We are Past the Point of Quick Fixes and Hacks…

It’s been a hot minute since the pandemic began – ok it has actually been 20 months to the day since we shut down on March 13, 2020.

The result of isolation, wearing masks in public, and living with the stress, loss and chaos of the last 20 months is changes to our entire physical/mental and emotional being.

This situation has done a number on us all and there are some things we need to acknowledge.

We are dealing with extended Trauma.

We can define trauma as an event or situation that exceeds our capacity to cope. I do not know one single person in the last 20 months who hasn’t felt as though their capacity has been exceeded. We are running low on bandwidth and some days it can feel like we have no bandwidth left at all.

Trauma impacts our immune system.

This article on the American Psychological Association website mentions multiple studies that link a weakened immune system to depression in an older population. As well, social isolation and feelings of loneliness each weakened the immune system response in college students.

On top of that our immune systems are playing catch up. Did you get the spring/summer cold that was circulating? It was a WHOPPER. My entire household was brought down by it and several of us were in bed for a few days trying to recover. This article in the New York times shares why, “…our immune systems missed the daily workout of being exposed to a multitude of microbes back when we commuted on subways, spent time at the office, gathered with friends and sent children to day care and school.”

Trauma Changes Our Brain.

When we undergo trauma our brains change in terms of chemistry and structure and thinking. Structures that change include:
Amygdala, which helps us perceive and control our emotions and plays a role in the fear response, and can become increasingly responsive as a result of trauma.
Hippocampus which aids us in memory and learning and can shrink in response to trauma.
Prefrontal Cortex which helps us with executive function and reasoning and can have decreased activity after experiencing extended trauma.

Our brain plays a role in two types of chemicals that are impacted by trauma: Neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, and Hormones include oxytocin, cortisol, and insulin. Combined these two chemicals play huge roles in our mood, our sleep, our weight and blood sugar regulation. When our brain alters the outputs of these chemicals we see it as insomnia, depression, inability to regulate our blood sugar and just simply, feel good on the daily.

Many of us are living in a greater state of hypervigilance as a result of the pandemic. We are in a state where our thinking has changed and we are waiting for the next shoe to drop.

Trauma Changes Our Breath.

Jane Clapp talks about the Diaphragm as ‘the coast is clear muscle’. Our body is constantly scanning our environment to determine if we are safe. When we perceive we are not safe (like we are all doing so much more right now) we will armor up through our deep core. The diaphragm will no longer move like a jellyfish, undulating in our torso, instead becoming more rigid, acting like a stabilizer muscle. That means we alter our breath and begin to use our secondary muscles of respiration more.

We breathe higher up in the chest, our breath rate increases and we will inhale longer than we exhale. Sometimes we even start holding our breath in – this is the bodies way of waiting for the next bad thing to happen. All of this causes changes in the balance of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide in the body.

In the words of Daniela from In The Heights…

That’s a Piece of Shitty News.

If this all sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. You have been living with a lot. We all have.

There are lots of communities in our world who live with this level of persistent trauma on a regular basis. Many of us are among the privileged who are encountering this type of prolonged stress punctuated by moments of extremely high stress for the first time.

We are past the point of just going for a walk, or taking a deep breath and getting on with our day. We are past the typical fluffy self care practices promoted to us on the regular.

So Where Are We?

We are here, smack dab in the messy middle where we have to choose to make the Herculean effort at instituting regular work that addresses and mitigates the impacts of ongoing trauma on our system.

For me that means somatic practices. I could talk about all that has transpired in the last 20 months, but none of that talk will address the knowingness my body holds about what I have lived through. I have to go into that knowingness and be with it before asking it to change.

This looks like:

Making the smallest movement possible, like wiggling my fingers and noticing how my body feels.

Asking the question, “how do I feel today?” and observing what I feel in my body and breath in response.

Letting my eyes move back in the eye sockets as my gaze widens, noticing how my breath and body change in response. It’s then bringing my eyes forward forward in the eye sockets, narrowing my gaze to see how my body responds.

