and singing and my mother said, “You’re giving me a headache, just stop making that noise.” And I said, “I know.” I made a decision right then to never really be heard again. Think about how that plays out in your life. “I don’t wanna be heard because I’m going to be hurt, I’m going to be criticized.” So that tells me that our voice is down deep at the heart of our sense of self and who we are. So when we start to get brave enough to get that sound out and to get it heard, I have seen people grow in leaps and bounds in their personal life way beyond what you would think their voice would affect.
Susie: Do you have any stories that you can share?
Alexis: Absolutely. My favorite story, someone who is studying with me right now. She’s just a lovely person and she was an acquaintance through church, I didn’t know her really well. One day we were standing there singing and we were short of choir books, so I just let her see. I’ve moved it over toward her and she pushed it away and said, “No, no. I don’t sing. And the world is better off because of that.” Well, I am so the wrong person to say that to. So after the service was over, I said, “Listen, I’m sorry. I can’t leave that alone. If you would come to my studio just please, let’s work a little bit and no pressure or anything. But please come because I really feel that part of my mission is to contribute to a world where no one feels that the world is better off without your voice.”
So she’s been studying with me about a year now. And in the beginning, she could only do about three exercises and she’d be overwhelmed. She would be like, “That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s all I can do.” She now does a full complete vocal lesson, including learning musical literature. She’s singing in a choir and she mails me her check, and in the last one, she mailed me a little note saying, “Thank you so much for teaching me how to sing. It’s changed my life, it’s transformed my life.” And that’s just tear-inducing to me. Because it’s not me, it’s her giving herself permission. And strangely enough, she has a beautiful voice. So I don’t know how she got the message she couldn’t sing.
Susie: So many people do have a beautiful voice and they don’t realize it. I can just imagine how rewarding it is to see somebody blossom and open up.
Alexis: It is like opening a package or peeling that onion layer. I am so lucky to do this work. The people that I have met who are… I’m so in awe of people as they peel those layers, as they trust me and open up and we find that sound. And it is extremely common for people to start crying, when they find that sound. And I’ll even cry because I know it. I can feel it, I can hear it, but I can also feel it in my body. I know when they hit that place where nobody is hiding. There’s no walls up. Boom! It’s just them. And I always get goosebumps.
Susie: So all of the things that maybe you’ve been trying to do and you hit up against obstacles, or you feel that you lack the confidence or in some way, deep inside, there’s a little voice that is just telling you, you don’t deserve something. Going at it from a completely different route, your voice can be really a fun and empowering way to make some really deep changes.
Alexis: It absolutely can. And it can be fun, but it can also be scary. And the only reason I bring that up is because, if you know it’s gonna be, “Alright. This is kind of a big step.” Then you’re like, “Okay. That feels a little scary,” and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to stop you. It’s something that has bigger results than you can really imagine. And obviously, if you wanna sing, that’s gonna be something you’re gonna have to work with. But for everybody, let’s say it’s just, “I wanna be brave enough to raise my hand in the parents teacher conference and say, ‘No. I don’t agree with that.’ I wanna be able, when someone says, ‘What’s the matter?’ to be able to turn around and tell them in a respectful and clear way without just saying, ‘Oh, nothing. Nothing.'” It’s in our everyday life, the ability to have your voice heard, yourself heard is a vital part of feeling that you really exist in this world, that you’re really inhabiting your life in this world and that you’re part of it.
Susie: How empowering it is to get in touch with your voice. Alexis you also shared an amazing story about somebody who came to you because she wanted to be able to sing songs to her children at night. And she just didn’t have that inner confidence to do that. So tell us what it’s like to work with you? Because this is not just for singers. This is, you do not need to have any kind of lofty ambitions of being on Broadway or anything like that. If you just wanna find another way to look at claiming your power, stepping into your brilliance. And you use this word a lot with voices: Brilliance.
Alexis: Well, when someone first contacts me, we meet or talk on the phone. I wanna get a little bit of an idea of where they’re at with singing. Have they sung before? Have they spoke before? I also have people who are public speakers who aren’t going to sing at all. But we still use vocal technique to strengthen their instrument. So we would talk about that and then you would come in. And we would start with some general exercises and some things to help me get an idea of your voice, and the range, and how well that is suited for where you wanna go. And if it’s more of, “I’m afraid to make noise,” then we’ll start with very general big swoops and like, “Ahhhhhh.” One of my favorite ways to get people starting is to just yawn. And one of my things before I die is to make yawn socially acceptable. Because they are the best thing for your body. They’re so good for you.
