Licia Sky is a Boston-based somatic educator, singer-songwriter, and bodyworker who works with traumatized individuals using movement, theater and voice as tools for healing and connection. In the course of over 25 years of bodywork practice, she began using her voice with her bodywork clients by vocalizing and toning – to help them release the constriction from repressed vocal expression. She found that breathing, toning and vocalizing led to profound beneficial changes of physical and emotional state. She has been teaching workshops on these subjects around the US and numerous countries around the world. Licia is co-founder and CEO of the Trauma Research Foundation.
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00:03 Welcome. This is the Resonate Podcast with Aideen. My guest today is Licia Sky. Licia is a Boston based somatic educator, a singer songwriter and body worker who works with traumatized individuals using movement, theatre and voice as tools for healing and connection. You’re very welcome. Licia, lovely to have you here. Thanks so much, Aideen. It’s lovely to meet you. Yeah, you too. I came across your work online.
00:29 And I’ve watched one of your videos on YouTube, but using the voice and mindfulness to reconnect with yourself. Um, because that’s a passion of mine is using the voice to as a tool for reconnection and a tool for self-healing. I knew that you would have some amazing things to say on that subject. So tell us how you got into that. Like, where did you discover this connection? It’s interesting because, um,
00:57 My singing is something that I always had even as a child. I’d be walking around in the woods and singing at the top of my lungs because that felt good. But as I grew, how could you not notice that we live in a culture where only special people are recognized as being good enough to have the privilege of singing openly?
01:26 You know, in chorus at one point in elementary school, I was even told to mouth the words. And I could see that the teacher didn’t really like my voice very much. But it was something that was innate to who I was, singular of anything else around me.
01:50 And so I guess I’ve always known implicitly that it was a part of our bodies. It’s a part of who humans are, just kind of like singing is for birds even. And as a body worker, I was a massage therapist for years and years. I was admonished when I first started to never talk to people.
02:20 But if you’re present with someone and you’re helping them be in touch with their bodies.
02:29 many people naturally begin to talk about what comes up for them as they’re letting things go. Letting tension go. It’s quite often tied to stuff that’s in our bodies, has an emotional connection. And life events would come up and traumatic memories would come up. Flashbacks would happen. Not with everybody, but with many people. Wow.
02:58 And thoughts and feelings naturally arise. And sometimes when somebody had a very strong tension in their body and they weren’t talking, they maybe were holding their breath, I would begin to breathe with them and really listen differently, that it wasn’t just physical manipulation that was important at that point. And sometimes a deep breath would…
03:26 help a person to release the tension that they had in their bodies, but sometimes even that wasn’t quite enough. And I know from my own physical awareness that making sound or holding back a sound, they both require different physical energy, but if you have a natural sound that your body needs to make because you’re in pain, say,
03:56 holding in that sound requires a physical pressure and exertion. So if you’re learning not to cry or you’re suppressing a laugh or a cough or a sneeze or an angry shout, whatever it is, it requires a physical effort and a physical tension to hold back the creation of that sound that your body wants to make. That’s so interesting, because I know people will talk about, oh, I feel that lump in my throat or
04:26 I’m swallowing something back when they don’t feel they have permission to speak or they feel they might be bothering someone or they’ve got some reluctance. They don’t feel safe to express themselves in that moment. And so you’re saying that if we haven’t been able to express yourself in a moment of intense emotion or trauma.
04:52 that that’s just getting stored, but it takes energy to store it in your body. It actually takes the core muscles of your body, and there’s a lot of tension overall in our bodies from the effort of doing that. Even if it’s something that becomes habituated, if it becomes habituated, then it goes below your active awareness to your subconscious.
05:22 I think there are different levels of subconscious awareness. Some things are very close to the surface and some things are buried really deep. So, but sometimes of physical tension and pain can come from something that’s buried really deep that you don’t even know that you have that habit of carrying or compensating for. And so I began toning and sounding just
05:49 You know, the intuition of what does a sigh sound like. Ah, and that might be the sound of releasing tension. You almost can’t make that sound without first tensing up your body a little bit with that breath and then releasing that tension in your body when you make the sound in the exhale. So if you try it, take a deep breath in and go. Ah, I can feel just the act of that makes my.
