To conclude my series of blogs on sound and Acupuncture, this week I’m looking at using the voice as a diagnostic tool. Or, what does a person’s tone of voice tell us about their state of health?
When a patient comes in to the clinic to see me for acupuncture or tai na, there are a number of things I do before I’ve even asked a question. Firstly I observe them. I look at the way they walk; do they have a limp, favour one side or have any difficulty walking in general? I also look out for any observable telltale signs of ill health, such as a sallow complexion or bloodshot eyes. The quality of a person’s skin or hair can also be a giveaway sign of something else that is bubbling away under the surface. I even take note of the colours a person wears. All of these things, and much more of course, give me some idea of a person’s general healthy.
The 5 voices of Chinese Medicine
Next I will ask them about why they have come to see me for acupuncture. And while they are speaking, I listen; not only to what they are saying to me, but also to their tone of voice. A person’s tone of voice can tell us a lot about their state of health. Differential diagnosis is a tricky business of course. If someone raises their voice while telling a story, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are angry. It could be just the punch line to a funny story! So it’s important to take the context of what someone is saying into consideration. Ask yourself, is the tone of voice appropriate? For instance, if someone is telling me how happy they are but their voice is flat and lacking joy, alarm bells should be ringing.
So let’s take a closer look at the five voices.
In line with the five element system of Chinese medicine, each of the tones of voice correspond to an internal organ and an emotion.
Wood – Shouting
The shouting voice is associated with anger, the Liver emotion. Anger makes the Qi rise which gives the voice forcefulness. Sometimes a loud and assertive voice is needed, especially when you want things done or you need to be heard, such as in an emergency. Ever felt like you are being talked at rather than talked to? This voice may not be loud, but could instead be abrupt and clipped, but the emotion behind it is still one of anger. Anger is an important emotion, as you know, but without anger nothing changes. Remember my blog about anger? An effective general needs enough force to defend his territory, but not enough to start an all out war.
An imbalance is Indicated when this tone of voice is used out of context. Remember that the healthy Wood element has flexibility in its strength. Someone who reacts to everything with anger or irritation clearly lacks flexibility. Imbalance is also evident when anger (or assertion) is lacking when it is clearly called for. This means the Qi is failing to rise.
Fire – Laughter
In a time long ago, in a universe far far away, I worked in an office. I know, it’s hard to believe, it was another lifetime ago. I remember during my initial training being told to answer the phone with a smile, which changes your tone voice. And it does! This is the same with Laughter therapy – the brain doesn’t know the difference between real laughter or fake, so by just pretending to laugh endorphins are realised. Fake it to make it, as they say. If you listen carefully though, I think you can tell if someone is truly happy.
Laughter in the voice is different to actual laughter; it is simply having joy in one’s voice. Listen to someone telling an amusing story and you will hear this voice. There could be an imbalance if the voice is lacking laughter when telling a funny story. Or on the other hand, when laughter is present when it is out of context, like talking about an upsetting experience. In addition, some people laugh when they are nervous, or they laugh to mask their true feelings. It can be an Earth laugh (sympathetic) or a Water laugh (masking fear), or a Wood laugh (laughing with anger).
Earth – Singing
The singing voice can be heard when we are cooing to a baby or speaking to a pet, or tending to someone who is in pain. The voice is soft and modulates up and down. There is an imbalance if you were to talk to everyone with this tone of voice. But don’t get caught out; in some languages and dialects, such as Welsh, this tone of voice can be normal. In these cases, you have to listen carefully to hear when the singing tone has more emphasis and whether or not it is appropriate.
Metal – Weeping
People with this voice can sound as if they are about to cry. There might be a faltering in the words, or a chocked sound as if they are struggling to keep control of their voice. Some people with a weeping voice might also sound weak, as if they are struggling to be heard. A good example of this type of voice is that of Theresa may. This voice indicates a weakness in Lung qi. Theresa May not only has the voice, but she also has the grey, ashen skin associated with a Metal element imbalance to accompany it. The emotion associated with the Metal element is sadness and grief, so such a voice would be appropriate in the right context, i.e. someone has died.
Water – Groaning
The groaning voice lacks animation and can sound as if it is dragging, much like someone who is lacking laughter (Fire). The element associated with Water is fear. As fear sets in and the Qi descends, the voice descends too, losing it’s force and vibrancy. Think of someone trying to alert someone that there is a spider on their back people – in order not to panic them they speak in a quiet, flat tone.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of blogs on Music and sound in Chinese Medicine. Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them.