Beyond The Kegel

In 1948 Dr. Alfred Kegel developed the pelvic floor contraction exercise for women that we now call Kegels. It was a pretty big deal because before that it was surgery or nothing for women who were dealing with incontinence and prolapse. His exercise gave women options and empowered them with something they could do to restore function to their body.

But, kegels have become a bit of a hot button issue in the fitness and women’s health world. Some people say you should absolutely NOT do kegels. Some say you absolutely SHOULD do kegels. Some say you only need to squat and not to kegels.

The whole debate will leave you wondering, will kegels help me? Should I be doing them regularly? How exactly do I do a kegel? Please, FTLOG, someone just stop me from wetting my pants!

Pro Tip: Save yourself the pain of googling “how to do a kegel” because you will get 95,000 answers, each one a bit different.

Here’s what I have gleaned about Kegels and you can make an (hopefully) informed decision about their role in your life and the health of your pelvic floor.

Kegels are a targeted, spot treatment, focusing on the musculature of the pelvic floor. The theory behind them being that the reason incontinence is happening is due weakness in the muscles of the pelvic floor and therefore the muscles have too little tone. Of course, what we need to do when something is weak is strengthen it, right?

I attended a conference where Women’s Health PT (WHPT) after WHPT was interviewed and shared that they see far more hypertonic (too much tone) pelvic floors than hypotonic (too little tone) pelvic floors (especially in those in the fitness world, interestingly enough). Those pelvic floors that are too tight will still register as weak if they are tested because the muscles are already tightened to their max and they can’t engage MORE than they already are. So, kegeling in those cases is no bueno because it will just further add tension to tight muscles.

For some women kegels are enough to solve the problem, though there is some research out there showing the long term viability of kegels is questionable – meaning it might shore you up for several years, but after that things can start to go downhill. Sometimes we forget that it is equally as important to release muscles as it is to engage them. Kegels are also not always great for prolapse either. If you are prolapsed and squeezing the pf muscles, you may just be strangling (for lack of a better word) the organ that is prolapsed and that can make things worse.

Every moment of training I have received in yoga and movement over the last 18 years has emphasized that the places where we experience pain and problem in the body are only a small part of the whole picture.

Solutions to problems in the body come when we consider the WHOLE body, the breath and the brain.

I have seen and experienced the truth in that statement in my own body and in other bodies.

When we apply that to the issue of pelvic floor weakness, we get this: when you have a group of muscles like the pelvic floor that are meant to engage in response to the information (loads) they are receiving from the rest of the body via movement and breathing we will find a long-term solution when we engage in practices that address all of the following: upper body tension, calf tension, rib cage position, core strength and how the breath impacts all of that. After all, over 34 muscles in the body are sending input to the pelvic floor. And, believe it or not, how you think can also impact how the body functions and how you perceive pain. So, your belief in your body’s ability to heal will impact the rate and level to which you get better. Plus, a group of muscles that are meant to fire reflexively will simply not do well when we try to spot treat them by isolated movements.

Might kegels be a part of what you do? Maybe, if a WHPT determines that you have pelvic floor muscles that will benefit from them, but I would hope that he or she has you do them in conjunction with being mindful of the position of the body, the breath and the movements you are doing.

Might kegels be a good thing to do if you are seeking to reconnect to your pelvic floor (like soon after birth or if you have disconnected due to years of pain and discomfort). Yes, they can help your brain re-establish a connection to the pelvic floor.

Might using a kegel-type exercise like the pelvic floor ruler be a useful way to assess how much control and ability to engage you have in those muscles? Yes, it can be very useful to track how well you can engage and release the muscles.

Can you solve your pelvic floor problems without doing a kegel per-se, because you are recoordinating your body through a whole body approach where the pelvic floor might go along for the ride when you are breathing and moving? Absolutely.

Struggling to Breathe

Asthma is on the rise – in 2010 the CDC indicated there are 25.7 million people in the US living with asthma, and they indicated they expect an increase of 15% per decade (1). That’s a lot of people who are struggling to breathe and if your studio is like mine, you’ve seen an increase in singers who are dealing with this issue.

What singers with asthma have shared with me: they struggle to get through phrases, feeling like they are running out of breath. Higher notes feel harder to hit and to sustain. And, when their asthma is active, singing at all can feel like an impossibility.

