MY NAME IS ELISSA.
I’m a voice and presence coach and the founder of Voice Body Connection.
I’m a voice and presence coach and the founder of Voice Body Connection.
One of my first memories is leaping across a room throwing colored scarves in dance class. By age 9, I was playing Wendy in Peter Pan in summer theatre camp.
All through my youth, people told me I had a good voice. My parents signed me up for singing and acting lessons (thanks Mom and Dad!). I was in choir and lots of musicals. People would come up to me after performances and tell me how captivating my presence was and how their eyes were drawn to me on stage.
As I grew, my identity became inextricably interwoven with my vocal and performing abilities. But somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered: What was it about my voice and presence that made me special? Was I really so different from other people?
I didn’t spend that much time wondering though. Mostly I took my voice and talent for granted. I dreamt of moving to New York and performing on Broadway.
I know that sounds dramatic. It was.
I was 21 years old and it was my final semester at the University of Southern California. My life looked a lot like the movie Pitch Perfect: I was singing in an a cappella group, performing in musicals, and going to weekend parties. I had also just gotten over a case of mono that had forced me to rest for months (for the record: I have no idea how I got it!). I wasn’t about to let my college experience slip by without seizing the moment, though. So I was in full-on work hard/play hard mode.
Early in February, my a cappella group went away for a weekend retreat. I was still recovering from the mono, and also happened to be getting over a cold. But we were super focused on perfecting the song that happened to be my solo - What A Feeling from Flashdance - so I was screlting (= scream-belting) it over and over. Plus because of #peerpressure, I was also partaking in drinking in the evenings. Little did I know I was creating the perfect storm.
On Sunday morning I woke up and realized it really hurt to swallow. In fact it felt like I had shards of glass in my throat.
A few hours later, I tasted something metallic in my mouth. I went to the sink and spat up blood.
I went to see an otolaryngologist - an ear, nose, and throat doctor - immediately (which anyone in this situation should absolutely do). I had my vocal cords scoped, both with the straight scope that goes through your mouth into your throat and feels like it’s gagging you, and with the flexible scope where they numb your nose to thread it through your nasal passages. The whole ordeal was overwhelming, clinical, and traumatizing.
Here was the diagnosis:
The doctors told me I’d suffered “vocal trauma” and the severe onset of acid reflux. I was prescribed to begin taking daily reflux medication and to go on complete vocal rest for a month.
Suddenly, my life completely changed. For four weeks, I wasn’t allowed to speak out loud to anyone. Not my friends. Not my parents. Not a therapist. All I had was a little notepad to jot down my thoughts to communicate with the people in front of me. Which basically consisted of “I’m going to the pharmacy to fill my prescription - be back soon.”
For years when I was telling this story, I couldn’t share much about how this felt. That’s because I
suppressed my emotions. Essentially, I took all my pain, put it in a closet in my heart, and slammed the door. Then I locked it, threw away the key, and set about convincing myself that the secret closet didn’t even exist.
My voice had been my defining characteristic and the thing that made me special, and suddenly it wasn’t there for me. Even though it was only one month of silence, it was a turning point. I shut down my voice and my trust in my body.
At the end of the month I was able to speak again, but my voice was weak. After a day of normal talking, I’d be totally vocally fatigued. Phone calls were especially difficult, and if I tried singing my stamina was even worse - I basically couldn’t use my voice intensively for any prolonged period of time without feeling totally strained and tight.
Since I could no longer rely on my voice, I stopped performing. I pivoted my theatre career and began pursuing directing instead (which I’ve also always loved). In my Los Angeles day-jobs waiting tables or nannying or working as an educator, people would ask me if I was an actor. I said: “No, I’m a director!” thinking I was being clever and ignoring the fact that I was in total denial.
But though I didn't deal with the emotional pain of my voice loss, I did turn into a ninja on the practical level.
Was it permanently damaged? Why had my vocal stamina gone so significantly down and what could I do to regain it? Would I have to take these reflux pills for the rest of my life?
Would I ever be able to rely on my voice enough to perform ever again?
I went to speech therapy. Then I pursued certification in a theatre voice technique called Fitzmaurice Voicework. I sought out naturopaths and all sorts of alternative wellness practices to heal my reflux and my gut (which, incidentally also did wonders for my lifelong case of psoriasis). I turned to yoga to understand breath and movement and spirit, and became certified in that too. I began a personal meditation practice. I studied the mechanics of presence, and came to believe that it wasn’t something someone had or didn’t have, but a state of being that everyone was capable of.
