Over the past few Fridays, we have explored, in brief, the structure of the vocal instrument. Now we come to the reason.
The human body is a beautifully balanced (and unlikely) system. The heaviest single part of our bodies is on top, the skull and brain. The rest of the system is an exercise in equilibrium, muscle strength, and connective flexibility. In short, the human body is designed for movement.
For our purposes, we are training for vocal athleticism and so our first and best ally is alignment.
Alignment: an arrangement of groups or forces in relation to one another.
As voice users, thinking about alignment and finding our optimal alignment allows the body’s function to efficiently to support the vocal movement. Alignment in our body is not unlike wheel alignment in a vehicle; With poor alignment, you can still drive but it wastes gasoline and requires additional effort.
So here is a great alignment exercise that you can practice to get yourselves started. Please allow at least 10 minutes for this stretch. I recommend reading the instructions all the way through before attempting the stretch.
- Mindful Forward Bend
- Place your bare feet shoulder width apart. Lift your toes to check in on your balance. Set them down thinking of stretching them wide. If you cannot lift your toes at all, you should adjust your stance for balance.
- Bend your knees slightly.
- Bend over from the hips with the goal of getting your abdomen against your thighs. Bend your knees as needed to help this movement.
- Let your head feel heavy and hang downwards. If you can’t really tell if your head is hanging passively, nod yes and no. The very top of your head should be facing the ground.
- Your arms should hand downwards towards the ground. If your hands reach the ground just let them remain flaccid. We are not reaching for anything, just hanging.
- Your knees remain bent.
- Move your center of gravity forward so your whole bent body shifts the head should descend further towards the ground as your back releases.
- Relax the muscles between your shoulder blades. This should cause an additional release downward, which may be very slight, depending on your flexibility and back extension. The knees are still bent.
- Very, very slowly in tiny degrees start to straighten the knees. If you happen to encounter a tremor, or shaking, in your legs as you straighten stop and observe the motion while you continue to breathe. Explore slowly bending and slightly extending the legs. We are not looking for straight legs in this exercise.
- Check in with your neck and head to make sure the head is still just hanging passively.
- Stay in this bend checking into with what ever sensations arise and trying to release the weight of the head into the ground while you extend through the back and explore any tremor which manifests in the leg.
- When you are ready to come out of the stretch roll up very slowly. First, straighten the legs. Then roll up the spine from the hip, to lower back, to mid-back, to engaging the shoulder blades and rolling them down. The neck and head come up absolutely last.
- Remain in this standing position breathing in any way that feels natural. Note the feeling in your feet and legs in relation to your body. Note the width of your torso and the length of your neck. Lift your toes and check in on your balance. Note how your body feels now in comparison to how it did before the bend. This transition period is extremely important, do not rush here.
This is one of my favorite alignment stretches incorporating elements of Alexander Technique and Fitzmaurice Voicework. I am including links to both websites as I think they are both worth further exploration. In the studio, we typically move from this bend to movement so feel free to follow this up with a mindful walk around the neighborhood. Bodies are meant for motion whenever possible.
Alexander Technique: A practice in mindful and efficient body use as it applies to movement. Originally conceived by an actor but now used by people in all walks of life.
Fitzmaurice Voicework: A comprehensive and holistic approach to voice work.
I do want to reiterate that like many posts here, this one assumes a lack of injury and/or difference impacting the “ideal” function in the body. Clearly, differently-abled bodies have to find adaptations as appropriate towards their ideal voice-body connection. It is not only possible to find these adaptations, there are wonderful examples of great speakers and singers out in the world doing just that. So as with all things voice-related, courage and kindness in equal measure.