Asthmatics have differences in breathing patterns, ribcage position and mobility as well as quality of  speaking voice and singing voice.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is defined as a chronic disease in which the airways can be inflamed, constricted and lined with too much mucus during an asthma attack.

The symptoms of asthma can be triggered by a number of stimuli including: pet dander, dust, pollen, tobacco smoke, emotional stress, cold air, exercise, fatigue, infection or food.

Symptoms of an asthma attack include coughing, wheezing, and shallow, fast, labored breathing as well as a rapid heart beat.

Asthmatics also have a greater likelihood of experiencing reflux, rhinosinusitis, sleep apnea, and they are more likely to experience anxiety – much more on this in a bit.

Medical management of asthma includes both bronchodilators and corticosteroids. Bronchodilators are ‘rescue’ inhalers, like Albuterol, used to bring quick relief of the symptoms of an asthma attack. Corticosteroids, like Prednisone, are used to manage the chronic inflammation that many asthmatics experience. As with most medicines, both types of treatment carry risks/side effects. Rescue inhalers can mask an increase in chronic airway inflammation and therefore mask the severity of asthma when they become overused. Corticosteroids can reduce the need for rescue inhalers, but can cause hormone changes, weight gain, glaucoma and bone loss as well as hoarse voice and thrush.

Many singers with asthma know to rinse their mouth out after using an inhaler to help their voice function a bit better.

To be clear, I am not advocating in any way, shape or form, abandoning the medical management of asthma. What I would like to suggest is there are some practices you can engage in that can help you manage your asthma, change your experience of breathing and how you experience your voice.

When I was first researching asthma back in 2008 I was fascinated to see that reflux, sinusitis and anxiety were all factors that were frequently concurrently present. To me, that suggested that a whole body approach was going to be an important one in managing this condition. Diet, stress management, weight, movement and general health all need to be considered in the treatment and management of the disease.

We know the breath is intimately linked to anxiety – when we get anxious the breath becomes higher and shallower. There is no doubt in my mind that feeling like you can’t breathe is an anxiety producing situation! It isn’t clear which came first, anxiety or asthma, and in some ways it doesn’t matter, we know the two go hand in hand. One of my goals in working with singers with asthma is to help them break the cycle of anxiety and breathing.

Working with Asthmatics in the Studio

Here is my action plan for working with an asthmatic in the voice studio. It is built on the following: Awareness, Skill Building, and Implementation. That process is rarely linear but it is a combination of those three areas that helps singers find success.

  1. Do an extensive intake questionnaire so you know from the first meeting what all the factors are in terms of asthma, allergies and acid reflux, anxiety and medications along with how much they are moving throughout the day.
  2.  Complete a breathing assessment in the initial lesson. Asthmatics are classic ‘over-inhalers’, meaning they are taking in more air than they are letting back out (not hard to see how that would impact singing, right?!).
  3. Give the singer the task for the week between when they will see you next of observing their breath in different situations – low stress, high stress, hanging out with friends, speaking in public and private situations, while they are singing, in the morning and at night.
  4. In the studio begin the lesson with gauging where the breath is that day. Use the first 5-10 minutes to do some kind of breath work to help balance the breath. ** DO NOT do this if they are symptomatic.
  5. If they are symptomatic begin here. If they are not, do this next, and incorporate it into vocally warming up. Use postures that target the thoracic spine, ribcage and diaphragmatic ability as well as deep relaxation through forward bends, spinal twists and psoas release.

If you have a singer you are working with, or you are a singer with asthma you might be interested in my workshop Asthma and the Voice which goes much more in depth and gives you tools to use in the studio.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/impacts_nation/asthmafactsheet.pdf

Will you love your body in 2017?

How much love do you ever offer your own body? I am all too familiar with the cycle of feeling frustrated and bummed and downright angry when it feels like your body is rebelling against you, not functioning as it should and, well, letting you down.

With only a few days left in 2016 it is inevitable to watch thoughts turns to resolutions that focus on changes can we make in 2017 to better our body. So often those changes are focused on ways our body seems currently deficient and hearkening back to the bod of yester-year when we were 20 and had no kids, and even if we didn’t eat well it didn’t show up around our mid-section.

What if we begin the year by honoring our body, rather than hating it for the small ways it isn’t perfect?

What if we focus on the things our bodies have done and all the ways it supports us every day and the things we can do to support it back?