06:17 chest rise and fall, my shoulders rise and fall, and it helps, it’s a gentle internal squeeze, which is sometimes a necessary thing, to tighten something a little bit more before you let it go. And so sometimes that was enough to unlock attention, but sometimes that was enough to unlock a physical sensation of emotional release. And…
06:46 tears would come. So for me it’s very important to make a sound that’s loud enough for a person to make the sound in so they don’t have to be self-conscious about making the sound themselves. So many people don’t have permission to make sound. Emotional sound can be a cultural taboo, a family taboo. Some people…
07:14 have more privilege around sound than others. I was a very quiet person when I wasn’t off in the woods singing by myself. That’s my. Yeah, I just love what you’re saying, and I want to just connect the dots for the listeners. So you might have a sore hip or shoulder issue or some physical manifestation of pain in your body.
07:42 that was caused at a time when you weren’t able to speak about it, that voice could be part of that healing process to help you unlock what had happened, allow yourself to express something. Well, you know, that’s taking it further than I would take it immediately, because it depends on the relationship of the person that you’re working with. OK, if it’s somebody brand new, they might not.
08:11 feel safe to even open up that much to themselves in the presence of another. Yes. But vocalizing was something that I would do with people that I’d really been with for a while who I felt trusted me. I mean, now I’m confident enough that I can probably do it with anybody, but still, it takes a relationship and an understanding of safety in order to do that.
08:40 Now, the thing about having a voice is that it means you’re seen because attention orients to sound. And it’s something that emanates from your body, vibrates your body. You have a physical sensation of vibration when you speak and make a sound. And you’re also imparting your physicality information about your nervous system, how comfortable or…
09:10 tense you are, how relaxed you are, all of that is transmitted through the sound of your voice.
09:23 So having a voice is a big deal physically. It means I’m safe to draw attention to myself. And your volume, your fluidity, your prosody, all of that is a reflection of your safety from moment to moment, how comfortable you are in your own body from moment to moment, and how authentically present you feel safe to be.
09:51 Beautiful. Does that make sense? Completely, because I teach voice and teach singing, and I often remind people how important their nervous system is in order to feel confident to sing. You know, if you’re if you’re reacting in your mind to feeling a little stressed about a situation, your physical body is reacting to that. You can feel some tension and sometimes being aware of that.
10:20 physical side of the voice is a way back then to feeling peaceful again. Right. You might have to use your own positive self-talk to, you know, in the moment to kind of go, no, I’m okay right now. Or, you know, it’s okay if I’m not perfect or whatever it might be that you might have running through your mind that’s creating that physical tension, but they’re so interconnected, right? It’s very.
10:48 I don’t think you can separate them really. Yeah. I loved what you said about, I loved what you said about that we even feel our own voice, like our own vibration. That’s something I think I don’t even think about that often. You know, that every time I speak, I’m feeling my own voice. That seems like an interesting thing to think about. We’re resonating. That’s what it means. We are making the sound that reflects
11:19 the state that we’re in, we’re resonating, emanating that vibration throughout our bodies and into the atmosphere around us. And it’s received, those vibrations are received by everything, air, liquid, solid, around us. We’re all vibrating all the time.
11:50 Where was I going with that? I was talking about attention and safety. You know, the thing about our voices is that…
11:58 There’s privilege and there’s shame. And so many people are shamed about their voices and not encouraged to learn them or develop them or grow into them. They’re only told that their voices are inadequate. Their voices are too much. Their voices aren’t good enough. And there’s so many reasons why we learn to be quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet. You know, I know
12:28 education the way we have it is a thing where children learn very quickly. You’ve got to be quiet. You’ve got to keep your voice down. You can’t speak up. You have to wait your turn. You have to raise your hand. And only sometimes are some kids recognized as having the sweet voices or the good enough voices or the voices that carry the tune the way somebody else external.
12:58 tells you to carry the tune. But I think innately, we are musical creatures. Emotion, the first musical sounds are the tones of the mother or the caregiver. It’s called motherese by researchers. It’s very musical in tone. The sound of.
