Meditate or Move?

Let’s face it, just the thought of going on stage can result in sweaty palms, increased tension in the body, elevated heart rate and racing thoughts…let alone what actually being backstage about to walk on feels like. Maybe you are someone who has walked out into the bright lights of the stage and simply stared like a deer caught in headlights.

You are probably familiar with the terms Fight or Flight and Freeze. When we are in one of those states our nervous system is dysregulated. When we are calm we are in a state that is often referred to as Rest and Digest.

But here’s the thing, within those states of arousal of the nervous system, everyone reacts slightly differently and therefore what gets you out of those states will vary. Your nervous system’s response to performance nerves is not my nervous system’s response to performance nerves.

It’s often put out there that meditation and stillness are the gold standard for conquering your performance nerves. The breath is said to be the fastest, most powerful way to address the nervous system.

I’m a fan of meditation. My own meditation practice is nearly 2 decades long and something I engage in every single day. But, when it comes to performance nerves, if I ask myself to just sit with them and breathe and notice, it is a recipe for disaster.

Part of what dictates how we need to respond to performance nerves is our own history with trauma. I define trauma as an experience that exceeds your capacity to cope. There can be big T traumas that are cataclysmic events like, a bad accident or abuse. And then there are small t traumas where things happen to us in small ways that cause us to have emotional responses that we don’t have the skills to cope with – these might range from a break up of a relationship or not getting cast in a show, or an audition that went poorly, for example.

Because of my own unique trauma history, I actually do better physically moving my body as a way of shifting myself out of a sense of anxiety and into an emotional space where I feel a greater sense of capacity to address what lies ahead. Movement moves emotion. And, movement can be mindful.

What is key, I think is for us to have an expanded toolbox of how to both understand what’s happened to us in our lives and also the various approaches we can take to deal with them.

If you are told to try meditation and breathwork to help with your anxiety and that literally pushes you into greater anxiety OR you respond to the perosn telling you like they are trying to sell you the worst lemon of a used car, perhaps there’s another modality that could help!

Movement that incorporates your ability to sense what is going on inside the body, your inner state, called interoception, and awareness of the position and movement of the body, called proprioception, can help you build a powerful toolbox to address your nerves.

Movement based options that are completely viable ways of addressing your performance anxiety (or other anxiety or trauma) include, cardio, strength training, balance work, rebounding.

What ways have you found that are effective in addressing your performance nerves?

Don’t Suck it in, Push it down or Pooch it out.

Let’s talk about your belly and what it is doing when you move and when you sing.

To start, I want to revisit the concept of core stability: When we have good core stability, we have a balance of strong muscles that live in close to the midline of the body combined with freedom of movement in the joints of the hips, shoulders, vertebrae as well as the knee, ankle, elbow and wrist. Put another way, our axial skeleton (skull, spine and ribs) relates well to our appendicular skeleton (shoulder blades, arms, pelvis and leg bones).

When we have a dynamic sense of coordination and ease of movement in the core we are employing versatility, agility, stability and awareness to get there.

So, what are we doing when we don’t have those elements?

We have compensations. There are three primary ways I see bodies compensate and they all relate to breathing and core function.

Bracing, or sucking it in, is the most common one I see. This can be a vanity issue (ahem), a part of breath holding or even an extension of butt clenching or jaw clenching. It can be an unconscious habit. Like, stop right now and notice if you’re gripping in your belly. Were you? We can also brace as a result of some mis-guided cuing in movement classes. Bracing is something we need to do when we are engaging in a high load activity – like lifting a really, really heavy weight. It’s a less useful strategy when we are walking up the stairs.

The cue of ‘navel to spine’ or even the ‘imprint’ cue that is sometimes given in pilates classes can create a sort of sucking in and bracing that we don’t want. Are they terrible cues that should never be used? No. There’s some value there, especially when you have someone who is needing to either re-connect to their core or connect for the first time. We all know where the navel is and can usually find a way to draw it towards the spine. BUT, this isn’t a long term, viable way of engaging that body to build core stability.

Try moving slllooowwllllyy from down dog to plank – do you grip and brace in your core to get there? If yes, back up and see if you can identify the point where you can go just before you brace.

Bearing Down is another issue. Your core is like a tube of toothpaste. When we squeeze a tube of toothpaste we want the toothpaste to come out the opening, not push down to the bottom of the tube. When we engage muscles in the core we want there to be an in and up motion of everything from the pelvic floor north.

