The Core-Voice Connection

It seems without fail that singers have excess tension in the shoulders, neck and throat/jaw. Undoubtedly, some of this tension is due to where we typically carry stress in the body. Show me a stressed out person and I’ll show you shoulders hunched up by the ears. However, this tension can get ratcheted up when we go to sing if the functional core, as I call it, isn’t strong enough to do its job well.

When I ask singers if they ever work on their core, they often answer, oh, sure, I do crunches. Ouch. Crunches tend to target the outer abdominal muscle, the rectus abdominus…you know the one that creates the mythical six-pack abs that we somehow think are the gateway to the perfect life. However, the rectus abdominus ain’t doin’ nothin’ for your voice. Or, not really.

* Try this

Lie on the floor and tense the front of your belly and press it out slightly. Can you feel the corresponding motion in your throat? Even in a sitting position, you can tighten your belly and feel a corresponding tightening in your throat. Evolutionarily, the throat and belly go together because a secondary function of the throat is as a valve to close and give us leverage in lifting things. But, unless you are lifting something heavy while you are singing, why would you want the throat to tense? We can massage and stretch the muscles in the upper body, but for them to get a full release, they can’t be active in singing, which means your core needs to be strong (er) and you need to retrain your body how to sing without using those muscles.

*

When I teach my Yoga for a Strong Core class, I talk about the ‘functional, reflexive core’. The FRC has an inner layer that includes the pelvic floor, the transverse abdominus as well as the diaphragm, the psoas, and the multifidus. The outer layer is everything else. In other words, ALL the muscles in the front of the mid-lower torso and ALL the muscles in the mid-lower back of your torso along with a few extra.

If your functional, reflexive core is not strong and balanced, the muscles in the shoulders, neck, throat and jaw get recruited in to try and help you produce your voice. What they are actually doing is getting in the way of your optimal sound.

Here are some poses will help you started with strengthening your functional core:

* If you are a new mom, be sure you are cleared for exercise before beginning these.

 Constructive Rest

1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.

2. Place one hand on your lower ribcage and one on your low belly – below the belly button but above the pubic bone.

3. Notice on inhale how the belly rises secondarily to the ribcage expansion.

4. When your exhale is full and long, you might feel the deep belly engage – this is your Transverse Abdominus (TA) muscle. If you don’t feel it, try again with pursed lips or on a hiss.

 

Constructive Rest with a Ball

1. Lie in constructive rest and place a ball or block between your knees.

2. As you exhale, squeeze the block block, notice the engagement of the deep core and maybe even feel a lift the pelvic floor (keep your hips neutral – the back should not flatten toward the ground).

3. Inhale release the squeeze (but don’t let the ball fall)

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, 10 times.

 

Constructive Rest with a Ball and Hip Lift

1. Lie in constructive rest with ball or block between knees.

2. As you exhale, squeeze ball gently and lift your hips up off the ground.

3. Inhale and bring the hips back down.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, 10 times.

 

Flowing Chair Pose

1. Stand with your feet hip width distance apart.

2. Inhale arms up above head and as you exhale bend your knees and stick your butt out behind you like you are going to sit in a chair. Be sure to keep the shins vertical – knees lined up over ankles. Bring the arms parallel to the floor in front of you.

3. Exhale and push through your heels, engage your TA muscle to stand back up. Inhale and return to step 2.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3, 10 times.

 

Some advanced poses for building your functional core include:

* If you have a diastisis – a common result of pregnancy or just excess intra-abdominal pressure, stick with the above exercises until it has closed.

Boat Pose

Side Plank

Locust Pose (you look like superman)

Table Pose while raising Opposite arm and leg

Staff Pose with block

 

When your core strengthens you can really release the excess tension held in the shoulders, neck, jaw and head!

 

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Energetics of the Voice

Our bodies are energetic vessels. In yogic thought, the energy of the body flows through channels called “nadis”. The main channel we look at is called the sushumna. It runs from the base of the spine to the crown of the head and passes through each of seven chakra points, the energetic hubs in the body. Two other nadis, ida and pinagala spiral around the main channel. The ida nadi begins on the left side and is accessed through the left nostril. It is considered representative of the feminine and is associated with the moon.The pingala nadi begins on the right side and is accessed through the right nostril. It is considered representative of the masculine and is associated with the sun. We move energy in the body through these channels by the way we breathe, move and think.

Our voices are our primary vehicle for emotional expression. Singing is one of the most universal human impulses. Yoga also seeks to quiet the mind and open the heart to allow for an expression of our essential selves. A voice that is free can enhance that process.

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The throat chakra (5th chakra), serves as the bridge between our hearts (4th chakra) and heads (6th chakra). It is the center of communication, self expression and willpower. It also houses the possibility for change, transformation and healing.

Energetic imbalances in the throat chakra show up as…
Trouble expressing yourself
Blocks of creativity – your inspiration may be there, but you can’t express yourself
Trouble singing – ‘tone deafness’
Timidity – you are quiet when you should speak up
Fear of public speaking/singing – not wanting to look foolish, not being good enough
Tension in your jaw, tongue, shoulders, neck

When your throat chakra is in balance, you…
Listen well
Speak with confidence
Sing well
Express your creativity freely
Have good overall communication skills
Relaxed jaw, shoulders, neck
Negative experiences of the past are transformed into wisdom

Singing is one of the best ways to open this chakra to bring it into balance.

But, what if you are a singer who is struggling to express herself? This is where yoga can help.

A practice that involves vocalizing on vowel sounds while moving, focusing on heart opening postures to release negative energy of the past and chanting bija sounds to awaken the chakra centers can bring your voice back into balance.

When you find your voice on the mat, you carry it out into the rest of your life!

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