Physiology Is In Your Corner!
At some point early in the relationship between a voice teacher or coach and their student/client, the subject of healthy and efficient breathing is addressed. Every voice pro has a basket of resources to help people take that “singer breath” that relies on the primary respiratory muscles of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles.
But some people find it easier than others. And sometimes, if the singer is having a hard time applying the skills the teacher is trying to impart, it can be really frustrating for both parties. Frustrating for the teacher, because they know that breath efficiency is a big part of laryngeal efficiency. Frustrating for the client, because this just should not be so hard!
Typically, the person who has a more challenging time getting this is a certain body type. An ectomorph. Or, a lanky or “long waisted” type.
Keep reading, or watch the video of the broadcast!
There are three basic body types: The ectomorph, the endomorph, and the mesomorph. Everyone’s body is a combination of either two or all three of these body types, but many of us tend more toward one or another.
(This is in the free download which you can get at the bottom of this page.)
The ectomorphs are the long ‘n’ lean people. They’re often tall, but not necessarily. The posture that feels natural to these people, when it comes to body alignment, is to have the center of the sternum dropped a little, the shoulders rolled slightly forward, and the head positioned at a slight angle on top of the spine. Because of how they’re built, this just feels right to them.
This can be made more extreme if they’re tall - because they tend to drop their face to be closer to yours - or if they work from a sitting position a lot - like at a desk. In general, and because of their habits of alignment, these people usually have weak rhomboid muscles. Additionally, they are accustomed to excessive stress on their cervical spine.
Your head weighs about 10-12 pounds, and keeping it upright requires an appropriate degree of muscle strength when it’s sitting nice and squarely at the top of your spine. If you reach forward or down at a 15 degree angle, you increase that stress as though your head weights 25-27 pounds. Add another 15 degrees and your cervical spine is working as though your head weighs 45 pounds.
If you say “stand up straight” to these folks - which people have been telling them most of their lives - they’ll throw their shoulders back and push their chest out. Unnatural and uncomfortable. We don’t want that.
We want Diva Posture,
and here’s the 3 Step fix for helping them with that.
This will work for almost every Lanky, but here's a caveat:
If a person has body issues or health issues that make this difficult, emotionally stressful, or painful in any way, don't do it!
Step 1: Tell them it's normal
Tell them they’re not alone. Stress to them that it’s not personal, it’s simply the body type they have. If you say this to them there’s a 99% chance you will be the first person ever to reassure them in this way.
Step 2: Explain why breathing matters
Once you’ve established that you’re not picking on them, show them your version of why breathing matters. It can be short and sweet, because you'll be revisiting the subject, but at the outset you may want to take a minute to tell them WHY you’re going to show them a different way of experiencing their body.
Most people do not know that the body is made up of systems, that the larynx is part of the respiratory system, and that the sound of their voice emanates from the larynx.
Step 3: Coach them into feeling a healthy cervical spine
What follows is a step-by-step for what I call the “Magnet Lift”. You don’t have to memorize this. It’s in the free download on this page.
First, move them away from a mirror. (It’s better if they can’t see themselves.) Help them identify a center point on their sternum (or breastbone). Ask them to imagine that they have a coin-sized magnet at that center point, and that it is being pulled straight up, toward the ceiling. It’s small, so it only pulls them up a half and inch, or a couple of centimeters. Just a little bit.
If it is difficult for the person to experience that very localized idea - the coin-sized spot on the sternum - then have them place and hold their finger on that spot.
Let them practice lifting that 2 cm, then relaxing back into the alignment they’re used to. Do this several times. It's very important to affirm their feelings aloud. Acknowledge that they will probably feel:
Strange. This will feel strange to them. They may not feel confident about how far is far enough.
Awkward. They may feel they’re standing too straight. Like a wooden soldier. They’re probably not, but even if they are, that’s ok for now.
Self-conscious. They may feel that they look strange. (Especially if they’re young.)
Tight. They will almost certainly feel tension and/or fatigue in the rhomboid muscles, between the shoulder blades.
Once they have the hang of this, move back to the mirror. Have them stand in the new posture and notice that the new posture does not look the way it feels. Say it out loud. Share the energy of discovery with them.
Inside their skin, this little tiny lift feels strange and exaggerated. They’re sure that their looks are also strange and exaggerated. Take a minute with the mirror. Have them see how much their internal sense of their alignment does not match their appearance.
After they get the hang of this, ask them to breathe into their ribs - side ribs, back ribs...find what works - instead of asking them to stick their tummy out. This will give them the “low in the body” breath, but will feel more satisfying to them. In the mirror, show them this way of inhaling. They’ll see that they’re not lifting their rib cage up and down. They’re taking that Singer Breath that feels like it’s low in the body because it's using primary respiratory muscles.
Step 4: Create a program for them to get the hang of it
New things take some getting used to, and body alignment is so natural to us that changing it takes a lot of intention and effort.
You can come up with your own program, of course, but I'll share mine with you:
Once the singer has the feel for the new alignment, ask if they'd be willing to try to get accustomed to it.
Ask them to identify something they do 5 times (or more) a day. E.g., walk into their kitchen, leave the bathroom, walk across their office, get out of the car, etc.
Tell them to make that activity their new touchstone. "When ever you go into the kitchen, put your new alignment on. Hold it as long as you can remember it."
Over time it will feel less awkward and easier for them. They may find they really enjoy the new, more confident-feeling posture and use it most of the time. But at least they'll know how to stand when they want to take an efficient inhalation.