Body Alignment for Singing: Stretching Routine

Submitted by admin on Sat, 01/04/2020 - 16:56
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Welcome! This is my first monthly blog which should set the tone for what my future blogs will be like. These monthly blogs are to establish the focus of the month throughout this year. The focus of each month is meant to function as a baby step toward vocal health and growth. It is easier to see growth when you set measurable goals for yourself. If you don’t have them, you can’t reach them. My blogs will come at the beginning of each month so I can announce what area of vocal wellness this community will be working on. For January, we are focusing on getting our bodies properly aligned for singing. Every day of the week will have a different theme that points toward achieving proper body alignment. There will be myth busters, tutorials, warm-ups, throwbacks, and fun facts to direct my community in our vocal growth. Keep up with me because I will be working toward it right along with you. My social media accounts will serve as platforms of accountability for us to work together and ask questions.

The following stretching routine is based on what I have learned through my experience as an active singer of 14 years. In my studies under various vocal instructors, I have found ways to help myself find a sense of grounding to better my experience in the act of singing. I will be honest, it took quite a while! It was not in my best interest as a young singer to bounce around and be left to inform myself. As a teen, I did not have consistent voice lessons or a teacher who gained familiarity with my voice and unhealthy singing habits. It wasn’t until college voice lessons that I truly gained a sense of my voice and tendencies. I learned through official classical training in college how to replace old habits with new ones. I had a few major epiphanies which are still a working progress. I desire a full and whole voice so I intend to put in the work and take others with me. Now I want to share some stretches and breathing exercises that helped me find the proper body alignment that I believe will work for the next person who tries them. If you struggle to find your breath (your physical anchor/support system) and stay connected to it while singing, the following strategy is for you.

To be properly aligned in your body to sing, you need to think of your posture openly. Since I am not a certified teacher in the Alexander Technique for body alignment for singing, I will use imagery and my experience as a singer using ideas from the said technique as well as concepts from yoga practices to describe how you can consciously relax your muscles so that your frame aligns for singing. The main idea to begin aiming for is a relaxed and elongated spine so each vertebra is in its proper position. The outcome you do not want is the vertebrae to be crowded, scrunched, or pinched together in clusters. This stretching routine will start at the head and work down to the feet.

To begin, start loosening the head and neck vertebrae by turning the head from side to side as if to shake the head, “no”. Turn the chin from the left shoulder to the right slowly and back several times. Progress this loosening sensation to the shoulder and neck muscles by drawing circles in front of the face with the chin or nose. Next, roll your shoulders backward a few times, then forward. Then shrug your shoulders high up to your ears and let them drop heavily back down. Do this slowly and with care. In yoga practices, the instructor would say something such as, “bring awareness” to all corners of that area, usually about our edges. I would imagine the corners of this area to be the extreme ends, the top, and the bottom of your neck. Bringing awareness to the corners of the neck is meant to help the individual mentally allow proper space between each vertebra of the neck.

As a mom with a baby, my shoulder and neck muscles often feel tight. This next step is one of my favorites. Reach your hands up above your head with the fingers interlocked together, palms facing upward.

You should feel the stretch through the wrists and underside of the forearms and top of your shoulders for the sensation of length. This should help begin the expanding process of the rib cage. Acknowledge this open sensation by inhaling and exhaling a few times. If the upper body muscles need more attention, you can drop the upper half of the body completely forward so the fingertips touch the ground in front of your toes. Let the upper body bounce and swing slightly, swaying back and forth loosely. Shake the head “no” once again with ease in this upside-down position. If the upper body muscles are no longer feeling tight, move forward with the swaying of the hips.

If your hips feel tight, proceed to allow the upper body to swing from side to side while folded in half, fingertips to the ground. Next, sway at the hips from side to side. After a few sways of the hips roll slowly up to standing position one vertebrae at a time. It is key to bring awareness to your breath while doing this so you don’t become dizzy by the time you stand. When I do this, I usually have a great exhale by the time I reach standing position. You should experience a sigh of relief when you have unfolded and reached a tall posture.

Once standing, continue to loosen the hips with drawing hip circles as if emulating the world-famous Elvis dance move! Start in one direction, then the other. When you are feeling loose in all the said joints and muscles, move back down with the hands to the ground for a yoga pose known as the downward-facing dog, tails up! Pedal out both of the feet similar to pedaling a bicycle. Then, place one foot between your hands and slide into a lunge. Once the first leg feels well-stretched, return to the downward-facing-dog position to switch feet.

You may be wondering at this point why as a singer you need to stretch your legs. The goal is we want the entire body to be at maximum breathing capacity. That means we need to rid our bodies of all tightness and tension to allow for lung expansion and muscle relaxation. If you have tension in any of your muscles, you have an obstruction to your instrument. Being a singer means that your body is your instrument and not just the voice box. Your voice is the sound your body makes when you sing and speak, so you must take care of your body. Stop giving yourself excuses not to.

As I write these descriptions of stretches, I am thinking of what would feel good in my body and what I would do if I had to sing in a few hours. At this very moment, I feel a great deal of tightness in my body from sleeping in a different bed other than my own for a week. It’s the holidays, so visiting family out of town with a baby has caused me a sense of discomfort in my body from the beginning of the day. Since I am responsible for my health and comfort, everything I have suggested is what works for me. As a yoga instructor would suggest, modify each step in a way that helps you find comfort and relaxation in your muscles.

Now that we have made it down to the legs in this stretching routine, the last thing to stretch is the feet. If you thought stretching your legs was extreme, you may find this step completely unnecessary. With that said, guess what part of your body bears all your weight? Your feet! To use imagery, if you were a tree then your feet would be your roots. If you were a boat, your feet would be your anchor stabilizing you in the wavy sea. Your feet need to be ready for the job of stabilizing the rest of your body in singing. In music with a wide pitch range, you must remain anchored rather than sending your body posture up and down and all around with your voice. Thus, to ready my feet, I draw circles with my toes to relax my ankles as I used to in competitive running and other various sports. Start in one direction followed by the other. Flex the toes and then point them. Take your time doing each of these steps, bringing awareness to the sensations in your feet muscles.

When you have stretched your entire body by following the steps described above, monitor your breath before beginning your vocal warm-ups. Having the body aligned is what you need to ensure your warm-up session is effective. Bear in mind your whole body is your instrument. Vocal health derives from bodily health. Take care of yourself!

I am confident that this stretching routine will help you, even if you break it up into the areas that most immediately help you when preparing to sing. You can search for online yoga routines to put into your daily practice when you feel like you need to give more special attention to your body alignment. Thank God for the internet and the geniuses who found out we could use it!

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