Are You Prepared to “Wing-It”?

It’s a bit of an oxymoron isn’t it, being prepared to “wing-it”?  Isn’t the idea of winging-it all about not being prepared? Ah, I beg to differ. “Winging-it” is ALL about being prepared.

Has this ever happened to you? You’re out to hear some music, maybe your friend is playing at a local club. During the course of the evening said friend asks you to sit in with the band and your mind becomes a complete blank. You can’t seem to think of anything to sing! Or maybe you’re at a party and someone pulls out their guitar and starts an impromptu jam session. You want to join in and can even think of a bunch of songs to sing, but you’re not sure that you know all the words and you have no idea what key you sing the songs in. Many great performance opportunities can happen very unexpectedly. Be prepared so you don’t miss out on the fun!

To be prepared, I recommend that every singer have a “book”. These are the songs that he/she can confidently sing at any given time, rehearsed or not. It can be a physical book with lyric sheets and chord charts or a mental “book”. It doesn’t need to be a large book, but should contain at least a few different songs, each appropriate for a different performance situation (full band club gig, intimate get-together, campfire sing-along). You should know the key in which you like to sing each song (chord charts are always great!) and should ideally have the lyrics memorized.

Performing confidently in impromptu situations actually requires quite a bit of preparation. While it may appear to be “off the cuff” it’s really anything but. So put your “book” together and the next time you’re unexpectedly asked to sing, you can smile and confidently say, “absolutely, I’d love to!” :)

What’s your favorite “impromptu” performance story? Mine involves a 10-piece band and a castle in France…

Do You Have An Accountability Buddy?

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There are many factors that contribute to success. However there’s one, vital step to success that’s so simple you may very well be overlooking it! Having an accountability buddy!

Let’s face it success requires action, getting stuff done. One of the most important factors in getting stuff done is accountability. You know, you say you’re going to get something done and then you do it. Cool, right. However, very often saying it to yourself isn’t enough to get it done. You need to actually say it, out loud, to someone else. But here’s the catch, you can’t just say it, you need to commit to it and with a deadline to boot.

I know that there are some people who are quite good at making commitments to themselves and then sticking with them to completion. They’re the ones who go to the gym diligently, no friend they’ve promised to meet, they just show up and get to it. I love those people, but frankly, I’ve never been one of them. Maybe it’s the artist in me, but I’m just too easily distracted. Scheduling out my activities is hugely helpful, but I also need deadlines and accountability. Example, if I need to finish a song, or write an article or finally finish mixing those new tracks and there’s a deadline – bam! It gets done. No deadline? Well…….you see how it could go. Life sneaks in, distractions, well, distract. Having an accountability buddy not only gives you much needed support, but also helps you stick to your commitments and deadlines.

For singers, an accountability buddy can come in the form of a band-mate, coach/teacher, co-writer, friend, partner, etc.  I very often fill the role of accountability buddy for my clients.  One way this can work is to have weekly meetings/calls with your accountability buddy. You tell your buddy what your activities were during the previous week, what you accomplished/didn’t accomplish and what you plan to accomplish in the coming week. The next time you meet, you check in to see what actually got done. Simple right? And I promise you, knowing that you have that meeting or call coming up will help you get your butt into gear!!

Who’s your accountability buddy? 

The Power of Showing Up!

Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying that “80% of success is showing up”. While I’m not sure I agree with his percentages, I agree completely with the sentiment. The percentage really isn’t the point here and while we all know that success doesn’t happen merely by showing up, we also know that success won’t happen if you don’t show up.

So what is showing up really all about? How can you “show-up” more?

1)   Show Up Physically – While this may seem like a no-brainer, it’s surprising how often it doesn’t happen. Busy lives too often keep us from showing up to do the things we most want to do. Do you want to improve your vocal technique? Show up to your voice lessons and practice sessions. Want to finish that album you’ve been writing? Schedule time in your week for songwriting and show up! Want to improve your website, social media, marketing, etc.? Show up at your computer and get to it!

2)   Show Up Mentally – Turn off all potential mental distractions. Put your phone on silent and turn off the e-mail notification on your computer. You may have other things on your mind and some of them may be reasonably important. However, unless it’s a fire that must be put out immediately, set it aside for whatever time you’ve allotted to the project at hand.

