I have an amazing yoga friend. She is also incredibly blunt. One day we were speaking about alignment problems and she told me something her teacher once said to her. In basic, crude terms:
Get your jaw over your butt hole!
I stood shocked. Crazy, acrobatic images rushed through my head. Finally she clarified:
When you are standing, you should align your spine in such a way that your jaw, or actually your tongue, is positioned in a direct vertical alignment over your sacrum (to use the technical term).
Take a moment to think about this. How often to you catch yourself literally rushing through your day with your head protruding forwards at the neck from your body? When I catch myself in this manner, as I often do, my first response is to laugh. I look absolutely ridiculous! And my second response is to hurriedly correct my posture by realigning my jaw back over my sacrum.
In these moments I realize I’m so busy in my head. I’m so busy with all of the “to do’s” that I’m literally running through my day head-first. The head juts forward at the neck. The jaw, clearly attached to our head, then finds itself in a very forward position, way out over the toes. In this unnatural state I feel like I’m a brain on legs, with the rest of my body lost somewhere in transition between my brain, and the hurry of my frantic legs trying to keep up with it.
The interesting thing I observed when I run through my day head first, is that I feel rushed. I feel stressed. I often experience breathlessness and feelings of anxiety. However, when I correct my posture, when I walk with my jaw aligned over my sacrum, I feel calmer. I feel like I am able to “sit back” within my body, and relax more throughout my day. I really recommend that you try this!
Why does alignment matter?
Lets think about this a little deeper. As a human being, good alignment is important for daily functioning. So what are the physical affects on your body from running around all day with your head jutted forward? Well, the average human head weighs around 5kg. I think we could all agree that that’s a heavy weight to have hanging off of your neck!
Some other anatomical consequences of “forward head” are:
- increased pressure to the disks in your neck and a decreased blood supply to your heart¹
- excessive stress on the upper back muscles
- rounded shoulders, which can lead to shoulder pain²
- excessive stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck which can lead to disk degeneration³
- restricted movement in the shoulders and neck muscles
Please take a moment to think about what this means for us as singers: The region of our instrument that should be completely relaxed and open, is under total stress. Our overstressed neck muscles (caused by our forward jutted head) lead to jaw tension. This restricts our vocal channel. And, “forward head” repositions the neck causing the entire vocal track to be misaligned. The base line: you will not be able to sing properly†.
Clearly this whole thing is a domino effect of muscular tension that damages your ability to sing and begins with the positioning of the head.
What you can do to fix this
The following is a very simple alignment exercise that can be done anywhere:
- Stand or sit in a comfortable position. Imagine that your spine has a line of string within it. This string begins at the bottom of your sacrum and extends all of the way upwards through the spine and out of the very top of your head. Imagine that someone is gently pulling up on this string from the top of your head; gently pulling up your spine up.
- Relax your shoulders. Allow them to roll back and slightly down your back.
- Focus on your sacrum. Be sure that your bottom is not pointing out behind you like a duck but rather tilting slightly under so that your anus is pointing south.
- Pull your head gently backwards until your jaw and tongue are in a direct vertical alignment with your anus.
- Feel the string pulling you upwards whilst maintaining this new alignment.
Throughout your day, during your singing warm up and whilst singing, continue to check and refresh this postural alignment. If it helps you, use my mantra: Get that jaw back over your butt hole! – I’m pretty sure you won’t forget it 😉
² Janice Novak, MS, Posture, Get It Straight! (Expert Publishing, 2006)
† The Voice Book – Devore & Cookman, 2009