Today I'm going to discuss the effects of body alignment on the somewhat temperamental voice, because that little voice box can be a diva and proper alignment can help set the record straight.
Throughout the course of my studies, not much was ever explained to me about the important effects of alignment. During my juvenile and formative years, my instructor, who was a Korean War disciplinary, made me stand against a pillar and practice the generic choral "feet shoulder width apart" stance while singing thirds, but that was about the extent of his instruction. I remember looking out into the distance daydreaming about my next weekend trip Up North (that's what we refer the northern regions of Michigan to), not questioning the how's or why's of my positioning. I was an adolescent millennial who craved something fun to entertain me in order to learn, and his approach, albeit well intentioned, felt boring and antiquated. On one hand, I suppose it forced me to stand up straight, but ultimately I didn't understand the reasoning behind it other than the obvious. Consequently, when I went home and practiced the bits I could recall between my daydreaming, I stood helplessly rigid in my living room with no connection to the present or purpose. I was just going through the motions to make sure my parents thought they were getting their $60 bucks worth. And I wanted to emulate Christina Aguilera (what kid didn't), so I continued the lessons until college, pillared singing and all.
Fast forward 12 years, a B.M. under my belt and a hell of a better understanding of myself and my instrument. It's February of this past year and I'm hunched over and freezing, trudging through the NYC slush - yuck! - to my student's houses to teach privately (these were the days before I began working out of a studio). Carrying a heavy bag that compressed my left side and boots that were nonsensical for mid-winter season, my shoulders and neck ached, and I mean ached! I couldn't continue down the path I was on. I had chronic back pain and my voice was beginning to suffer as a result. I wanted to be the best I could be for myself and my students, but I had to fully understand what was happening and how my posture plus those frigid temperatures were effecting my chords. Springtime arrived and I immediately ditched the bag and boots in exchange for a backpack and a sleek pair of flats. With those changes, I put myself on a conditioning regimen to target my back and neck pain which included yoga, meditation, daily alignment exercises and a better awareness of my posture. I noticed pretty immediate results and luckily, I haven't struggled much with the problem since.
When in the classroom, I tell my students this: think of yourself dominant to your instrument, rather than inferior. For some reason, I believe related to the psychology of singing and in fact, just in everyday life situations, we tend to position ourselves inferiorly. Meaning, slouched shoulders, tilted necks, pigeon footing or slanted stance. But STOP! Place yourself in a position of control and familiarize yourself with your body in various stances. Where do you feel most balanced?
Anatomically speaking, let's reference this nifty diagram of your spine in a neutral position to better understand the picture:
Exhibit A shall be referred to as our friend, Fred, who is correctly aligned. Nice bones!
The base of your spine should feel neutral, "open" (meaning relaxed, flexible) and steady. Remember, a slight curve naturally occurs in your mid-section, or "thoracic curvature", to provide support and stability for the upper regions of your spine and back. Incorrect posture can cause certain muscle groups to overcompensate for others that have become weakened. Hence, my chronic pain from the slouching and trudging.
So how does this relate back to singing? Think balance. Strength. Fluidity. Openness. How can you possibly sing confidently and effectively if your posture is conveying the opposite: compression and inhibition?
At the beginning of each lesson, I work with my students to align and prepare their body for practice. I believe we must do this every single day for bodily maintenance. The better we maintain our bodies, the more confident we feel and the better our voices can rock on.
So this is your assignment, readers: Stand in front of a lengthwise mirror. Study your natural posturing and familiarize yourself with your stance. Are you slouched? Is your chin protruding as if you're terribly surprised or is it neutral? Do your shoulders round like a motorcyclist ready to jump on a Harley? Or is your posture that of a wallflower, shy and reluctant?
Take control in a cool fashion and align your skeleton like our friend above, Fred. You'll thank me for telling you to do so in about t-minus 5 minutes.
Now, get in front of your mirror.