3)   Show Up Emotionally – Attitude really is everything. Life stresses can make it difficult to feel creative, but when you show up to the gig, practice or writing session or whatever it happens to be, put all of that stuff aside. While you may not feel terribly enthusiastic and energetic, find a way to pull it out of yourself. Feeling down? Pour that emotion into your next song!

What successes have you experienced as a result of Showing Up?

8 Ways to Naturally Ease Allergy Symptoms

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April showers may bring May flowers, but for a lot of people, they also bring seasonal allergies. With those beautiful spring flowers comes pollen, and it’s everywhere. The familiar yellowy/green film that coats everything outside, and drifts into your home when windows are open. For most people these spring allergens and the accompanying symptoms are, of course, a nuisance, but for singers they can be downright debilitating. Allergy symptoms may include nasal and/or upper respiratory congestion, excess mucus, coughing, sneezing and the like. All of which can, to greater or lesser degree affect your singing.

Many people who suffer from seasonal allergies turn to over the counter and/or prescription medications for relief.  While these medications do offer relief from the symptoms, singers often find the dehydrating side effects of the antihistamines that they contain to be as bad as, or sometimes worse for the voice than the allergies themselves! So what’s a singer to do?

Fortunately there are a number of natural, non-medicinal ways to help combat your allergies. While I’m not a medical professional and can’t promise that these suggestions will fully handle your particular allergy symptoms, I do know many singers who have found them to be helpful. As with everything relating to your health, be sure to consult a trained health professional if your symptoms worsen and to layout a plan to address your personal health needs.

1. Drink plenty of water. In addition to being important for overall physical and vocal well-being, staying hydrated has been shown to reduce seasonal allergy symptoms. The general thinking on this is 1 ounce of water for every 2 pounds of body weight.

2. Use a neti pot or saline rinse to rinse pollen and other irritants out of your sinuses. Studies have shown that nasal cleansing (when done properly) is a gentle and effective way to reduce allergy symptoms. When using a neti pot, I recommend first boiling the water to remove impurities – be sure to let it cool before using and follow the manufacturers directions closely.

3. Try steaming. Steam treatments are my favorite! Steaming puts direct moisture on your vocal folds (commonly known as vocal cords), can thin and loosen congestion, rinse away irritants and generally soothe an irritated voice. To do this, pour very hot water into a bowl, drape a towel over your head (making a tent) and breathe the steam for several minutes. Be sure to wait 30 minutes after the treatment before making any vocal sound.

4. Maintain a healthy diet containing lots of raw fruits and vegetables and minimally processed foods. While a healthy diet may not have been scientifically proven to handle seasonal allergies, many people report a significant reduction in their symptoms after making these nutritional changes. Besides, there really are no negative side effects to eating better!

5. Limit your time outdoors when the pollen count is especially high. A drag I know, but helpful. Rinse pollen off your skin and hair after being outside.

6. Try an air-purifier with a HEPA filter and dust regularly (wear a mask when dusting) to keep the pollen out of your home.  Also, avoid using window fans to cool rooms as these fans can pull pollen indoors.

7. Eat local raw honey. Again, while there isn’t a lot of science behind this one, many people report a noticeable reduction in their allergy symptoms when they regularly consume a teaspoon of local raw honey each day.

8. Talk with a Naturopathic or Homeopathic physician. There are many supplements and natural medicines available that have been shown to help with seasonal allergies. Talk with a physician to see if any of them may work for you.

What other remedies have you found helpful?

More Range, More Power, Less Strain – Part 2

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When I talk with singers and ask them what they’d most like to improve about their singing, the top 3 answers I get are: more vocal range, more power and less strain while singing. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at one of the key factors that contributes to vocal strain as well as reduced range and resonance – pushing too much air while singing. If you missed that post, I highly recommend that you check it out! More Range, More Power, Less Strain – Part 1

This month we’re going to look at another factor, tongue tension!

Okay, a little anatomy here. Most of us think of the tongue in terms of the part that we see in our mouths. This however is only a portion of the tongue, which actually goes much further down into your throat to where your larynx is located.