This is what I love about the yoga I practice and teach. It is about coming to the mat and meeting your body where she is right now. Greeting her, celebrating her and working with, rather than fighting against, her.

Yes, the changes will happen when you show up on the mat, but to get there on a path of love is so much more powerful and effective than fighting down a path of deprecation.

Sounds way better than resolving to lose 30 pounds to fit into the bikini you bought 10 years and 2 kids ago, right?

I hope you will join me on your mat in 2017 and walk a path toward loving your body by waking up and embracing the parts that have been dormant for however many years, defining a new relationship, building strength, stability and mobility.

Paragons of Posture or Perpetuating Problematic Patterns?

The title of this post is a small nod to my word-smithing grandfather and my English teacher mother. I do so love some good alliteration and I hope it has gotten your attention!

What I really want to talk about is the issue of using a ballet dancer’s posture as the best model for how a singer should comport his or her body while singing. I’ve read many a comment on Facebook threads lauding a ballet dancer’s posture, in particular, first position, as an avenue to teach posture to singers. My short response is ‘that’s probably a bad idea’.

The longer reasoning is this:

I’ve written before about my issues with posture and the power of using a model of alignment based on bony markers instead. My issue with looking at ballet posture and extrapolating it to singing is this: singing and dancing are two different activities. The desired outcome of posture in ballet is appropriate for ballet and ballet only.

There are very clear rules about how to hold the body in ballet – each of the five fundamental ballet positions for arms and feet are practiced as a way of building a foundation to accomplish other ballet moves.

As this image from aballeteducation.com shows us (click the link to see it larger), there are LOTS of things done to the body to achieve first position in ballet. AND lots of these things are contrary to finding a place of neutral alignment that allows for the greatest functionality in the body and voice. The places that I want to look to see if a postural position is going to help singing include: the feet, the legs, the pelvis, the core, the arms and the neck.

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So, assuming you are doing first position correctly, there is no weight in your heels, your feet are turned out to an extreme, kneecaps are engaged and lifted, ribcage is down (more on that in coming paragraphs), THE OBLIQUES ARE COMPRESSED, and the arm muscles are rotated forward. While those elements may lead to a fantastic first position, THEY DO NOT EQUAL ALIGNMENT. The feet as our foundation are off in this position. Of special note is that breathing for classical singing will be greatly compromised if the belly is ‘compressed’, which I’m assuming means engaged on a constant basis.

About the ribcage…I like that the directive is to keep the flat and lifted – I’m not exactly sure what that means in ballet speak, but I assume from this article and the accompanying photo below, that ribcage thrust is not desired in first position, or the other positions in ballet. However, getting the arms overhead without the ribs moving to help, take a level of flexibility and mobility that many are missing.

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A quick search on google for images of ballet dancers turns up lots of pictures, like this one, of young girls who are beginning ballet and they stand with ribcage thrust. It isn’t hard to understand why. We are casted in the way we move from such a young age, that even at the age of 7 it can be challenging to stand without the ribs thrust, let alone raise our arms overhead without taking the ribs up too.

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While it may not be something you want in this pose, there is no doubt that rib thrust is a common part of many ballet positions – and rightly so if that is the desired posture on stage (just as it is in a ‘stick the landing’ posture for a gymnast).

In fact, in my 15 years of teaching, every ballerina I’ve worked with has ribcage thrust (so do most other people, but it is a harder habit to break, I’ve found, in a ballerina) and seriously tight core musculature. Again, both of those elements are appropriate to the event at hand: ballet, but they don’t add up for singing as they don’t translate to functionality in the body and voice..

Ballet is a fantastically beautiful art form. I just want to call a separation between the correct postural position for a ballerina in any circumstance and how we want to stand and move for singing.

Voice professionals will be far better served at educating themselves about what an aligned neutral state is in the body, understanding why so few bodies come to them presenting in neutral and how to begin to work with the body to return it to that place than they are to suggest simply standing in a ballet position and calling it appropriate.

Permission to Play!

If your life is anything like mine, you find yourself at a playground multiple times a week. Now that my kids are a bit older and not in need of me pushing them on the swing or constantly spotting them as they climb structures, I find myself at playgrounds feeling as though there’s nothing for me to do. I look around and I see other parents in the same state – and mostly they have their heads down, staring at their phones until a child cries or they hear “MOM” hollered from across the playground.