It’s bringing my hand onto my sternum under my shirt and dragging it slowly down towards my solar plexus 10 times and noticing how I feel after.

In addition to these practices, I take slow walks in the woods, or just around my neighborhood. I get off social media regularly. I phone a friend who I know will just listen and not try to problem solve. My family has developed clear practices around connection that we do nearly daily – card games, reading aloud, game nights and movie nights. It’s breath work after I have moved to address my tendancy to hold my breath and over breathe. I’m working on finding gratitude for the simple things like blue sky, running water and a roof over my head. I’m working on fewer visits to the snack cabinet and pausing to feel my breath in my nose instead.

It’s also acceptance that there will be times when I am over capacity because I am a human being.

These might feel like a mere drop in the bucket. But, like a leaky faucet and your water bill, these drops add up. We rebuild our capacity one drop at a time.

If you’d like to talk more about practices that can help you move through this time in our world, please reach out and let’s talk. You aren’t alone.

Perceptions of Pain

We have a problem. A problem with pain. Well it isn’t the pain per se, but our perception of pain that is the problem.

We tend to try and:
1. Avoid pain
2. Push through pain
3. Seek quick fixes for pain
4. Blame our body for pain
5. Think we are broken when we have pain

Here are some things to know about nociceptive pain:

Your pain is real!

There are two types of pain: Acute and Chronic (lasts more than 3 months).

Tissue damage/Structural Changes and Pain don’t always correlate – I might have a herniated disc in my back, but no pain. You might have a back that looks perfect on an x-ray, yet you have pain.

The farther away (as measured in time) we get from the initial experience of pain, the weaker the link to any kind of injury.

Pain also isn’t well linked to alignment, posture or weight, despite what many doctors have told my clients .

Pain is an output from the brain – old thinking was pain was generated in the damaged tissue and the brain responded – this would make pain an input to the brain meaning it exists out there in he body and then we feel it. We have nociceptors, which are sensory neurons located around the body that send electrical signals of possible threats to our brains.

Pain is created by the brain to tell us to pay attention and take some form of protective action.

The brain makes the decision about whether we will experience pain in a split second. To make the decision it takes into account the following factors:

  1. Your stress level
  2. The circumstances surrounding you/the event
  3. What you believe about your body
  4. What else is going on in your body
  5. The things you typically say about your body
  6. The people in your life
  7. The places you typically go in your life

When pain persists it is because we have built a roadmap in the brain – we have wired ourselves to feel pain. The good news is our brains are easily re-built (neuroplasticity) so we can rewire your brain so you don’t feel pain.

We have two Physical Therapists, Lorimer Moseley and David Butler to thank for this framework of understanding pain. (their book The Explain Pain Handbook is a great one!).

We accomplish that rewiring by slowing down, moving mindfully, paying attention to the breath, changing the beliefs we hold about our body, the things we say about our body, the people we interact with about our body.

You don’t need to avoid pain.
You don’t need to push through pain.
If the quick fix stretch doesn’t get you out of pain and/or your pain is persistent, you just haven’t yet discovered the right inputs.
You aren’t broken if you experience pain.

Pain is just an invitation to slow down and pay attention.

The Gift of Winter

Yesterday my daughter looked out the window and said, “you know, this is one of those days where it looks like it should be warm outside, but it is actually freezing.”

The sky was a brilliant blue, but it was freezing. In fact, with windchill it was about 15F degrees out. But, we went out anyway and meandered through some conservation land near where we live. There was a forest floor soft with the cover of pine needles, a vast open field and a gorgeous tree for climbing in the center of the field.

I reflected on the tree as my kids climbed it. Outwardly it appeared leafless and barren.

My youngest commented that he thought it might be a petrified tree, because there it stood with it’s silvery gray, smooth trunk, cold to the touch with no leaves. It appeared dead, but we knew it was not.

That tree, I thought, could teach us all something.

The gift of winter is found in the natural slowing down that occurs.