To sing freely and easily across your range, your larynx must be permitted to maneuver freely and easily.  Any amount of tension in your tongue, particularly in the base of your tongue, will restrict the movement of your larynx, thus contributing to a decrease in vocal range, a reduction in resonance as well as increased vocal strain. This movement of your larynx isn’t something you need to make happen, but rather allow to happen naturally.

This doesn’t mean that your tongue shouldn’t move as you sing, but rather that it should not be pushed, pulled or held in a tense manner.

Try this! Extend your tongue slowly out of your mouth so that it rests on your bottom lip. Using a comfortable volume, sing the vowel sound AH (as in FAHther) on a pitch right around your speaking voice. Sustain this sound for a moment or two. Now put your tongue back in your mouth with the tip gently resting against the back of your bottom teeth and sing the same AH vowel sound, this time on a slightly higher pitch. Repeat these steps 3 or 4 times. It should begin to feel easier as you do this and your voice will likely sound fuller and richer.  If not, check to be sure that you aren’t forcing your volume or pressing down with the back of your tongue as you sing the AH sound.

This technique can also be used with a song melody. Sing through a section of the melody on AH with your tongue extended out of your mouth (as above). Again, use a comfortable volume and make sure that the vowel pronunciation remains consistent throughout. Do this 2 or 3 times. Now sing through that same section of the song with the words. You should experience a greater ease in the production of your sound as well as an increase in resonance.

Singing with freedom and ease is a tremendous joy! Releasing tongue tension will go a long way towards helping you achieve that freedom.

Until next time, happy singing!

Jennifer

 

Attracting Opportunity!

We all want to attract great opportunities right? So why is it that sometimes Opportunity can feel as elusive as a really great date?

Opportunity must know how much we want it, how much we long for it to call. Surely Opportunity knows that we’re just waiting to show it how great we are! Unfortunately, just like that elusive great date, the more you wait, the more you yearn, the less likely Opportunity is to call.

So how can we attract this fickle beast Opportunity?

The truth is, a lot like it’s friend Romance, Opportunity is much more likely to call when we’re already happy and fulfilled. The more we’re already doing, the more we’re creating for ourselves, the more likely Opportunity is to show up…and sometimes it shows up in disguise.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  ― Thomas Edison

Opportunity is everywhere! But often we don’t see it because as Edison pointed out, it usually looks like work. And the best way that I know to attract Opportunity is to do the work!

Here’s a great example. I know an amazing singer/recording artist. She’s signed to a major label and has a huge worldwide audience. Several years ago, however, it was a very different picture. She had been turned down by every label she had approached. She was great, her band was great, but the labels just weren’t interested. At this point, a lot of artists may have thrown in the towel. But not this one. Instead, she found a financial backer, produced and recorded an independent CD, got in the van and went on tour. She toured the country for 2 years and sold thousands of copies of her CD. In other words, she did the work. Believe me, it was hard, grueling work.

I bet you’re ready for the fairy tale ending aren’t you…..well, there’s a bit more first. After the success with her first, independent release, the major labels still weren’t biting, BUT a very small independent label with major distribution did. They believed in her and helped her record and release her 2nd CD. She went BACK on the road and the CD sold 500,000 copies!!! Okay, now she had the attention of the major labels who found themselves in a bidding war to give this amazing artist the opportunity she had been looking for in the beginning.

This artist could very well have continued to wait for opportunity to come her way. She could have continued knocking on doors, looking for Opportunity,  and it’s possible that she would have succeeded. But instead, she did the work and Opportunity fell head over heals!

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door”
― Milton Berle

Now, I certainly can’t promise you that putting together your own national tour will guarantee you a major label deal, but I can say with certainty that every step you take, every bit of work that you do and the happier and more fulfilled you become, the closer you will get to achieving your goals. And Opportunity can’t help but being attracted!

Wishing you much success!!

Jennifer

More Range, More Power, Less Strain – Part 1

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When I talk with singers (and I talk with a LOT of singers!) the three biggest things I hear is that they’d like to have more vocal range, sing with more power and eliminate vocal strain. Over the next few months we’ll be looking at some of ways to do just that!

In this, Part 1, we’ll address one of the most common reasons for limited range and increased vocal strain – pushing too much air when singing.