If you are engaging and pushing down, you’ve got load headed in the wrong direction. This can create a drag down effect on the larynx and open up a whole host of problems for the pelvic floor from prolapse to hernias.

It isn’t easy to see bearing down, so you might need to ask someone if they feel any downward motion when they are moving or singing.

I have worked with more than one singer who was suffering from prolapse and it was a lightbulb moment for them to connect that downward motion with why their prolapse felt worse after rehearsals.

NB: Here’s a helpful little hint: we don’t really want to be pushing down hard to get poop out either. So, if that’s you sitting there for 20 minutes and you’re not there because you are escaping your children for 20 minutes, you might need to rethink your poop strategy.

Bulging is the third way we can see that core stability isn’t optimal. I define bulging as an abdomen that moves outward when we are moving or singing. This is very common in folx who have a diastasis recti (this is a widening and thinning of the linea alba that connects the two halves of the rectus abdominus). But even without a diastasis, bulging can happen.

The abdomen does have some outward motion when we breathe in – as the diaphragm descends it pushes on the contents of our abdomen and they will move forward in response. Bulging is not this motion. It is an extension of this motion. It is that tube of toothpaste not moving up or down, but moving out. And it is a moving out that increases when we move or sing.

Ironically, when someone has a habit of bracing, the larger volume breath they take in to sing (primarily in a classical singer), will result in a bulge in the belly that goes beyond what you would expect to see. A refinement of ribcage mobility and core engagement will help remedy that.

Once you’ve identified that one of these patterns is going on, what’s the exit strategy to start building new patterns?

We want to connect with the very local area of the abdomen, then move in ways that we add arms and legs and then start to vary the planes of movement we are using and then start to add load progressively.

Got questions, or want to explore more? Schedule a consult and let’s get you on the road to better function!

Are we born breathing experts?

I get a little twitchy when I hear folx in the voice world declare that we are all born as breathing experts.

I might amend that statement to say this: we are born as experts in survival. We are designed to do what it takes to survive and our bodies are quite adaptable to make that happen. That mean that as autonomic function in the body, breathing will go on for as long as we are alive, no matter what.

But, does that mean our breathing skills make us an expert? Nope and nope. Our breathing skills may, at best, make us a survival specialist.

The most primal purpose of breath is the delivery of oxygen on a cellular level (survival). The thoracic cavity is built out of flexible walls that allow us to assume different shapes – shoulders can rise, ribs can rotate and raise, the diaphragm can flatten. Our abdominal cavity also has some flexibility too as our belly can distend. The pelvic floor can also respond to the load of the breath with a shape change.

Our body has the ability to breathe in so many different ways to enable us to breathe while in many different positions, under many different conditions.

The question of how expert we are at it comes into play when we think about what happens when we’ve assumed only a few positions over the course of the day, month after month, year after year. The way we change shape when we breathe is in response to the ways we move (and haven’t moved). We also have to understand the ways in which the breath is impacted by the big T (meaning major) and little t (meaning less major) traumas we have experienced in life.

I would argue that both position and emotion can push us farther into survival breathing and limit the true breadth of our breath that might make us experts.

The general sedentarism of our lives (in other words, we sit more than we move) and the lack of variety of shapes we put our bodies in means we have a limited ability to change shape well and that translates to a breath that isn’t as expert as we might like.

At this point you might be wondering, but I’m a singer, I exchange high volumes of air often, doesn’t that make me an expert? The answer is no. This is akin to someone saying, but I’m a runner, my cardio-vascular fitness is excellent so I can breathe well. In both cases, the breathing activity is repetitive and therefore limiting to our bodies that thrive on variety.

As an example of this look at a common twist seen in yoga, Marichyasana.

When we twist the body like this many people will report that it feels like it is hard to take an easy breath. It feels harder because we don’t twist in static and active ways much in our every day and we are lacking in suppleness in the torso. The volume of air you exchange while singing or running won’t necessarily help you in a twist. What will help make the breath less constricted in a twist is to do more twisting in a variety of ways in our every day. Which will help you when you are cast in a production that requires you to twist around and sing a long demanding phrase in a position that isn’t just park and bark.

Because we are survival specialists, and we need to exchange high volumes of air when we sing means our bodies will find a way of doing that through adaptation, but that doesn’t mean we are doing it particularly well.