Since I hate feeling as though I’m doing nothing (I know, I know, I’m working on it), I decided that I would play too. My body is craving movement just as much as my kid’s bodies are and while I’m not going to try to jam myself into a swing anymore, there are plenty of ways adult bodies can benefit from playground structures too.

Sure, I get some looks from other parents, but mostly they are looks of curiosity.

If you find yourself outside at a playground, don’t spend the hour staring at your phone. Move your body, you’ll feel better, build strength and flexibility and maybe, just maybe, one day your core and upper body will be strong enough to swing all the way across the monkey bars with the same ease your 7 year old uses to accomplish the task.

Here are 4 ways you can play at the playground.

Play #1 Squatting

IMG_7573 Find a poll that you can hold and back yourself up until your arms are straight. Slowly lower yourself keeping your shins vertical, pelvis untucked, ribs in. Be sure your weight is in your heels. Press through your heels to come up on an exhale. Inhale and lower yourself down. Do 5-10.

Play # 2 Swing Set Pull Up

IMG_7917 Find the side pole of a swing set and hold it. Let your ribs be down (in neutral). Most swing set poles are at an angle, so don’t have your feet next to the pole, but instead imagine you dropped a line down from where your hand is holding the pole and have your feet close to that. Slowly lower yourself out until your arm is straight – keeping your body in line – your hips don’t sag out further than your shoulders (this takes some core and upper body work!). Then slowly pull yourself back up. Repeat on each side, 5-10 times.

 

Play #3 Hanging

IMG_7626 Not all playgrounds have monkey bars, but most have at least one bar you can hang from (even if it is low to the ground). Most adults (myself included) lack the upper body and core strength to do monkey bars, or to even hang with their feet off the ground. However, there is still lots of benefit to hanging and working towards building that strength. Just hold the bar, keep your shoulders down (no hunching your shoulders up by your ears) and slowly lower your body until you start to support your weight in your arms. Stay for a minute, come back and do it 3 times while you are at the playground.

 

Play #4

IMG_7921 Pelvic Listing. This move is all about activating the lateral hips, where we all seem to lack strength. You can stand on something or on the ground. If on the ground, shift your weight into one leg and think about sliding the hip of that leg toward the ground, far enough that the opposite foot clears the ground by an inch or so (don’t hike the leg using the muscles of that side, use the muscles of the hip of the standing leg). If you are standing on something, the opposite foot comes level with the standing foot by sliding the hip of the standing leg down – once you find the right action you will really feel this in your outer glute/hip area!

Do you pay attention to yellow lights?

If the light turns yellow as you approach an intersection, what do you do?  So often, we are either in a hurry or simply aren’t paying attention that we don’t see the yellow light as a sign to slow down. We either speed up or just keep driving along with minimal awareness of our surroundings.

I love applying the yellow light theory to our physical being. In our body yellow lights come in the form of small aches and pains; a crick in the neck, or a low back that aches or maybe even a bit of leakage when you sneeze. These yellow lights are the whispers of imbalance.

These whispers are the body’s way of asking us to slow down and make changes. In our culture of quick fixes and spot treatments, slowing down is a tall order. We want everything figured out, fixed and finalized yesterday, if not last year. So, we think the way to get there is to blow through it at top speed, focusing solely on the spot where we have pain (assuming we do anything about it at all) at which point we can declare, loudly, DONE! But, really the pain will return and likely it will be worse. Or, alternately, we just pay no attention to the low level pain that is accumulating, until we’ve hit the red light level of chronic pain.

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Our physical bodies are about loads. The forces we generate by moving (and not moving) create loads throughout the body. When there’s a problem at the yellow light level, that’s a sign that we aren’t bearing the load well. While our default is often to look at the place where the problem is and work there, we really need to understand that the place where pain is occurring is really only part of the picture….the best, long term solution is always one grounded in curiosity and compassion that includes the whole body.

The yellow light theory says, slow down, pay attention to the whole body: what’s moving that should be moving, what’s moving that shouldn’t be moving and what’s not moving that should be? Find a pure range of movement free of the aforementioned compensations and work there, no matter how small that range is. When you do that you make gains, you will be able to move farther faster, building strength and stability as opposed to simply doing the full pose and wondering why you are sore the next day.