So we start with yawning and then I have them yawn and keep the mouth open at the end of the yawn. And that is almost impossible for people in the beginning. Because they shut it. And so what I’m trying to do is, I’m working with the brain and habits. To let go of the habit that when I finish making sound, I must clamp the mouth down and clamp the jaw. So we want to have that nice relaxed open jaw, because it’s easier for sound to come out, and it’s easier for breath to come in and out using the nose and the mouth in this beautiful interchange of the sound instrument. Correct? And they have to look in the mirror and go, “Wow. You’re right. I’m closing my mouth.” So just yawning, stretching the back of the throat. Lifting the space inside the soft palate, lifting inside the mouth and lowering the jaw which makes the throat open up.
And who doesn’t love a good yawn? And what’s so sad is that we’ve made it this thing where people constrict and they try to stop the yawn, and they hide it. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I’m like, “Please. I break free yawns.” [chuckle] That’s my self-care.
Susie: So we’re adding a whole new self-care method, and it’s called yawning. You can do it any time of the day.
Alexis: So my students, as far as working with me, a lot of them go, “Oh, my gosh. The minute I walk in this room, I start yawning.” And I’m like, “That is a compliment. I consider that a compliment that you’re yawning.” So we start with things like that that are basic to the body. The body already knows that. So we work gradually from what is comfortable, into stretching that a little bit. And we support the instrument with technique so that people are like, “Oh, wow. I never felt that strength. I never felt that power. I actually can make sound.” And then we encourage some range growth and I just… It’s very individual, but finding a way to start with what is organic and authentic to that human being.
Susie: That’s a perfect place to start. And Alexis has a free download for Radiantly You listeners. If you go to radiantriverwellness.com and click on the radio tab and go to today’s show, there is a downloadable handout basically of strategies for taking care of your voice.
Alexis: Yes. It’s tips basically for speakers and singers. What you eat and how you live does affect your voice because it’s in your human instrument. It’s like taking your violin out in the rain and we have to take care of these bodies because it does affect our sound.
Susie: So some of my favorites were… I suppose they were my favorites because they were not things I thought about. “Mental stamina. Never criticize yourself after a talk, and critique yourself with respect.” So if you are in a situation where you are putting yourself out there and having to talk or sing, you were saying, don’t be critical of yourself afterwards.
Alexis: Absolutely. And that’s not to be confused with respectful feedback. You always want to respectfully look at what you did and say, “What could I do better?” But immediately before and immediately after, your brain is in a state of hyper alertness, because you’re doing something that’s a little scary maybe, or a little new. And if the inner monologue is, “I’m gonna totally mess this up. I’ve never done this well. Oh, my gosh.” Then, boom. That’s already unpleasant.
And if you finish and inside your head is going, “I totally blew that. That is just terrible. Why did I do this?” That may be even on a level you’re not hearing consciously, but your reptilian brain, your psyche is going, “That was not a good experience for me. I do not want to do that again.” And you will start sabotaging yourself. You’ll be too busy to go to the lesson. You won’t wanna practice. You won’t wanna speak again in public. Toastmasters, for instance, is a fabulous organization to learn to speak with. People don’t go because they’re like, “Wait. But I have to speak in front of people.” [laughter]
Susie: Yeah. So that speaking is really about so much more, that’s really saying something about how you feel about yourself. Are you accepting of yourself? Do you love yourself?
Alexis: Yes. And sometimes you have to talk to your brain like it’s a sweet little three-year-old, “Come on, honey. You can do this.” One of the most important things to tell your brain is, “I’m safe. I’m safe. I’m safe. You’re safe. We’re safe.” Use different pronouns. Like your mother is speaking to you, like your friend is speaking to you, and say it to yourself, “I’m safe. We’re safe. You’re safe. We’re gonna be fine. You did great! That was the best. Well, that was fabulous.” Feed yourself, just flood yourself with this positivity. Then later, sit down, critique, feedback, look over the tape, say, “Well, next time I wanna do this.” But that will make your psyche say, “You know what? I survived. That was kinda cool.” And then the feeling of scared starts to feel like the feeling of excitement.
Susie: Another one is, “Stay relaxed. Spend five minutes, even just five minutes, by yourself just being peaceful.” So tell me about how that affects our voice.
Alexis: It is one of the things that makes it challenging for people to do these little self-care moments and to practice anything is that we have trouble switching the on switch to off. So we’re very outwardly directed. We’re doing activities. We’re doing, doing, doing things. We’re living in the future of, “I’m doing this, I’m doing a planning for this.” Stopping and being exactly in the present moment and just calming down and turning off the outside, turning into your inside mind, brain, thought, that little voice, taking that deep breath, it allows you to go inside, and the process of learning to connect with your voice is internal. The process of learning how to take care of yourself is internal. It’s so much more comfortable to do a thing than to stop and connect internally.
Susie: How do people get in touch with you if they would like to step into their power with their voice?
Susie: Even if you’re hesitant, I encourage you to at least meet with Alexis, because I think you’ll really like what that power feels like to be able to open up the third chakra and be able to manifest the things that you’re wanting in life the most. So thank you Alexis, for joining us.[Listen to the archived show]