How can we tell if we’re a survival specialist breather? We see through the suppleness of movement of the ribcage over 3 dimensions – when we lack good movement in one direction we’ve got a place to improve. Abdomens that have patterns of bracing and resting tension – when there’s a big set on the onset of breath we’ve got a place to improve. Pelvic floors that aren’t functioning well – when we leak when we sing high notes , we’ve got a place to improve.

So, how do we become expert breathers? We don’t do it by focusing on breath work alone (or at all, honestly, though I like using breath work as a way to assess the breath and for a variety of other things).

First, We need to find ways to address the traumas we’ve experienced. The type of trauma and the person you are will require your own unique set of skills to address it. It might include talk therapy, movement of some kind, energy work, meditation and even some focused breath work.

We also need to be creating diverse shapes with our bodies over the course of every day. In particular we need to be doing more activities that challenge our upper bodies by changing and adding load.

A few ideas to get your started:

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar. You can keep your feet on the ground, but get used to supporting more of your body weight in your arms by bending your knees.
  2. Walk while holding something heavy in your arms. As anyone who has paced the floor while holding a 6 pound newborn will tell you, this can be surprisingly challenging! You may want to start with a shorter distance and a lighter weight – walk around the block holding your New Grove Dictionary.
  3. Do a move like a wood chopper while holding a medicine ball (or your New Grove!). Click here to see what this looks like if you aren’t sure. You get twist and load with this move.

I’m sorry to say I don’t think you were born a breathing expert. BUT, you were born with a body that is meant to move, move more and move well. That means you can start today to move in ways that ask more of the way you create different shapes with your body, breathing while your body is in a variety of configurations under a variety of different circumstances. That will translate to more suppleness in your torso and more expertise in your breathing.

Are you stuck in a truth tunnel?

Earlier this week I listened to this podcast by Brooke Castillo where she talked about belief ceilings.

Castillo explains belief ceilings as the beliefs we hold as facts, primarily because we’ve either thought them or spoken them out loud so many times that we hold them as truth. And, often, there is some truth to them. In reality though, they can hold us back from our true potential.

This concept wasn’t entirely new to me. I’ve always heard this concept described as limiting beliefs, but I really liked Castillo’s explanation.

As I listened to her talk, I had a lightbulb moment thinking about the singers who come to me knowing they need to make changes to their body. Almost universally they arrive holding onto a truth that isn’t serving them.

To put a spin on the Declaration of Independence; we hold these truths to be self evident, but they are, in fact so self limiting.

 

A mega problem arises when the truth becomes a tunnel preventing us from seeing possibility. Just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

I know, right?

Read that again: Just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.

Let’s hypothesize a little here to illustrate the idea: You’ve received the diagnosis of plantar fasciitis from your doctor and are told you have the option of orthotics, cortisone shots and shoes that will help support your foot. It is a fact that you have plantar fasciitis. We can’t wish that one away. But, is it a fact that you’ll have it forever? Is it a fact that those treatments are your only options? If you believe those facts, then, yes, those are your only options.

Right now you’re in a truth tunnel of experiencing constant nagging pain in your heel that only gets worse when you stand for a long time or move. In fact, sometimes it’s even worse after you’ve sat at the piano to teach for the day. Putting on your performance shoes feels like an utter impossibility. Walking barefoot on the beach? Forget it.

But, outside of what you believe and your current experience, there’s another world. One of possibilities where you work to mobilize the foot, address imbalances in your hip musculature, work your way into spending time barefoot, walking more, strengthening your upper body and no longer living with plantar fasciitis. It is possible even if you don’t believe it, yet.

So, dear reader? What truths are you clinging to about your body, that are keeping you from seeing possibilities and allowing you to live well inside your instrument?

Are you ready to take on your truths? Reach out and connect.

I love busting down your physical truth tunnels and taking you into the shiny, bright world of possibilities!

Begin with Awareness

The process of making lasting change in our body or voice is a three step one…Awareness…Skill Building…Mastery.

Step 1 is awareness.

 

We cannot change anything until we are aware. I find myself saying that in every initial session and workshop I teach.

 

Before we can build new skills and master them, we have to be aware of our current state.

 

When we finally notice that nagging “thing” in our lower back that impacts our voice because it gets worse when we sing, we are aware.