Honoring your yellow lights and working with pure movement allows you to lay a foundation for making  lasting change. What are your yellow lights? Can you get curious and slow down to find a true solution rather than moving quickly and wondering why you don’t get any better?

What’s that shapewear doing for your voice?

Let’s say you’ve got a killer gig speaking or performing and you want to look your best on stage. You buy shapewear to wear under your carefully selected outfit thinking you are taking a step that will make you more confident on stage.  Shapewear makers advertise to us the potential to eliminate our muffin top, say bye-bye to back fat, have a jiggle free tummy and thighs and present a body that appears smooth and toned in clothing. You look great, but are great things going to happen to your body and voice?

What else is shapewear doing?

When you apply constant pressure onto the torso and abdomen in the form of compression you increase pressure in those cavities. That means your breathing is forced to be shallow. Your circulation is compromised because blood cannot move as easily around your body. Your stomach is compressed putting you at risk for reflux, slowed digestion and elimination. Your pelvic floor is compromised because it is overloaded with pressure…sneeze pee anyone? Your voice cannot be connected to the body when your being is shoved into a casing like a sausage.

If you don’t already know, for your voice to function well you need to have good mobility in the ribcage, diaphragm and abdomen. The relationship that exists between the diaphragm, transverse abdominus and pelvic floor on inhalation and during phonation is what sets the foundation for the voice to be produced well and easily.

It might feel as though you are experiencing support and resistance as you sing against the compression of the shapewear. That isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t a viable long term solution – we know that the less we use our bodies the way they are designed, the less able our bodies are to function. So, if you get used to singing in shapewear and you go to sing without it, you’re going to have trouble getting your body to do the things that the shapewear was providing.

How nervous are you?

The most effective way we have of dealing with our nerves in any given moment is to focus on the breath. A free, smooth inhale and a long, free exhale are key to shutting down the fight of flight response in the body. Shapewear, the very thing we’ve chosen to feel more confident on stage, is actually augmenting the nerves and making it impossible to tame them because we cannot access the breath the way we need.

The bottom line.

Can you get away with wearing shapewear and performing well? In the short term, yes, if you aren’t already battling nerves. But, long term, we aren’t sausages or nerf footballs meant to be squeezed and stuffed. We are bodies that are meant to move, breathe, sneeze, sing and speak freely. If the opportunity of a lifetime to audition, speak or perform on stage presents itself, put down the shapewear ladies, it won’t help you on stage.

On Balance

For a number of years I held this picture of stacked rocks in my mind as a representation of balance. To me, the rocks meant it isn’t easy, but balance is achievable. And, once you get it, balance is a beautiful, serene, permanent state.

Zen stones in water

This fall I’ve revised my thinking on balance. The stacked rocks above are balanced, but how easily will they topple? Wind, a push of a hand, a heavy snow or a wave will knock them over. Those rocks can’t yield to the unexpected forces of nature.

In the past I’ve thought ‘if I just figure out x, y, and z I will find balance,’  as though there is some magic formula yet to be discovered. Parenting, working, marriage, music, yoga…they would all just fall into place perfectly and I would live happily ever after.

When I stack the rocks of my life up a particular way, declare myself balanced and then life asks to me spin in another direction, I topple.

I’ve done just that, over and over and continued to wonder, “Why can’t I find balance?” Then I proceed to feel less than because I can’t figure out how to achieve balance and surely everyone else has.

It turns out life just doesn’t work that way. It is ever changing. This fall I realized there has to be a better way. Those stacked rocks can’t be my symbol of balance. But, what could be?

As usual, when life smacks me over the head with these realizations, I turn to yoga for my answers.

Vrksasana, Tree pose offers a new frame to explore the concept of balance.

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If you’ve ever tried tree pose you know how challenging it can be, and seldom is the pose ever the same. It is easy to get caught up in the external factors that impact the pose… your foot’s contact with the ground, the pressure and position of the bent leg foot against the inside of your standing leg, the tilt of your pelvis, the position of your hands and arm, where the wall is in relation to your body and on and on. We can only truly focus on one of those forces at a time and it can seem impossible to pull all of them together into one, balanced pose. Sometimes, when we are beginning that’s all we can do – we have to address strength in our feet first and then move on.