Did you know that you actually need to use less air when singing “higher” in your range? I realize that may seem counter-intuitive, but here’s why? Your vocal sound is produced when your vocal folds (commonly known as vocal cords) vibrate. These vocal folds are muscles that lay horizontally on top of your trachea (windpipe) just below your larynx; they are vibrated by air. As you sing through your range, the amount of air that is required to vibrate them varies because the length of them that actually needs to vibrate varies. When you speak or sing around your speaking voice, the length of the vocal folds that needs to vibrate is longer.  As you sing higher, the length of the vocal folds that needs to vibrate becomes shorter. This is not unlike playing guitar. When you play an “open string” you get a certain pitch. If you want to play a higher pitch on the same string, you put your finger on the fret boards, shortening the length of the string that will vibrate, and voila, a higher pitch. While your vocal folds are not strings, the same concept applies.

Forcing too much air on higher pitches and you make you go off-pitch, feel strained, crack, etc. If you normally take a huge breath in preparation of the “high note” and then “blow” with all your might, you may have experienced what I’m talking about here.

A powerful step in the achievement of proper breath control is a simple stretching exercise found in the Deva Method® Vocal Training Program that I coach at my studio. To learn more about this and other great vocal warm-up exercises, write to me at jennifer@jennifertruesdale.com and I’ll send you a FREE Vocal Warm-ups worksheet!

Singing with confidence and ease is a tremendous joy! I wish you much success! :)

Jennifer

 

 

12 Music Success Kickstart Strategies

2013 is already well under way and I’m curious….how are your New Year’s resolutions/plans going? Do they need a little kickstart? Here are 12 ways you can jumpstart your musical endeavors this year. You can try one a month or do them all this month, that’s up to you!

1)    Set goals for the year. Decide what you want to accomplish this year and get really specific. For example, rather than setting a goal like “I want to do more with my music this year”, set a very specific goal such as “This year I will write and record a 10 song CD”.  Notice two important things here, 1) the goal is very specific and 2) the wording is changed from “I want” to “I will”.  Post your goals in a visible place, such as on a white board or a large piece of paper, where you will see them everyday. A word of caution. As you are establishing your goals for the year, don’t self edit! It’s very easy to find yourself thinking…”well, I want to record a new CD, but where am I going to get the money or the time?”  Just set the goal and sort out how to get it done in the planning step (See #5).

2)    Organize your space. Now that you’ve set all these nifty goals for the year, you will be well served to set aside some time to set up your workspace and put some tools in place that will help you accomplish your goals. Set up a workspace where you feel comfortable practicing and working (if you live in an apartment this may involve a bit of sound proofing) and have all the tools you will need at hand (piano, guitar, recording equipment, computer whatever you think you may need). Also, set up a place such as a white board, where you can post your action items.

3)    Organize Your Time. As part the organizing step, I highly recommend that you create a work/practice calendar. Telling yourself that you’re going to spend more time making music this year just isn’t enough. Literally schedule out blocks of time for each activity (vocalizing, songwriting, networking, handling the biz stuff, etc). You can use a dry erase calendar on the wall or an online calendar tool, just be sure to look at it everyday and stick with it!

4)    Find a coach or mentor. If you don’t have a vocal coach, you should find one, specifically one who understands the style(s) of music you are or would like to be doing. Also, find a coach or mentor who has experience with the specific areas you are interested in. For example if your goal is to set up a US tour, it would be very helpful to consult with either a) another artist who has successfully set up US tours,  b) a booking agent who books tours for artists, c) a music career coach who understands how these things work.

5)    Create a step-by-step plan for each goal. This is a great thing to do together with your coach or mentor. Let’s face it to achieve your goals you need solid plans and then action! Work out, step-by-step how you will achieve each goal. Make each step relatively small and doable. If you aren’t sure what the steps should be, all the more reason to consult with a coach or someone who is already doing what you would like to be doing. You will likely adjust your plan as you go but you need a place to start!

6)    Practice more! Yup, you should be doing your vocal exercises and practicing songs everyday. You want to be on top of your game when the opportunities start rolling in.

7)    Make the commitment to show up everyday and do the work! No amount of wishing or even careful planning will amount to much if you don’t take action! Show up everyday and do the work that needs to get done.

8)    Update your promo photos. Invest in some really good professional photos. Your best friend may be handy with a camera, but it’s REALLY worth the money to hire a pro for a photo shoot. Preferably someone who is used to shooting musicians.