 

Awareness brings you back to the present to what simply is in your body and in your voice.

 

Awareness connects you to how your voice is working. It allows you to assess where it is working well and where it isn’t working well.

 

Awareness shows you how your body moves. Where it moves well and where it doesn’t move well.

 

With awareness you can understand how your movement and voice patterns influence your experience. And how your experience influences your movement and singing patterns.

 

Awareness helps you to get quiet and just notice what your habits are.

 

And when you notice your habits you can make changes because you are paying attention.

 

Awareness is empowering. When you are aware you can take confident action.

 

It is an ongoing practice. When you engage in awareness in a long term way you make lasting changes.

 

Can you practice awareness today? Pause. Feel your body breathe. Sense your body in space. Notice how you move and how it feels to move and sing.

 

Awareness is always the first step.

3 ways singers can thrive while having their period

When it comes to women’s health all too often we are handed a big steaming plate of “this is just how it is.”

To that I would like to reply a resounding BULLSH*T!

Here’s the scenario: you get to the week before your period and you turn into a bloated, murderous-swinging-to-weepy, unable to connect to your breath support, singer who feels like she’s trying to drive a mac truck rather than a ferrari. Oh, and let’s not forget the killer cramps when you finally get your period. Sound familiar?

Good. Well, not good, but let’s unpack three things you can do to lessen all that yuck. Because it doesn’t have to be ‘just how it is.’ And, if the only solution you’ve been offered by your OB/GYN is to take the pill, you definitely need to read this.

Things can change. Here’s how:

  1. Eat
  2. Move
  3. Chill

Those PMS changes are driven by hormone swings. Ideally our estrogen and progesterone are in a happy, balanced relationship and vary a bit as we get close to our period. But, for many of us, we are stuck in an estrogen dominant state: we eat meat, use products that have estrogen mimicking ingredients (called xenoestrogens) like parabens, and drink alcohol.

We need progesterone to keep that estrogen in check, but if we’re consuming all those things, estrogen takes over and progesterone can’t keep up. Then we’re bloated, moody, struggle to lose the muffin top, get migraines, and have abnormal paps.

We also need to talk a bit about insulin (blood sugar) which is like the gatekeeper for other hormones. When it’s high, it contributes to estrogen dominance too. Then we’re hangry, crave foods, get shaky between meals, feel anxious and have high fasting blood sugar.

We also can’t leave out the importance of Cortisol, the stress hormone. A little bit is good for us, we need to be able to respond to stress. Buuuut, a lot of it can lead to too little of it and then you’re in a cycle of sucking down caffeine in the morning to rev up and red wine at night to unwind. Plus cortisol raises your blood sugar and cross talks with estrogen and progesterone. When cortisol is high we’re stressed, have insomnia, GERD, and overeat.

All of this, becomes even more of an issue as you get close to and past age 35. UUUGGGGHHHHH.

As singers who are so highly attuned to the body as our instrument, we need things to do that help us return to as close to an optimal state as possible. Exercise more and eat less is a bit too simplified for women to get the results they want, I think, but here are some ideas that can help you craft what works for you.

  1. Eat: Up your plant intake. One of the ways we get rid of excess estrogen is through poop. Yep, I said it. You need to start pooping more. I’m a fan of thinking about what we can add into our diets to improve our health rather than thinking about what to restrict. Eat a rainbow sounds silly, but it’s correct. Lots and lots of leafy green matter, red, yellow, orange, purple veggies are all good. Go slow with adding veggies because if you overwhelm yourself with too much fiber…well, that can be ugly and uncomfortable. Some ways of adding things in: throw some dark leafy greens into a morning smoothie, chop up some carrots to crunch on rather than chips.  If you do better with thinking about how to lower your intake of things here are the things you want to limit: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed foods. Also, drink enough water for your body, but you already knew that because singers are smart about water.
  2. Move: Movement is another way we can manage our hormones. Sweat helps flush estrogen out of the body. Movement helps manage cortisol levels and balances blood sugar. Do you need to kill it at the gym? No, but you need to start moving your body more and moving it better. Maybe that looks like a brisk walk 3 days a week to begin. Maybe it’s a spin class, or a yoga class, or a HIIT workout. Find something that makes you feel good and do it regularly. Many women have found connections between tension in the back of the legs and period cramps – stretch your calves regularly for a month and see if your cramps are better. Movement doesn’t just help your hormones, it helps your singing. Cardiovascular fitness, lung capacity and overall improved blood flow are all advantageous for your voice.
  3. Chill: No, this isn’t netflix and chill. Numbing out to technology (or food, or booze) isn’t what I’m talking about. I mean, get quiet with yourself. Schedule in downtime where you literally do nothing. Find a meditation practice that works for you. Take a hot bath nightly. Spend time off of social media, the land of comparison-itis. Women thrive in the company of other women, so plan a night with girlfriends. Engaging in mindful practices helps manage cortisol levels. We sleep better, we’re happier, and we sing better when we aren’t so freaking stressed all the time.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a place to start. If you want to learn more, there are some great resources out there. Some of the most affordable and accessible are books by Sara Gottfried, an integrative MD and hormone expert. Her two books the Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet are must reads. Kelly Brogan MDs book A Mind Of Your Own is another great hormone/mental health read. A good functional nutritionist or hormone expert like Anna Garrett can help you test hormone levels and formulate a plan for yourself.

