Keeping fit, keeping healthy, keeping vocal
In many professional arenas, being healthy is key to ensuring you are working at your optimal level. It is easy to understand that a good diet and healthiness are important if you are a health instructor or athlete, but have you considered how your diet can affect your professional life? Professional life focuses mainly on core business skills, but being able to deliver constantly day after day requires preparation and dedication, not only to the job, but to you as well.
As a voice actor, I have to take my health and my voice very seriously. If I get a cold or a sore throat, then I can’t work! Even my diet is important to ensure that I can generate - and keep generating - a requested voice for a script for hours on end. Even a simple one-minute video requires stamina and knowing how far you can take your voice. This requires a lot of preparation: I train a lot; perform daily vocal warm-up exercises; do physical exercises; watch my diet for optimal performance; drink a lot of water; take daily doses of omega 3 oils; and eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Take the “five a day” and double it! Just like the effort I put into my business, I put the same into my health and diet.
I know from personal experience that changing diet can change a person, working from the inside out. I asked Fiona Gibson - nutritionist at AskNutrition - what foods are best for working long busy days, “Energy and stamina come from slow-release foods that contain Magnesium and B vitamins. These are in low supply in most people’s diet but can be increased from eating slow energy-releasing complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholemeal grains and dark green leafy vegetables.” When you have been out meeting clients, recording new tracks, doing social media marketing and having a social life, you need to have stamina.
To ensure that I keep my voice in tip-top condition for a day’s recording, I have to focus on keeping fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. Even if I am having a bad day, my voice has to sound happy, upbeat and cheerful. Moments of meditation, mindfulness and even practising Reiki or Tai Chi helps me to prepare for all vocal roles. With imagination, I can transport myself to each and every character, embodying them to deliver their voice in whatever direction is needed. This letting go is crucial: without it, my performance won’t be believable. The best performers, be they actors, business leaders or senior managers, are often those who have presence, either innate or learnt. They let go completely and live the moment, gathering you up and taking you on a journey. This belief and passion is a skill and one which requires practice. Former Head of voice at LAMDA, vocal coach Yvonne Morley talks about “submitting to the culture”. For any delivery, submit to the time, place and occasion and let it flow. She also talks about being willing to play a part and diving into things so really just go for it!
Voice work can mean long takes, standing up or sitting down and - in some cases - getting very active vocally and physically. It’s easy to forget to exercise when you have a recording deadline, but exercise is crucial in order to be able to continually deliver vocally.
“Make the body less sedentary” says Paul Edwards, Manager at Peak Fitness Gym. “Sitting down means that your metabolic rate drops, so you put on weight and you don’t create any endorphins.”
YIKES! If you are inside sitting down a lot, then watch those hip flexors: they’ll tighten up and your pelvis will move forward, which can cause pressure on your back as well as giving you that pot belly!
If you are working outside and already active, then your muscles and body are already tired and tight. “Here you need to release the tension before you exercise so some yoga or using a foam roller would work for you”, explains Paul. Cardio is king for whatever work you do so that the body can respond. Try to fit exercise into your day as a matter of routine. Do what works for you, but remember that it’s all about “specificity”: if you run a lot, you’ll use running muscles but not the other groups of muscles. Don’t forget that they need a work out too.
“The body likes doing everything – just the unconscious gets in the way”, adds Paul. I spend time doing Pilates and ballet to strengthen my core because that combined with my vocal exercises builds my stamina and keeps my shoulder blades tight, opening my chest so that I can breathe more deeply and work harder. I’ve even had deep tissue massages to release tight shoulder and back muscles. My voice is an instrument which needs to be taken care of daily.
But you’re going to say that you are really busy and can’t make all those changes in one go. If there was one dietary change which we could make today what would that be? Fiona tells us, “Decrease drinks such as coffee, tea, alcohol, and fizzy drinks and focus on giving the body plenty of clean still water. Drink about eight glasses per day (around two litres). The body needs water for every bio-chemical process which takes place, including the brain.”
As a voice artist, water is a must: the mouth and voice box must be moist and lubricated. After a day recording, I will have sipped, gulped, and swished at least those two litres of water; if I didn’t, you would hear those annoying mouthy sticky noises.
And what one change could you make for more exercise? As Paul says, “make it fun: the body loves to move”. That is certainly true. Whether I am a sexy senorita, computer voice, excitable cheerleader, military commander or Italian mama, movement is all part of the character. To embody those roles means to move in very different ways; doing this every day means that you need to be fit both vocally and physically. After all, you become the character: voice, body and soul.