13:26 the voice, how it inflects, how it goes up, how it goes down, all of that conveys information that’s emotional information about safety, about calming down your nervous system, about going to sleep, or about waking up and playing. All of those are musical cues for how to engage with the caregiver and engage with the world around you.
13:56 So would you say that then people who don’t consider themselves as musical may be able to reconnect with that part of themselves through their voice? Oh, yes. Yeah. And it’s having a voice is part of having permission to be fully in the world. Well, I think that’s important. What you’re saying is that we’re taught that we don’t have permission to speak and that we have to request permission by raising our hand or waiting our turn.
14:23 And that could be blocking us in our everyday speaking. You know, most women find it difficult to maybe ask for what they need from their partner or in their workplace, asking for a raise. So this issue of being disconnected from knowing, from feeling safe enough to use your voice can have very significant negative effects within your everyday life. Often. Right.
14:51 It’s part of standing up and being seen. It’s part of having agency in the world. It’s part of having permission to make your life better or make it the way you want it to be. It’s part of understanding yourself and your worth. Yes. And I think in this sense, voice is a figurative voice as well because
15:20 You know, some people are deaf, some people don’t speak the way everybody else speaks, they don’t use their voice in the same way. And yet, having the capacity to self-express and fully be, to be able to listen to the sensations of your body and be aware and feel safe to communicate what you know about yourself to others. For me, that’s…
15:50 the essence of having a voice. Yeah, so whether you have to write that down or sign it, if you’re using sign language, and that’s still, we can still use the word voice for that and connect it then with your, whether you’re undervaluing yourself or waiting your turn and moving towards hopefully asking for what you need and want in your life. And,
16:18 actively seeking it. You know, we’re the agents of our own change. We’re the ones who ultimately make the choices day to day, moment to moment, year to year, figuring out how to take action. That’s part of having a voice. So how do you help someone start that process if they’re not really connected right now?
16:49 Um, for me, it all is about paying attention to our bodies, the sensations in our bodies. And it’s that attention, that listening to where our felt senses are, where our feelings are. That’s the first thing, because for many people, they’re so focused on getting things done.
17:18 or surviving or looking for the big things out there, especially people who’ve had trauma, there’s like a siren going off all the time. And they’re on survival alert all the time. So when you’re in survival alert, paying attention to your body doesn’t feel like a safe option. It could feel like a very dangerous thing, especially
17:45 to go close to uncomfortable feelings that you may have learned to suppress, to not feel, to not notice as part of not expressing, not crying, not shouting, not emoting, not moving in response to how you feel. And it’s part of the safety of not being seen is not feeling.
18:14 not feeling fully, not being aware. So for me, the first part of having a voice is landing in your body differently, listening differently. And the first sounds that you have with a voice, when we are learning to vocalize, we’re not speaking in words. We’re sounding in tones.
18:45 consonants and vowels and we’re playing and opening ourselves and hearing what comes out. And I think that, you know, for some people even making a humming sound is a big deal. It’s like not safe. Oh, my voice is not good enough. It’s not, it’s ugly. It’s bad. It’s, I mean, the internal talk that people…
19:15 give to themselves is usually so much harsher than what they would think to give to anybody else. But usually those harsh criticisms, they’re learned early and they become a part of who we are. And then we have to relearn where they are because they become so part of our habit that we don’t know where they came from.
19:44 Absolutely. Absolutely. I had a lot of folks from them. And so it’s very basic, it’s very primal. Sometimes it looks like nothing, but it might just be taking the risk to make a hmm sound or an ah sound. And so that’s why I started to make sounds for other people to make sounds into. And the more I did it,
20:12 And the more I saw how much people responded to it, on a massage table, by the way. Um, so you were making sounds. Yeah. They were so that they didn’t have to. So you’re allowing sound so they could make sound inside my sound without feeling embarrassed. So with them, they would make it with me. I would make a sound that I. Intuit it would be helpful physically for them.
20:39 And sometimes it was an ah sound, sometimes it was an oh sound, ah, oh, but sometimes it was a real growl. Something that I felt would connect to the part of my body that I could feel in their body that was holding. Wow. And quite often, it would be a really big release.