9)    Create or upgrade your website. Every artist should have a “yourname.com” website as well as a Facebook band/musician page. Now that you have some great new photos, you should incorporate these into your website update. If you’re tech savvy you can do this yourself using one of the many web design platforms, or hire someone to do it for you.

10) Take a class or lessons on another instrument. It’s incredibly helpful for singers to have at least a basic understanding of and ability to play another instrument. Piano and/or guitar would be the best to start with. Having the ability to play piano or guitar will not only help you to be more musical but also opens the door to many other performance opportunities such as solo/acoustic shows and open mics. Plus, it’s fun!

11) READ! Learn as much as you can about the craft and business of singing as well as about other successful business practices. Some of the best tips and tools I’ve learned about how to make my music career more successful have come from non-musical sources. There are lots of wonderful resources available at your local library!

12) Get into the studio! Record some tracks, even simple piano/vocal or guitar/vocal tracks recorded in a really good studio. OR if you’re handy with recording gear, set up a home studio and start recording! You can upload these recordings to your website and social media sites, use them to get gigs and in some cases even sell them at your shows!

Remember that every step you take toward the achievement of your goals, no matter how small a step it may seem, gets you one step closer to success. Make the commitment to take at least one step everyday and sooner or later you’ll get there!!

I wish you incredible success!

Jennifer

 

New Year’s Resolutions – Make Them Stick!

New Year’s Resolutions, they’ve almost become a rite of passage from one year to the next. Each New Year’s Eve we make resolutions (this year I’ll get in shape, spend more time making music, finally get out of debt, make more money, move to a better place, find a great new man/woman…..on and on.

Now answer me honestly, how many of those new year’s resolutions have you actually made a reality? To those of you who answer “all of them” I say congratulations and very well done! To the other 99% of the world’s population…….Ok, I think we’re all on the same page here.

The reality is, most of the time, New Year’s resolutions are this nice idea that rarely materialize. Why is it that we can’t seem to follow through with them? Obviously they must be important to us or we wouldn’t have made them in the first place. Is it fear of failure, fear of success, just plain laziness? WHAT?

The truth is, one of the reasons many new year’s resolutions fall by the wayside is actually quite simple. Failure to plan.

Effective action requires at least some kind of a plan! Would you attempt to build a house without a plan? Climb Mount Everest without a plan? You probably wouldn’t even try to drive someplace new without a plan. So why set out to change the course of your life without a plan? That’s why resolutions don’t work, no plan.

A good plan should consist of a series of doable steps, which, when done in sequence help you to arrive at your goal. If a step seems too difficult, or you can’t figure out how to accomplish it, it means that there are likely other, simpler steps that should be done first.

In many cases, one small but important step might be to a work schedule for yourself, or a dedicated work-space. If one of your goals is to perform more, a simple but important step might be to set a goal for how many gigs you’d like to play each month, another would be to select 4-5 venues in your area and begin researching each venue’s booking procedure.

I know these steps probably seem really basic, but that’s the idea, the simpler the step, the better. Don’t worry if a particular step seems insignificant (i.e. picking up the phone and calling so and so), each step, as insignificant as it may seem on it’s own, gets you one step closer toward your goal. Most importantly, by keeping the steps simple you are much more likely to actually do them!

In some cases, you may find that your goal is in an area that is relatively foreign to you and that you have no idea where to even begin. My advice is to find someone who is already doing what you’d like to do and call her up! Offer to take her to lunch and pick her brain. Even offer to pay her for her time. You’ll find that most people are more than happy to share their experiences and that it will be well worth the investment of time and money. You will also find that many industries have networking groups, on-line discussion groups, etc. where you can ask questions and gain valuable information. In other words, as a very smart friend once told me, “don’t let the fact that you don’t know how to do it stop you!”

So let’s turn those new year’s resolutions into plans :)

Wishing you a happy and successful 2013!!

