Compensations and Coping

When your body can’t do a movement with integrity, it will find another way. The ability to compensate is part of what keeps us alive and moving. Compensations aren’t bad, but in the long run they aren’t likely to allow you to move your best and feel your best.

Compensations will eventually cease to help you and you’ll have two options. One is find another way to move that resolves the compensation pattern. Or, two, subconsciously build another pattern and move further into compensations. Number two can become a really hard cycle to break.

Earlier this week I had a 1-on-1 session with Susi Hately to work on my wonky hip (dysplasia, labral tear and CAM type impingement). Much of our work together is identifying the subtle ways I’ve compensated for my structural issue and finding new ways of moving. Some of those compensations are relatively recent, showing up in the past year when I first developed pain. Others have been there my whole life because I have a hip socket that never fully formed.

In our session I began to see that when attempting to do something as simple as a hip hinge, I was actually bringing my torso over, rather than my leg up. That was my compensation and it hit me…coping mechanisms are emotional compensations.

In this past week, #6 of our Stay At Home order, I hit a wall of sorts when it came to coping, and I watched myself turn to one of my yellow-light activities of eating chocolate chips.

Those handfuls of chips are a sure sign I’m not addressing my emotions (hello Coronavirus pandemic, I’m eyeing you!), or feeling as though I have an outlet for them.

There were a lot of years early in my parenting life where my fumbling through motherhood and raising small children, as one does, resulted in handfuls of chocolate chips consumed because I hadn’t developed the skills I needed, the tribe I needed, or the ability to recognize even what was setting me off.

In other words, for years I took my children’s entirely normal behaviors, made them personal, thought I was failing massively and drowned my frustrations and sorrow in a bag of semi-sweet morsels.

It took me TIME to recognize that turning to the chips was my version of wine-o’clock, or a tub of ice cream to numb out my feelings, or too much Netflix and chill. The chips got me through in the moment, the rush of feeling good from the sugar eased the emotional pain of struggle. BUT, they also left me crashed out after, craving more and no closer to better dealing with the reality of my life and the two children who looked on with adoration and probably wondered on some level why mom was a mess.

My coping mechanism was a massive emotional compensation. My way out of just coping was to get mindfully aware of my triggers, start to skill build a better way of dealing with my emotions and finally be able to step the hell away from the chocolate chips.

The good news is, I did just that and slowly, eating handfuls of chocolate chips became much less of a thing for me (much to the joy of my children who then had chocolate chips available for pancakes made by daddy on the weekends).

It was interesting to watch myself start to traverse down that same path this week. One day after many handfuls of chips I had my session with Susi and that connection between compensations and coping hit me.

That realization combined with the relationship that chocolate chips and I now have was enough for me to see the glaring yellow light they represent. It allowed me to step away from the bag and start to get mindfully aware of being triggered and think about how I can skill build in new ways to get through this time.

Just as my physical compensations get replaced with more efficient and effective movement patterns, I want to get back to work on replacing my emotional compensations too.

I don’t beat myself up for the handfuls I had. It’s over and done with. But, I’m choosing to move forward in a way that isn’t Groundhog Day over and over and over. I pulled out my journal and am writing each morning. I said yes to a mindset talk that was offered yesterday. I’m taking longer walks, and talking about my feelings with family and friends. I’ll choose to keep seeking out activities that fill my cup, rather than keeping me in the cycle of highs and lows brought on by the chips.

No, there’s no chair for that.

Potentially Unpopular opinion ahead from your loving movement specialist: I know you are looking for relief from the aches and pains you are feeling from sitting so much to teach online. However, no chair is going to really solve the discomfort you feel right now. So, stop looking for an ergonomic chair that you think will magically make things better.

When we sit, we outsource work our muscles should be doing to the chair, so the idea of ergonomics is really just to make us more comfortable when we sit so we can sit for longer periods of time. Ergonomics is not really about optimal body function. However, we each need to be more about optimal body function.