21:08 So would you feel it in the person’s body, that release? You know, yeah. Feel it, see it, hear it, witness an emotional release, make space, safe space for a person to cry or cry privately.
21:33 You know, sometimes they would be faced down and that would be the safest way for them to make a sound. It was like through the face cradle into the floor. Wow. And that would be the safest way for them to find themselves crying without being seen, because sometimes it can be so private to have an emotional expression. So if someone’s listening and they are feeling an emotion within themselves,
22:02 Can they do that process a little bit on their own just by maybe closing their eyes, feeling into their body? How would you suggest somebody who doesn’t have access to perhaps working with you directly, could they try something on their own? I love humming. It’s always the first thing that I do vocally with people. It’s very resonant. There’s something about it that’s very soothing. Hum can hold a lot.
22:31 of emotional awareness without making a big sound. You can hmm and just pause and be at the very edge of a feeling. So it’s about practicing noticing. Where do you feel tension in your body right now? Where do I feel tension in my body? Is it in my chest? Is it in my belly? Is it in my shoulders? Or what parts of me feel relaxed and open?
23:01 And just hum with curiosity. Hmm, I wonder where I’m feeling. Hmm, ah. So playing with those sounds and seeing what comes up, what do I in private have permission to feel or resonate with? And I think humming opens us up in such a way that we can hear our voices differently. You can try.
23:29 holding your hands over your ears and humming at the same time, which kind of amplifies the resonance that you feel because sound is conducted through solids better than through air. And so if you hold your hands over your ears and you hum or you vocalize and hear things, it’s like having a speaker inside your head. It’s a lovely way to hear your voice differently.
23:56 In the talk that I watched on YouTube, you suggested putting hands in front of your face and saying your own name so that you can hear your own voice saying your own name. I loved that. Yeah, yeah. And you can feel the vibration of your voice in your hands. You can hum holding your chest or your belly and actually feel how your voice vibrates your body. You can place your hand on the top of your head. Push down a little bit.
24:25 An mm sound usually sends the vibration right up into your skull. So you, your hand can actually feel the vibration of your voice in your head. Um, Wow. I think that with that, the listeners, I encourage anyone listening, please do try some of these things and feel your own voice connect to that part of yourself. And, uh, because it’s a very rich experience when you feel your voice has value.
24:54 and you can express yourself and it is a tool for manifesting the life that you would like to have and connecting with others more deeply because if we don’t fully express ourselves and are honest that creates barriers. Saying your name the way you like to be said is really important to hear yourself address yourself with respect and kindness. Beautiful. And I love practicing self-talk.
25:24 Self-talk is understanding what you feel like saying to yourself or what you would like to have said to you. Do you have permission to say it to yourself? Self-talk is listening to what you have to say to yourself and seeing how much respect and kindness you can impart to yourself as you speak to yourself.
25:53 and how much respect and kindness you can receive from yourself if you talk to yourself. And throughout the day I find myself talking to myself, and it might be odd at first, but sometimes it can be very reassuring to have a little companionship for the more insecure or vulnerable parts of ourselves when they come up.
26:22 You know, we all have times when we think, ooh, I don’t know if I can do that. And…
26:30 If we’re in touch enough with ourselves, there’s something inside us that can actually be kind. Yeah, and say back, well, maybe I can, and it could be fun to try. Well, I’m afraid we’ve already gotten to the end of our, a lot of time already. I mean, we could continue talking, I’m sure, for another hour. Licia, it’s been a pleasure to have you on.
26:56 the Resonate podcast. Is there anything that you’d like to say finally before we go? And maybe you’d like to let people know how to connect with the work that you’re doing through the Trauma Foundation. It’s the Trauma Research Foundation, traumaresearchfoundation.org. And that website is kept much more up to date than my personal website, which is liciasky.com.
27:25 And yeah, I am teaching workshops all over the place by myself and with Bessel van der Kolk. They’re trauma workshops mostly. And thank you so much. So I hope people will feel like exploring and playing and thank you for sharing me with your audience, Aideen. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for joining me. Thank you all. If you’ve been listening, I encourage you to
27:55 connect with Alicia and maybe attend one of her workshops. And we look forward to seeing you again on the Resonate podcast next time. Bye. Bye.