I love to sing! Only when no one can hear me, which often involves a solo party with my iPod or belting out tunes to a song on the car radio (yes I am that person at the red-light). When asked what type of music I like, my answer is whatever I can sing along with.
I wasn’t born a good singer and I am okay with that, however I started taking singing lessons with the goal of having confidence to get up on stage at a karaoke night. I won’t be quitting my day job anytime soon because I am mediocre at best (though my singing teacher is much more complimentary).
As a physiotherapist with an area of focus on the pelvic floor, I pride myself in my body awareness. I can contract individual muscles on cue and relax them just the same. I can flawlessly demonstrate an exercise and I have perfect sitting posture. What has been fascinating through my singing lessons and what inspired me to write this post is how much more I am learning about my body and connecting with areas where I hold tension.
Over time I have learned that I hold my pelvic floor tightly in standing and consciously have to relax the muscles to allow a diaphragmatic breath before the notes come from my mouth. I have learned how to take fuller and longer breaths and command noise from my diaphragm. I have also learned that I am not tone-deaf and can actually hit some pretty high notes (I can hit them, but the sound is not nearly as pretty as what I hear on the radio). I leave every lesson feeling open, relaxed and slightly more connected with my body.
An effective diaphragmatic breathing technique is essential to singing. Sadly I find that many people do not know how to breathe effectively. In our modern era, we have become a sedentary population who spend a third of each day sitting at desks. Desk-jobs and compression of the abdomen through poor posture is non-optimal for an effective breath. Further, and this applies especially to women, we suck our stomachs in or wear compressive garments to give the appearance of a flatter stomach, think of how difficult breathing becomes to inhale fully when we have compression across our bellies.
The Diaphragm and Pelvic Floor Role in Singing
As we inhale (long, slow and smooth breaths) our diaphragm contracts and descends to allow air to fill the lungs. This increases the pressure through the abdomen and that pressure has to go somewhere, hence a belly breath. Ideally, the pelvic floor will relax slightly to allow for this pressure as well. The long and full breath is what is needed to create beautiful sound out of the vocal chords and to hold notes without running out of air.
Initially I teach my clients breath work in a supine position (lying on the back). We focus on long, slow and smooth breaths. The focus is to imagine breathing into the pelvic floor.
For our muscles to be functional, they must be able to contract AND relax. Muscles that hold too much tension are not functional muscles. This can lead to pelvic pain, painful intercourse, hip dysfunction and stress urinary incontinence. If we learn to breathe more consciously, not only will pelvic pain decrease but overall stress levels will decrease as well.
I think I am going to start incorporating singing as a treatment technique into my physiotherapy practice.
A little side note: On my first lesson, my teacher asked me to think of a word that ends in ”ah” (based on Italianate vowels), without blinking I responded with “vagina”, I really am meant to be a pelvic floor physiotherapist.