Jennifer

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7 Ways To Keep Your Voice Hydrated During The Cold Winter Months

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As singers, it’s important to keep our bodies and therefore, our voices, well hydrated. This can become especially challenging during the cold winter months. For many people, the cool crisp air of the fall and winter is a welcome relief from the hot, humid weather of the summer. For singers however, this isn’t such a welcome change. The cold dry air, while perhaps invigorating to your body, has a dehydrating effect on your vocal folds (commonly called vocal cords) as you breathe it in. Most home-heating systems are also very drying (some worse than others) and on top of that, because your body is cold, you may find yourself drinking less water and craving other beverages, such as coffee, tea and hot chocolate.  All of this can result in less moisture for your vocal folds, which to work well, need to stay hydrated. If you live in a climate where the winters are cold and dry, you’ve probably seen and felt the effects on your skin. Unfortunately that same dry air is having the same drying effect on your voice. While one solution would be moving to a tropical climate for the winter (believe me, I’ve thought about it!) there are, fortunately, other ways to help your body and your voice stay hydrated during the colder months.

1) Drink plenty of water! I know, it sounds obvious, however when you aren’t hot and sweaty, you may not feel like you need to drink much water. But you do! There are different schools of thought regarding how much water your body needs. Some medical professionals advise (8) eight ounces glasses of water per day, while others feel it’s more determined by your weight and recommend that you drink half your body weight in ounces every day. In my opinion either is effective and is usually much more than a lot of people tend to drink on a daily basis.

2) Hydrate continuously. Remember that the water you drink has a positive impact on the muscles of your body (including your vocal folds) through the process of absorption and this process takes time. Therefore, the water you are drinking now may feel soothing to your mouth and throat but it will actually need to be absorbed by your body before it will positively impact your vocal folds.  To keep your voice hydrated and happy, sip water continuously throughout the day!

3) Eat fruits and veggies that have a high water content. When the cold weather rolls around it’s easy to roll right into the comfort foods and neglect the wonderful fruits and veggies we enjoy so much during the summer. Since fruits and veggies can be a wonderful source of fluids, be sure to keep them in your diet! Melons, are especially good as are cucumbers, avocados, strawberries and broccoli (just to name a few) Many of these foods contain 90% water or more well as other nutrients which are essential for maintaining a hydrated and healthy body. Oh, and when you are in the mood for a little comfort food, try a bowl of homemade chicken soup! Soothes even the coldest body and is loaded with hydration and nutrition. A note here, while citrus fruits contain a lot of water and are considered quite healthy, they are also very acidic and generally aren’t the best choice for singers.

4)  Avoid beverages that dehydrate. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks are diuretics; meaning that they cause your body to expel more fluids than it takes in. Coffee, black tea, hot chocolate and many sodas, contain caffeine. While I won’t tell you that you have to eliminate caffeine from your diet entirely (though some singers choose to) you do want to try to keep it to a minimum. When you do drink a caffeinated beverage, try to balance it with plenty of water. For example, when you get up in the morning, before you pour that big cup of joe, drink a class of water first. With regards to alcohol, there are lots of reasons to advise not drinking alcohol in excess. However, even alcohol in small amounts can be dehydrating. If you choose to drink alcohol, particularly during the holidays, try to keep it to a minimum, and match it drink for drink with a class of water or fruit juice.

5) Use a humidifier, especially while you sleep. As I mentioned earlier, most home heating systems are very drying and some types are worse than others. Additionally, while you are asleep, you are not drinking any water. So when you wake up in the morning you are likely to feel very dehydrated. Running a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep can be very helpful. There are two types of humidifiers, cool mist and warm mist. I happen to be partial to the warm mist type, however both are effective.  If you work in an environment where the air is very dry and it’s possible to do so, try running a humidifier while you work as well. A word of advice, it’s extremely important to keep your humidifier clean! Follow the manufacturer’s directions for cleaning carefully.

6)  Steam your voice! To give your vocal folds an extra burst of soothing moisture, try breathing in steam. Showers and stream rooms are great, but in my opinion, the best way to accomplish this is with direct steaming. Boil some water and pour it into a bowl. Drape a towel over your head and breathe the steam for approximately 10-15 minutes. Be sure not to make any vocal sound (even whispering) for 30 minutes after steaming. Also, avoid going outside into the cold air for at least an hour.  If you’re traveling, the little personal steamers that are often used for facials are great!

7) Avoid breathing extremely cold air. On those bitter cold days, when you go outside, cover your mouth and nose with a scarf. That way, the air you breathe in will stay warm and moist.

Happy Holidays!

I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to leave a comment below :)

Jennifer