In 2011, I started teaching and founded Voice Body Connection. As my new students asked me questions, I realized there was so much more to learn. I decided to dive deeper into my studies and a year later I moved to Edmonton, Alberta to get my MFA in Theatre Voice Teaching.
I realized that the doctors could have told me:
“You had a vocal hemorrhage.”
A hemorrhage is really just a fancy way of saying that something bled. Hearing these words would have felt so much more concrete than being told that I’d “suffered vocal trauma,” which felt mysterious and insurmountable.
They could have said:
“You have muscle tension dysphonia.”
Muscle tension dysphonia or MTD is a clinical term that essentially means ongoing muscle tension is causing vocal fatigue. There are so many reasons why clinicians don’t mention this diagnosis and instead just say “well your vocal cords look fine, try speech therapy!” But when I finally figured out that I had a case of MTD, I understood why my stamina issues were continuing long after the initial voice loss.
(Another thing: the doctors also could have let me know that I wouldn’t need to be on acid reflux medication forever… but a.) I don’t think any of them believed that and b.) my ability to get off the meds and begin living an increasingly holistic lifestyle is a longer, complex story I can share another time.)
It was all starting to make sense, at least practically. Especially during my studies in Edmonton, I was able to rehab my own voice to a point that I finally felt strong again. A huge game-changer in my vocal recovery was learning my professor David Ley’s vibration exercises for muscle tension. I believed in that work so deeply that he and I built a company called Vibrant Voice Technique, teaching people how to use a vibrator for their voice (this is a practice
I still share in my courses and with my clients).
After finishing my MFA in Canada, I moved to New York City in 2015 to continue building my coaching practice.
I found myself working with Broadway performers...(I was sorta on Broadway after all!), CEOs of businesses large and small, and everyday people who needed help with their vocal stamina and confidence.
I decided I wanted to perform again, and celebrated my 30th Birthday by inviting my friends and family to a cabaret show called Coming Home To My Voice. (OMG I can’t believe I just gave you that link!)
Creative ideas started coming out of my ears, and I created my first online course How Your Voice Works.
My journey with my voice and coaching has been very personal and practical for a long time, but lately I feel the lens widening.
I realize that my work as a voice and presence coach is sacred, healing work. Almost all of us have had our voices shut down at some point in our lives. It may have been a well meaning parent who told you that you were too loud or too much. It may have been a singing teacher who told you that you couldn’t sing. Or tragically, it may have been a society that told you that you weren’t worthy and you shouldn’t take up too much space.
It is time to rise up and be heard. Our voices and our words have the power to change the world. In the language of yoga, our sounds and words are Shakti: acts of creation. We literally create our reality by
releasing our voice, speaking our truth, and sharing our stories.
In letting our expression into the world, we purify ourselves rather than becoming blocked or held back. And when we share our experiences authentically, we empower others to do the same.
There is no other person on the planet with the same blueprint as you. That includes your voice. And the only way to have a “good” voice is to have YOUR voice.
It is my personal mission in life to express myself authentically and fully, and to empower you to do the same.
Elissa Maas Weinzimmer is an award-winning vocal health educator, presence coach, and the founder of Voice Body Connection. After suddenly losing her own voice at age 21, Elissa began studying the mechanics of voice. Over time she developed a unique, concrete approach that empowers performers, leaders, and speakers to optimize their voices and share them more authentically.
Elissa's clients include Broadway stars, television personalities, politicians, and CEOs. She has led trainings for WeWork, Equinox, Microsoft, eBay, Instacart, and Kajabi, and has been featured in Thrive Global, Healthline, SheKnows, and Adweek.
Elissa earned her MFA in Theatre Voice Pedagogy from the University of Alberta. She is certified in Body-Mind Centering®, Fitzmaurice Voicework®, and Hatha yoga (200 hours).
Elissa corners the “hippie witch shit” genre in her singer-songwriting, meditates daily, and is a proud dog parent. She is based in the Hudson Valley of New York.
This work has helped change my experience of life. It’s exactly what I have been seeking. I released over 35 years of unconscious patterns that were no longer serving me. There was no "mind" and "figuring out" involved ... just progress and transformation.
Before I worked with Elissa, I wasn’t a good public speaker. I used to shake and I got really nervous. Watching myself on video I noticed a lack of inflection, strange eye movements and trying to remember “my lines” so hard that it came out awkward and forced. Elissa taught me how to have confidence, so when I did a panel 7 months later, I did it without so much as a stutter. She taught me to stand there, at that moment where I would have historically-speaking been uncomfortable, and melt into it, letting fear and anxiety wash away and settle into the pose, the present moment, instead. Simply put, today is not the time to be silent, and I credit Elissa with helping me find my voice when I didn’t even know I had one.