There are lots of apps out there for meditation like headspace and Calm. There’s a yoga studio on every corner and most have some kind of restorative class or meditation class if you like in person things.

If you want to talk about movement because you aren’t sure where to begin, reach out and let’s talk about what your body needs to begin to move more in a way that feels good.

You deserve to thrive as a singer all 4 weeks of every month and not feel so bogged down with the changes in your body that are driven by your hormones!

Are you asking for the impossible?

Have you ever asked a singer to raise their sternum, or told them to stand tall? Perhaps you’ve had them place three fingers or placed three of your fingers on their sternum and asked them to lift into your fingers? Maybe you’ve even had them roll shoulders up, back and down as a way of elevating and opening the front of the chest.

If you have, I hate to break it to you, but you’re asking for the impossible. That open chest you want, with a ribcage that is buoyant and flexible…It ain’t happening at the behest of a few words or a shoulder roll or even a shove of the sternum.

What we know should be happening and what a singer’s body can actually do are often a few light years apart.

Because most of what we do in life has our arms out in front of us and our heads looking down, our shoulder blades tend to be protracted – that means they are pulled away from the spine. The impact of this is rounded shoulders, a dropped sternum and lack of mobility in the thoracic spine. When we tell a singer to stand up straight or to raise their sternum, they can’t really do it due to the hyperkyphosis (spine rounding) and resulting immobility of the thoracic spine (the part of the spine where the ribs attach).

As an aside, we ALL have that hyperkyphosis, most of us are just able to mask it still. But, when you see an older body that makes a C shape in their torso, that is unmasked hyperkyphosis.

Because we don’t have good mobility in each spinal joint in the thoracic spine, when we’re told to stand up straight, we move from where the thoracic and lumbar spine meet at the bottom of the ribcage and thrust the entire ribcage forward. It might look like the sternum is now elevated, but we’ve created a swayback position and closed off the lower part of the ribcage so it doesn’t move well when we breathe.

And no, the answer is not to tuck the pelvis and bend the knees to address the swayback.

The answer to being able to stand up straight without creating a cascading avalanche of compensations is to improve mobility and build strength in the parts that are tight and weak. Rhomboids are muscles that run between the shoulder blades and the spine. Strength in these muscles helps keep the shoulder blades happily positioned on the back AND they counter the hyperkyphosis that we all have in the thoracic spine. Their primary action is retraction of the shoulder blades – meaning these muscles pull the blades toward the spine.

It would be nice if we could just issue a phrase or move a body into the position we want it to be in and expect it to stay there, but that’s just not how it works. You can’t shove a body part where you want it to go and have that fix years of patterning.

Let’s start being realistic in the physical requests we make of singer’s bodies. Change will happen much faster and actually be sustainable.

Want to get in on this goodness and discover ways of moving the body to make lasting, helpful changes that support the voice? Join me in the Singers’ Online Learning and Movement Library and get unlimited access to movement videos and workshops all geared toward the singer’s body.

Remind me that I like to move…

I know, it seems strange that I, the movement teacher needs reminding that I like to move, but there it is.

If I back up to my pre-parenting days I was a always a mover and I liked pushing myself – I ran 10Ks, worked out at the gym, challenged myself at yoga, skied and skated in the winter, played tennis and canoed in the summer. I never did any of it with any concern that I would injure myself. I might get sore for a few days but then I’d be fine.

