Note from TVF Founder Peter Jacobson: One of the great delights of teaching is to watch your students blossom and grow, and to learn from them. I hope you enjoy as much as I did, this wonderful article about the body’s design by one of our TVF Pro students, Nitya Thomas. She wrote this as a final summation of her learning from the first module of the program. It serves as a wonderful companion to a previous TVF blog post, “9 Things Singers Needs to Know About Their Bodies.”
One of the main principles we study in TVF is that your beliefs about your body determine your movement much more than the actual fact of your design (i.e. people move in the way that they believe they are designed, rather than how they are actually designed). Hence, in order to use our bodies in the most efficient way, we need to update our beliefs about our bodies to match the actual design of the body. This enables us to then use our bodies in a way that cooperates most fully with its design.
Below are 9 facts about the design of our bodies that I wish I had known about earlier and that I think every singer (and perhaps everyone) should know about!
1. The human head (skull) weighs roughly 5 kilos or 11 lbs. and is supported directly by the spine.
Hence the importance of the head-spine relationship or coordination (as highlighted in the Alexander Technique). If the weight of the head is not managed efficiently, it can lead to tension in the neck and other areas, and therefore in a less-than-optimal use of the body. The center of gravity of the skull is forward of the point where it sits on the spine, which means that the head is forward-weighted and constantly rebalancing on the spine. The Alexander Technique helps one to find the easiest balancing of the head on the spine by encouraging the head to move forward and up, away from the “nodding joint”, easing the pressure exerted on the rest of the body and allowing it to function more optimally.
2.The larynx, which houses our vocal cords, is part of a suspensory mechanism (suspended from the hyoid bone).
The hyoid bone is the only bone in the human body which is not connected to another bone directly, and in this sense is a freely floating bone. It is however, supported by muscles both from above and below it. The larynx (or “voice box”) is suspended from the hyoid bone, and thus is part of this intricate suspensory system. The muscles of this system work to move the larynx freely up and down within a certain range, enabling freedom and flexibility in vocal production. Poor coordination in the head-spine relationship can lead to shortening of the neck and tension in the neck muscles, which then interferes with this suspensory mechanism, and thus, in the freedom of movement of the larynx.
3. Freeing the sub-occipital muscles can help release tension in the neck area.
The sub-occipital muscles are a group of four paired intrinsic muscles between the head and the spine. These are very sensitive muscles that lie in the innermost part of your neck and are responsible for the constant re-balancing of the head on the spine. Eliminating tension and optimizing the use of these muscles can be key to freeing the neck area and allowing the larynx to operate freely.
4. Collapsing the shoulders and arms can have a depressing impact on the freedom of the ribcage and the larynx.
Our arms are designed to be suspended above the top of our ribcages – if the arms collapse downwards, this can have an impact on the freedom of the ribs and therefore, on breathing. In addition, the hyoid bone (from which the larynx is suspended) is connected to the arms at the scapula (shoulder blade) by the omohyoid muscle and to the sternum by the sternohyoid muscle. Therefore, collapsing the arms and the sternum can pull down the hyoid bone and create a depressing impact on the larynx.
5. The front of our body hangs from the back of the head and neck by the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle.
This muscle joins the bottom of our skull and back of our neck to our sternum and therefore, when you collapse your chest, this muscle pulls the head forward and down, onto the spine. This puts downward pressure on the entire suspensory mechanism of the larynx and could prevent it from operating freely.
6. A tightened psoas muscle can restrict breathing and cause back problems.
The psoas muscle attaches the pelvis and the upper leg to the lower (lumbar area) of the spine and is used to flex the body at the hip joint. The psoas muscle also interlaces with the diaphragm. A tightened psoas muscle could lead to over-arching in the lumbar spine and restricted breathing.
7. The design of our body is such that the front of the pelvis should be slightly behind the front of the ribs.
The pelvis is designed in a way that it allows for the distribution of upper body weight onto the two legs. Misalignment of the ribs and the pelvis (i.e., a sway back or excess tucking of the pelvis) could mean that the body weight is not transferred fully onto the legs and instead is carried by other areas like the lower back (for e.g. tucking of the pelvis straightens out curve in the lumbar area of the spine – this natural curve is essential to the weight-bearing activity of the spine). Resulting restriction of movement in the lower back could also lead to shallow, restricted breathing.
8. Locking or hyperextension at the knee joint results in hyperextension at the hip joint.
The hip and the knee joint have a symbiotic relationship. Touching your toes (which involves flexion at the hip joint) is made easier by bending at the knee joint (flexion at the knee joint). In the same way, hyperextension at the knee joint (locking of the knees) can result in over extension at the hip-joint and put pressure on the lower back and lead to shallow, restricted breathing.
9. The body is designed to bend at the hip joint; not at the waist.
The legs connect to the axial skeleton at the hip joint. The hip joint (where the top of the leg connects to the pelvis) is much lower than most people imagine, and is where the body is designed to bend. If you believe that the body is meant to bend over at the waist, you will likely bend over in an inefficient way. In addition, the knee joint is located just below the knee cap, again lower than lower than most people imagine.
Nitya Thomas is a professional singer, song-writer and voice teacher living and singing in New York City. She has been educated on three different continents, is passionate about spirituality, sacred music and teaching, and frequently returns to her native India to sing, teach and get a dose of family and favorite foods. She is also a part of the TVF Team, helping to take care of all things financial.