But, if you are always and only tuned into the individual, external factors, you miss that balance comes from within. You find balance in tree pose when you can move your attention inside, breathing and ‘being’ in the pose rather than ‘doing.’ Trees are grounded through extensive roots. They reach in all directions, striving for sunlight. They move in response to the forces of nature and they communicate with other trees to create a community in which they can all thrive.

The same is true in our lives off the mat. If we are always looking to external factors like work hours, after school activities, sick days, snow days, meal times, product launches, auditions, concerts, we are trying to stack rocks against an eventual tide. Sometimes we need to begin by addressing an individual factor, but we must quickly move on from that.

True balance comes from within. We are balanced when we can adjust to life’s challenges by simply being and releasing the need to do. We understand that sometimes we experience being out of balance and rather than judging we get curious and move back towards center.

We breathe.

We move in response to what is asked of us.

We are present.

We communicate and community-create.

Balance is an ever moving spectrum.

 

 

Tuck or Duck, Which Do I Do?

To answer that question in one word: neither.

I’ve read and heard a lot of advice offered from voice teachers saying to deal with lordosis (that’s a fancy word for swayback) in the mid-back region, or pain in the low back we need to tuck the pelvis. I’ve even heard teachers say tuck the pelvis AND engage the glutes to really get support for the high notes.

I get why. Many pedagogy texts offer the same advice on tucking and some of them have been around for a long time. The good news is more recent texts acknowledge this position isn’t correct – a healthy spine is not straight, it has two natural curves in the lumbar and cervical spine.

The position of the pelvis is only one factor in why the lordosis and low back pain are present and in the case of lordosis, it isn’t the most major factor.  And, engaging glute muscles can be a major compensation red flag for a core that isn’t firing reflexively in response to breath and movement.

Let’s unpack these ideas of tuck and duck a bit.  Tuck is a posterior tilt of the pelvis – think standing against a wall and rolling the pelvis back so the low back is flat to the wall. Duck is an anterior tilt of the pelvis – think standing against a wall and rolling the pelvis forward so there is not just a little space behind the low back, but a lot of space.

Bony markers in the body are how we determine tuck, duck and neutral. The markers we use are the ASIS (anterior, superior iliac spine), the nobby points of the front of your hip bones, and the pubic bone, the place the two halves of the pelvis come together in the front of the pelvis. If the ASIS and the pubic bone sit in the same plane (as in, we could drop a pane of glass in front of them and they would both touch the glass equally), then we have a pelvis that is neutral to the leg. When the pubic bone is in front of the ASIS we have tuck. If the pubic bone is behind the ASIS, we have duck. When standing at a wall, a neutral pelvis will allow for a small space behind the low back.

You can click here to see an image on Flickr of a neutral pelvis – it is a right lateral view showing ASIS and pubic bone on the right side of the image. I tried to find a stock photo of a neutral pelvis, but couldn’t!

To figure out what your default position is, take your shoes off and put your hands on those bony marker points, and make an assessment of their position relative to each other. Try it again with shoes with varying heel heights to see if you notice a difference.

My default is anterior tilt, which I see in many women, especially post childbirth – women’s lumbar spine has a bit more give to accommodate the load placed by the expanding womb. But, without question my anterior tilt was likely in place prior to having 2 children. I know I have a psoas that is tighter on 1 side as is my rectus femoris, to name just a few of the muscles contributing to the placement of my pelvis. There are an equal number of people who live with a tuck position. The reasons why our pelvises are in these non-neutral positions is always multi-factorial.

The factors contributing include our footwear, our patterns of lack of movement (sitting) and repetitive movement (running on a treadmill, for example) and simply being a human in the modern age. The solution comes from a shift to greater whole body movement, a reawakening of some dormant muscles and ditching shoes with heels. That means shoes with heels of any kind, not just 4 inch stilettos. Your 1/4 inch flats are contributing too.

Why does a neutral pelvis matter? Well, from the standpoint of biomechanics, when we think about gravity, which is a force that moves in one direction – straight down – to build bone in our femur head and socket of the pelvis, we need gravity to be able to do its job. When the pelvis is at an angle, but gravity is straight down, it isn’t helping to build bone. When the pelvis is tucked and the bottom of the sacrum is further into the body than the top, we end up with pelvic floor problems. From the standpoint of the voice, a non-neutral pelvis means we don’t have a solid foundation for the torso to rest on and that means voice function is impacted because the spine and all attaching bones, ligaments, muscles and tendons are impacted. Your whole body is your instrument so we need your whole body to be a well functioning machine.