More than the movement itself, was HOW THE MOVEMENT MADE ME FEEL. When I moved I felt strong, confident, capable and happy. The endorphins of exercise are very real my friends. It was also a place where I connected with other people, running with friends, seeing my community at yoga class…exercise was a part of my social network.

A little over 6 years ago my youngest was born. I emerged from that pregnancy and birth with some pretty significant, birth-related injuries. I suffered in a high level of pain for about a year before I began to get my body back on track.

It all began when I was was out for a walk at about 5 months pregnant. I felt something in the front, left side of my pelvis change, not in a good way, and every step I took was painful. Whenever I brought any of it up to my midwives they shrugged it off to the general aches and pains of pregnancy. In my heart I knew it was more than that, but I wasn’t one to push back against an expert (OH HOW THAT HAS CHANGED!) so I just kept soldiering along.

By the final month of the pregnancy, that went 7 days past my due date, I was barely able to walk. I’d stand up and wait for the shooting pains to pass through my left pelvis and then stagger walk where I needed to go, gritting my teeth with every step.

My alignment for most of the pregnancy was a mess and it showed up when I finally went to give birth, the baby was facing the wrong way. He was sunny side up. Fearing back labor for me, the midwives positioned me on my left side in the hospital bed.

The labor was fast, with me arriving at the hospital around midnight and him born around 6am. I was so focused on the labor that I didn’t really think about the fact that they had me lie on my left side, where my hurt pelvis was, with nothing but a thin hospital pillow under my head.

I went through the entire, labor and delivery with my head improperly aligned to the rest of my spine and given my history of a waterskiing accident that did a ton of damage to the soft tissue of my upper body as well as my cervical spine, that was the equivalent of a train wreck for my neck and back.

In the car ride home from the hospital, my entire back seized up. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t be upright without a crushing headache.  Something I’d never experienced before and hope never to again. I then suffered in my own cave of misery for 2 full weeks, on my back for most of them, because being upright in the car was not an option so I could not get back to see the midwives and I had a new primary care physician closer, but I’d never seen her because I hadn’t needed to go and a new patient appointment availability in that office was months away.

It took a solid 18 months of work on my part to rehab my body to the point where I didn’t end every day with an agonizing tension headache. I tried physical therapy, but they never seemed to look at the whole me, so I would leave those appointments feeling physically worse than when I went in. Chiropractic and massage each helped in the moment, but they couldn’t tell me what to do to hold onto the release they helped my body find. I tried a trainer at the gym, but she was young and ill-equipped to handle a body that was hurting, and I never returned after my first session because she seemed to ignore all I told her and I was in pain when I left.

It took me finally deciding I was going to take what I knew about the body and figure it out. I HUNTED online before I found Katy Bowman’s work and together with what I already knew, I put my  core back together, shrinking my 3 finger diastasis to under 1, built better balance in my pelvis and addressed the imbalances in my shoulder girdle. I built a small set of very limited, in my opinion, things that I could do that would not make me hurt. Walking, functional movement and some swimming.

That’s a very long story way of saying I gained function, but never strength like I had before, and the memories of that time linger. In the 4+  years since I’ve used the demands of two kids, a job, a house, a dog and a husband to ignore the fact that while I desperately missed moving, I was terrified to try anything for fear of hurting the way I hurt for so long.

It makes me tear up just to write that. Because that loss of movement has come with a loss of happiness, a loss of community, a loss of feeling strong and capable.

I’ve periodically tried moving how I used to. We’ve played tennis a few times, I’ve hopped on the elliptical, but it wasn’t until yesterday when I went XC-skiing with my husband that I realized I go into every single movement session harboring a major fear that I’m going to hurt myself. The impact of 6 years ago is still lingering in my brain.

I’ve kept movement minimal to keep me functional and not allowed myself to see how much fear was driving the bus.

I could feel my body yesterday out on the trails, but I’m not in pain today. My pelvis is fine, my upper body is fine. My muscles feel used and I’m sure I’ll be sore, but in a good way, not in a close your eyes in a dark room and pray for the day to end kind of way. I want to make a big giant note of all that and remember that I LIKE TO MOVE.