In the winter, trees take their work inside. Having lost their leaves in the fall, they move into dormancy, where the work of the tree turns inward allowing for the creation of new leaves in the spring.

We humans can learn from this. There is such power in slowing down and turning inward.

Both encourage our somatic awareness, where we connect our body and mind and cultivate our ability to feel and be aware.

Let’s face it, next to none of us enjoy feeling things like pain, or hard emotions. But those feelings are how are body talks to us.

And those feelings can be running on constant loop this particular pandemic winter.

Slowing down in a world that rewards us for light speed everything can bring about mega discomfort. Most of us resist slowing down at all costs because it can feel like we are stopping.

We are indoors so much more in the winter, but that doesn’t mean our movement practice has to stop. We can cultivate movement practices like yoga that encourage awareness and mindfulness, noticing the breath and moving in ways that allow our bodies to speak. Winter is an opportunity to move into a more internal place to discover how to listen to the language of our body.

As the trees show us each spring. Slowing down means gaining the ability to go fast in another season.

I hope this winter you can find a way to slow down and move in ways that cultivate your inner awareness. If you’d like to move with me in my weekly yoga based practice, join us on Fridays this winter. We meet on Zoom and each class has a 48 hour replay available. You can click here to sign up for a drop in or multiple sessions.

Widening the Lens: The Diaphragm

Flip through any vocal pedagogy text and you’ll see the diaphragm listed as one of the primary muscles of inspiration. It is the second largest muscle in the body. In those texts we learn about its function of assisting in respiration and that’s the end of the discussion.

In addition to playing a role in bringing air into the lungs, it also participates in moving food to the stomach (the esophagus passes through the diaphragm), it massages the vagus nerve which wraps around the esophagus, and it helps create stability in the abdomen.

Evolutionarily, the role of the diaphragm is as a stabilizer, not as a muscle of inspiration.

This is where things start to get interesting.

When you engage in a high load activity like running or planking, the diaphragm becomes a stabilizer and you therefore can’t breathe deeply because the big D has another job to do.

Because we need more air in cardiovascular exercise we will begin to use the accessory muscles of inhalation to help create the needed space in the body. In these instances, this is the body intelligently adapting to what is being asked of it. When you are done with the high load activity the accessory muscles will stop helping and the diaphragm is no longer needed as a stabilizer so it goes back to undulating like a jellyfish, playing a larger role in respiration.

When it comes to our emotional state, the diaphragm has a hugely important role.

We are constantly subconsciouly scanning our environment to determine safety. This is called neuroception. What muscle is highly responsive to a threat perceived through our neuroception? The diaphragm.

Whether we experience a stress response of fight, flight or freeze, the diaphragm will armor up (along with the psoas and pelvic floor) in response, reverting to its role as a stabilizer. In other words it will no longer undulate like a jellyfish.

A few heads may have just exploded, so take a second to re-read those last two paragraphs.

Can you think about a time you’ve been startled? Like, REALLY startled. You might be able to conjure up the sensation of the adrenaline that flows through the body, but can you somatically sense the grip of your inner core too?

When we are in a state where most of our life is without heavy stress and a history of trauma we might experience a stressful event, have some armoring up of our inner core and then as we move back out of the stress state the diaphragm, psoas and pelvic floor revert to their normal state.

Think now about people who have endured sustained trauma, a major traumatic event, or multiple traumatic events throughout their lifetime. Or people who live with regular anxiety or panic. Their diaphragm may be in a state of armoring on the regular and not know how to be any other way.

For these individuals, taking a deep breath won’t work. (in fact it might make them want to punch you in the face if you tell them to just take a deep breath and calm down). We cannot use the breath to move into a place of calm when our nervous system is disregulated in this way.

So what do we do? We can use movement, cultivating the skill of noticing without judgement and connecting to the environment around us to teach our nervous system a new sense of safety which will help the diaphragm move out of stabilizing and back into it’s role as a muscle of respiration.

If you read this and identify yourself in these words, reach out and let’s talk. Your body can find a state of safety and movement can play a major part in getting you there.

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.