Welcome to my second monthly blog.
As a follow up to my first (ever) blog, I thought that a few words on our posture, our alignment, would be appropriate.
Unconsciously we learn to compromise our natural body alignment from a very early age, whether from work related issues, relaxing in soft armchairs, tiredness, or even low self-esteem. Over time, the knock-on effects are neck/shoulder pain and backache. An unbalanced gait can also result in knee and hip joint pain. The changes in physical behaviour come about in infinitesimally small degrees, and can become so normal that they are just “how we are”. Without us realising, they may be storing up problems for later in life.
Especially after a long illness, a serious operation or a bone fracture, we can feel particularly vulnerable or reluctant to face the everyday world once more. Our posture can become introverted and stooped - it takes a brave person to hold their head up high after being out of circulation. What I would say if you find you’re in this situation, is to give yourself time to adjust, but set yourself a feasible daily challenge, however small. Think positively, don’t brood on what might have been. If you’ve been given physiotherapy exercises, make sure that you do them as instructed - your steadfast commitment will be amply rewarded.
In everyday life we can also make small changes. Take a moment away from the hustle and bustle to sit or stand with the back of your head lengthening upwards, feet flat on the floor with your heels feeling as though they’re below the ground, your tailbone going down to the floor. Breathe into your lower tummy and your lower back (see Blog 1), keeping that feeling of length. Gravity, pulling us down, isn’t the only force (there are forces keeping us erect otherwise we wouldn’t walk on two legs……) but sometimes we have to consciously alert ourselves to the muscles that support this posture.
Even slight alignment inconsistencies will affect the natural production of our voices so we owe it to ourselves to establish and retain a good natural posture. Have a go with some warm-up ideas below:-
Feel what it’s like to let the back flop with no thought to keeping (the back of) the neck long....this squashes the air passageways and compromises the optimal position for natural singing. Most likely the back of your neck will be shortened and your chin will stick out. Then pull yourself out of this slumped pose to revert to the alignment you found in the paragraph above. I work by focusing on lengthening the backbone, feeling the two-way stretch from the tailbone to the nape of the neck.
Bend your knees slightly, keeping your knees in line with your feet (ie not knocking together). Try to keep your head and torso as they were, vertical, with just a slight natural curve of the spine. Sing a long note in this position, firstly taking time to allow the breath to drop into the body (see Blog 1). Be aware that the movement is taking place in the lower torso and not in the neck region. Resume your normal position by straightening the legs but take care not to lock the knees shut. It’s very easy to let the chin lead the way but if you focus on the torso itself you should be able to achieve “neutral” without any extraneous movement.
Punctuate your practice sessions with 1) and 2) above. You will become so much more aware of any unnecessary effort you are making.
If you feel inclined to delve into the whole alignment business in depth, I would recommend any of the following:
Alexander Technique - guides you to execute everyday movements in the most efficient way.
Pilates - particularly helps to strengthen the core resulting in much better support for the back.
Yoga - an ancient form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing
The above are observations resulting from life and teaching. They are not to be to be interpreted as judgements on any individual or profession.