Neutral, once you find it, may feel like you are in either tuck or duck. Your proprioception is challenged and neutral will probably feel wrong. I suspect this is why some folks are saying either tuck or duck, because assuming they worked with a qualified someone to address their pelvis position, their new position felt like one of these two ways.

However, giving a blanket tuck or duck to solve the issue of position or pain is a recipe for more problems down the line. Solving the riddle of the issues requires individual assessment and a whole body approach because everything in the body impacts everything else in the body. I always assess postural habits, using bony markers in the feet, lower and upper legs, pelvis, ribcage, shoulder girdle and neck/head to get a picture of the whole person. The rest of the solution requires us to move more and integrate moving in different ways, spending a lot of time simply being aware of our habits.

Hit me with questions….

 

Breath Holding

Have you ever wondered if you or one of your singers is a breath holder? It is more common than you might think and can be one of the factors contributing to vocal fatigue, tension and increased effort in producing the voice. While there may be pathology on the cords that contributes to these issues too, many singers will get a clear strobe showing vocal cords that look and seem to function perfectly well, yet they are experiencing issues.

Breath holding can be a long term habit or it can arise as a result of a particularly stressful experience or a change in breathing resulting from an upper respiratory infection. (I write this as someone who was a breath holder as a result of a very stressful time in my life – I was literally holding my breath waiting for the next bad thing to happen, but I resolved it with time, awareness and practice.) How it came to be is almost beside the point, if it is happening we need some strategies to resolve it.

Physiologically, when we hold the breath back, there is a change in the way to vocal cords function, such that they are restricting the airflow. In the people I have worked with I have found there is also a change in the function of the musculature of the upper body that restricts motion of the parts that need to be moving (muscles of respiration, abdominal musculature, joints, tissue of the lungs etc.) – often their ribcage is lacking motion in at least 1 plane. I was also someone who carried a fair amount of constant engagement in my abdominals and needed to find ways to release those so I could turn on my reflexive core.

How do you identify breath holding in a singer? For one, you can watch the ribcage and abdomen while they breathe – always ask yourself is there movement and what is the quality of it? Do this for both the inhale and the exhale. I like to assess breath while the person is just breathing, while they are speaking and while they are singing. What you may hear (you probably won’t hear all of this in one voice, but you might hear a combination of these things) is an audible intake of air, a glottal at the beginning of a word, a quality of pushing to the voice, a phrase ending with lots of vocal fry and sometimes that little puff of air coming out after they’ve finished the phrase. The person might report that their throat is sore, it feels tight and the voice just feels plain effortful. I was that person with the extra effort going on, especially at a tessitura that put me near the passaggio, D5-G5.

The solution comes from a whole body approach that uncovers stress response patterns and creates an exhalation that is free. Using awareness practices we can ask students to begin to notice their breath in stressful situations. We can all relate to watching something like a down-to-the-wire sporting event moment where we hold our breath in response, or watching a movie where a character is about to meet his untimely end and we know it is coming but he doesn’t. What do we do in those situations? We hold our breath. If they are breath holding in response to stress, simply raising their awareness and remembering to keep breathing is a huge step in the right direction.

We can begin with breathing practices of yoga to give us some information about our breathing patterns. These practices are particularly valuable when taking time to explore and assess your habits. Breath Ratio is a great place to start. Then move into extending the inhale and exhale to both be long and smooth – always staying in your pure range – where there is no pain, strain or compensation. When the body fights the extension of either, that’s your edge and you want to work within that range rather than trying to push past it.

However, I haven’t encountered too many pieces of music where you can get 2 or 3 solid measures of rests in between each phrase AND we need to be able to phonate while we exhale, not just exhale. So we have to be able to incorporate breathing and singing.

Using a 10 minute practice that combines breath and physical motion, targeting the muscles of the torso can do wonders in liberating the breath prior to singing. Then, moving into singing phrases out of context to implement the new breathing patterns and slowly decreasing the length of time you are taking to inhale between phrases until the body can do so in a liberated way has been a solid approach for the voices I’ve dealt with.

If you are interested in exploring your breath more, set up a free 30 minute consult and let’s talk about how to get your breath flowing more freely!