How many times has someone advised you to stand up/sit up straight, so that you sound better?
Or received some comment about your posture?
This article is not about body language, or how to stand when you are speaking per se.
I will be discussing how our posture affects us all overall and how our daily habits interfere with our voice! Strange isn’t it. You will be thinking, how does my habit affect my speaking?
Habit by definition, as quoted by F.M Alexander, “A habit is composed of a sequence of acts that follow upon some cue. It is a chain of neural events, with response in all our tissues.”
The way you hold your body, the way you hold your shoulders, your knees, and the way you hold your jaw…all of them impact how you are able to vocally express yourself. My favourite example is the way all of us use our phones or IT gadget. In today’s society, we are plugged in more often than not and get caught up with that task. Have you ever wondered what that posture does for your voice?
Often, we get so engrossed in reading/replying sot our head falls right forwards and we don’t even realize how much strain we are putting on our neck and shoulders! When the head is pushed forwards for constant periods of time, either when sitting or standing, the larynx (voice box area) is not free to move as it can, and the voice cannot function smoothly.
When we stand or sit without stiffening our muscles, we are well balanced and coordinated, and send out a clear strong signal. Below are some habitual patterns people have when standing. Which one are you?
Over-arching back: Most of us have been advised to sit up straight/stand up straight or to stand properly. As a response, we subconsciously lift our sternum/chest, and throw our shoulders back and tilt pelvis forwards. This ‘straightness’ will be followed by overly tense muscles of the torso
Stiffening of neck and throat: One of the biggest tendencies for singers and speakers is to stiffen the neck and throat muscles. Have you ever seen someone’s neck with their muscles bulging out when they speak? The breathing airway is affected when we constrict muscles in hour head/neck region.
TMJ problems: TMJ joint simply refers to the joint where your jaw is fixed. There is a close relationship between stiff necks and tense TMJ joints. Do you speak with minimal jaw movement, and hardly open your mouth? Do you have pain at your TMJ joints? Pay attention to your jaw
Knee-lockers: Sometimes when you try to stand up straight, and ground yourself, you inadvertently lock your knees. Now, why is that a problem? Locked knees mean excess tension in hip joints, which interferes with range of arm movements, which tightens neck and throat muscles and makes your voice work harder than it needs to!
Stiffening of the rib cage: This happens when the ribs are held very still, with no lateral expansion. In this position, the person holds the rib cage up and out after practising deep inhalation. The diaphragm moves, however the ribs do not move laterally ( sideways)
Overworking the facial muscles: Singers, actors and public speakers often consciously or subconsciously over work the facial muscles, when they try to articulate the specific vowel or consonant sounds. Overdoing articulation means you are holding some part of your face too effortfully. Be it your: lips, tongue, eyebrows etc
A great way to start noticing your posture, and where you hold excessive tension, is to lie down comfortably, in a safe space with your knees up. Choose any sound, and make that sound. Notice which part of your body stiffens/tenses or simply works too hard when you make that sound. You can even practice with a few simple sentences or if you are really stuck, sing “ Happy Birthday” when you are lying down.
“Unless stated otherwise, this article represents only the views of the author and not the views of the AVA”
Thila Raja is a Speech Pathologist, who specializes in voice training. She helps people recognize their vocal skills and express themselves clearly. Thila loves helping professionals communicate to their best. Find more from Thila here: www.speakforlife.com.au