Ever notice how voice geeks (singers, actors, coaches, teachers, speakers) tend to carry around a water bottle? It’s not just that they know water is essential to our health – it’s to keep the vocal cords hydrated.
Vocal cords vibrate incredibly fast when we speak: 100 – 200 times per second for most folks (and way faster on some occasions). In order to do that, they have to be pliable. In order to stay pliable, they must be – I apologize in advance for using a word that many people loathe – MOIST.
Everything loses pliability when it gets dried out (skin, a sponge, strawberry jam, even nail polish). If the vocal cords are a little dry, they can become stiff. This can lead to hoarseness and/or a sense of increased physical effort when we speak.
The most obvious way to hydrate your body, and therefore your voice, is by drinking enough water. How much is enough, you ask? Nobody knows. There are all kinds of theories, but the bottom line is that each of us needs to drink enough water that we pee pale all the time. That means the kidneys have enough water to deal with the toxins, and the rest passes right through us. So aim for super pale pee every single time, and you’re well hydrated.
The other helpful tip is to inhale steam. Did you know that nothing we swallow touches the vocal cords? They sit over the airway, not the food tube. The water we drink hydrates us systemically, from the inside out. Only what we breathe actually touches them. So breathing steam is the only way to directly hydrate the vocal cords. (This is why drier air causes problems). The old-school way is to bring a pot of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and use a towel to make a little tent over your head to trap the steam as you breathe. Or you can buy a little device called a “personal steam inhaler” online, which makes the job more comfortable. You want to inhale the steam for 5-10 minutes every day or so, more if you feel dry.
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