2019 is my year of Community. I’ve scheduled in times into my calendar to go to the gym this winter. I’m working on owning that I not only have the tools to help others, I have them to help myself too so it’s ok to try things out. I know there’s community waiting for me when I re-enter into the world of moving the way I love.

I will need reminding that when I move the ways that I love, I feel happy, strong, capable, confident. That I can move and not hurt. So hold me to it, ok?

The Voice World is like a Balloon Factory

I listened to Seth Godin say something this morning that stopped me dead in my tracks while I walked my dog.

In his book Tribes, he uses a fabulous analogy of a balloon factory, to talk about the institutions that we train and work under where the systems we have in place keep things humming along at status quo level. It’s safe in the balloon factory, it’s comfortable, and you learn how to do what you need to, to produce the product you want.

But, the problem with a balloon factory is there are these other things, sharp things, that are the enemy of the balloon. Things like pins, knives and, yes, Unicorns. If you work in the balloon factory you learn to fear those sharp objects.

If a Unicorn walks into a balloon factory, he suggests, it can send everyone into a panic. The disruption a Unicorn causes can make workers become protective of their work, fearful of the change it might cause and make people turn their backs.

As I listened, I realized I AM A UNICORN IN THE BALLOON FACTORY OF THE VOICE WORLD!

We are trained in school about the systems of the voice – respiration, registration and phonation. We read all the pedagogy books which teach us about the voice and how those systems work from the standpoint of ideals on a page.

I’m over here saying WAIT, what about skeletal, nervous and muscular systems of THE WHOLE BODY?  What about the fact that no one has a nervous system that developed perfectly, so we don’t actually function like a 2-D skeleton on a page? We have joints that are limited in range, muscles that are underused, imbalances and lack of function globally in the body. Those are the issues that impact the voice that NO amount of vocal technique can solve.

I’m disrupting the vocal balloon production line by suggesting that we can’t just say the pedagogical platitude the whole body is the instrument, we actually need to know what that means AND what that looks like in the body; our own and those of our students. We need to be the boss of our body so our careers are sustainable and productive.

I get it, Unicorns and their horns are terrifying if you need to make 30 beautiful balloons by the end of the year and have only 1 hour every week to work on them. Isn’t there enough work to do already? Everything you need to know you already learned from those 22 books you read on balloon production in graduate school, right?

The voice world, like so many other industries that rely heavily on the ‘this is how it’s done’ mentality, fears the Unicorns. But, we so desperately need Unicorns to help us grow and change and improve what we are doing and how we are doing it so we can do our jobs better than ever before.

Join me in popping those pedagogical voice balloons to find new ways of really understanding the body and voice and how they work together.

Here for you.

Your Vocal Unicorn,

Sarah

 

How did I end up here? Pt 1

As I squatted down to move laundry along this morning I started thinking about my career path and had a little chuckle as I pulled multiple pairs of yoga pants and yoga shirts out of the wash to hang on a line to dry rather than putting them in the dryer.

I was often told to dress for the job I want. Perhaps that’s why I owned so many yoga clothes before becoming a yoga teacher?!

In reality, I set out on my path of voice and movement not really knowing where I was going. I’ve always been that way. I have a gut instinct to do something. It just feels right, and I say yes and then on to the next step.

That’s how this started.

I said yes to a yoga class in 1999.

That lead to curiosity about how much better I sang in my lessons after being at a yoga class. Which meant I started going to several classes a week.

That lead to doing a 500 hour yoga teacher certification program. Which meant I did every project in the program on something that brought together the body and the voice.

That lead to knowing just what I needed to calm my performance nerves so I was present and powerful on stage.

That lead to bringing yoga into my voice studio at Harvard where I taught for 13 years.

That lead to giving workshops at State and Regional NATS gatherings, for schools and choirs, all focused on how the body and voice intersect and work together.

Then, six years ago, my body blew up when my entire back seized after giving birth to my second child and the nagging aches and pains I’d had all through my 20’s and early 30’s became full blown, angry, unhappy places in my body.

I started to question everything that I’d learned and done in my yoga study in the preceding decade. I felt broken. Unfixable and unsure that I wanted to do any of this anymore.

It took some soul searching, digging on the interwebs and the discovery of two new ways of movement that brought me back and brought me where I am.

I’ll share more about how I got from flat on my back 6 years ago to the work I do now of helping singers and voice teachers better live in their bodies and better see the bodies in their studios.