You might get temporary relief from sitting on something different, but it will be a better use of your time to troubleshoot your current set up so you change positions more during lessons and look at how you are moving (or not moving) in between lessons.


Here are a few ideas to consider:
1. How can you create a standing position during lessons? What can you put your device on so you can stand while they sing because right now you don’t need to sit to accompany? What can you put at your feet to do some movement while you’re sitting – think tennis balls, half foam rollers, river rocks.


2. Have you tried standing to play chords and notes for the part of the lesson where you want troubleshoot parts of their songs? In other words, your singer sings through a song with the accompaniment on their end and then you have the phrases you want to check for technique, rhythms, notes etc. Try standing and playing notes on the keyboard to give your singer what they need to start. Everyone’s dimensions are different so if your arms don’t reach, make it into some glute work for yourself and play the notes/chord in a squat 😁).


3. Can you begin each lesson with a standing physical warm up that you do too? No one is maxing out the amount of movement they do every day while we are on stay at home orders, so why not add in some extra and move along with your singer?


4. Look at how you are positioned when you sit: are you head on to your device, or are you turned to the left or right? Can you be head on or swap from one side to the other on alternate lessons?

5. Resist the temptation to crane toward the screen to reach your student – this is like wanting to reach your audience when you perform. Notice when you’re doing it and think about the hyoid bone gently moving back in your neck to help guide your head back.

6. Also, if you don’t have them, blue light blocking glasses will help your eyes/suboccipital muscles experience less strain. Or you can try switching up the settings of brightness and color on your monitor. Between lessons take breaks to look outside at the farthest away point you can identify. All the up close looking of screens means we need to balance with far away looking and let’s face it, nature is also a balm for the soul right now.

7. What are you doing in the rest of your day? More sitting on chairs and couches? Try floor sitting, schedule walk breaks, pull your bike out of your basement and dust it off, join me for a weekly movement class on Fridays. IF you can’t get onto the floor easily to sit, build up piles of pillows/blankets/bolsters to sit on.

If you are aching from sitting, try implementing some of these suggestions and you can also access these videos on my Youtube channel to get you moving in your studio:

Are you well resourced?

With the ever changing landscape of the larger world, our studios and our own personal health I wanted to take this month to focus on stress management and building our own resilience.

The very intimate nature of voice lessons means we often have singers coming to us in need of a safe space and we have to allow space for their emotions before we can be productive in singing.

In normal life we can usually provide that safe space because what is happening to them is not also happening to us. But, that is not the case right now. Every human being on the planet is passing through the experience of the Coronavirus.

And, every individual will have a response that is all their own. No two beings react the same to stimuli and this experience is no different. Some folks will come to you in a low sensation state and they will need more input, others will come to you completely jacked up on adrenaline and they will need ways to lessen input input.

For good or for bad (I think for good) voice teachers need now more than ever to be functioning as trauma informed practitioners.

One of the top qualities a capable voice teacher can possess is the ability to hold space for their singers. I realize ‘holding space’ has become an oft tossed about catch phrase, so let me share what I mean by holding space.

When you hold space you are an active listener and a kick-ass co-regulator. When you can co-regulate you are able to track energy in your singer AND in yourself. This ability will keep you connected to your own stress response and be able to notice when you are moving out of your zone of tolerance for stress AND able to notice when your singer is moving out of theirs.

Of course you then need skills to keep yourself within your zone and bring them back into their zone of tolerance as well.

For us to be present and able to hold space for our singers, we MUST be able to tap into our own resilience and be well resourced. I truly believe holding this capacity will allow us to continue to run our studios effectively through this time, for those singers who show up. This has to become a daily practice for all of us through this time.

If you haven’t already, it might be time to take stock of what skills you have to stay present and keep your stress managed. If you are needing skills, don’t hesitate to reach out. We can work together, or you can find a great many resources within the Aligned and Aware Library.

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.

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