Believe it or not but singing in fact has everything to do with going to the toilet. Everything.
Let me give you a little background: For years I took lessons from varying vocal trainers. All of them elicited their own epic story regarding how I should breathe. The essence of each story was clear: don’t use a shallow, chest muscle controlled breath for singing. Rather, use a deeper belly breath.
But what the hell does all that mean?
Now I’ve looked at anatomical books, and studied the human breathing system. And I can sure as shit tell you that your lungs don’t extend into your stomach region. Nor, from my understanding, can we utilize our guts to breathe. No, that necessary feature is definitely limited to the lungs. So what, you may ask, does my belly have anything to do with the whole show?
As singers, we’ve likely heard the word “diaphragm” used in passing conversation. “Breathe with your diaphragm”, our teachers have diligently told us: as if we had any other option! The diaphragm, an upside down bowl-like structure connected to the inside of your lower rib cage, is as essential for passive breathing as it is for an active one¹.
What all of my teachers failed to explain to me however, is exactly how the diaphragm works. Yes, yes, I know: I breathe in, it goes down, almost flattening itself between my lower ribs. I breathe out, it returns to its upside bowl position. That part, at least, was clear. But why is this important for singing? And what, more importantly, does it have to do with the pee-pee point?
Because in singing we need to use a greater lung volume. And we do this by increasing the amount of space available for the lungs to suck air into. To do this, we need to make more space for the diaphragm to lower itself into. And here, drum roll please, is where the pee-pee point makes her special debut.
What exactly is the Pee-Pee Point?
Have you drunk enough water in the last hour? If so, super! If not, you might want to chug back a few glasses now. Because, right now, I want you to get up, take your computer, tablet, phone or whatever other devise you are using to read this, and go and sit on the toilet.
Once you are in the bathroom and ready to go to the toilet, please pee a lovely stream of urine into that porcelain queen. Whilst peeing, I want you to feel exactly which muscle group you are using to let the urine out. Feel this from within. Feel it from where the impulse to pee happens. It is as though there is a point in your lower abdomen (about two inches below your navel) that presses inwards, against your bladder, gently pressing the urine out. This point, as I have lovingly named her, is your pee-pee point. From now on it is your job to make her (or his) acquaintance. Get to know it. Be its friend. Because, from now until the end of your singing journey, this little point is going to be your number one ally.
And what makes the Pee-Pee Point so special?
This spot is the key for increasing your lung capacity and also for anchoring your breath.
Anatomically, what you are tuning into is the lower portion of your Rectus Abdominus, the lateral muscle that connects the lower ribcage to the pelvis at the pubic bone². And it is this puppy that helps make more space available for our diaphragm to descend lower into.
It works like this:
- At the beginning of the inhalation this point actively pushes outwards, away from the spine and against the belly skin wall.
- It leads and the rest of the Rectus Abdominus follows, also pushing out against the belly wall.
- This action creates a space that the gut organs can move into.
- With your gut organs out of the way, the diaphragm has more room to drop deeper down into.
- It pulls the lungs further down with it and allows for more air to be taken into the lungs: More air that you can work with whilst singing.
Ok. I got it! So, how can I train this buster?
Everything is great in theory. But for change to happen we need to know how this works in practice. The following is a simple exercise that I share with all of my students and run in most of my workshops. It will help you to develop your new relationship to your pee-pee point:
- This exercise is done lying down. So, find a comfortable space (a bed or carpeted floor would suffice) and lie on your back.
- Become aware of your breathing. Take time with this. Notice in this posture that your body naturally engages in a lower, belly extended breath. Your shoulders are normally not involved. Rather they are comfortably still at your sides.
- Extend and lengthen your breath. Taking longer breaths in and giving longer breaths out.
- Put one hand on your pee-pee point and the other on your belly. We will work first with your inhalation: Imagine that you are breathing into, and extending that in-breath through, your pee-pee point. As you breathe in your pee-pee point actively pushes up against your skin. And it drops back down in towards your spine on your exhalation. Do this slowly and with intention for 10 solid breath cycles. Throughout this, focus on the active movement of your pee-pee point against your skin on your inhalation.
- Now we will focus on your exhalation: On your next exhalation, make a “sss” sound like a hissing snake. (Note, this is an angry hissing snake, so please give me a “sss” with a bit of power). Breathe in for three seconds, and then out using “sss” until you have finished exhaling. Be very aware of your pee-pee point here. The muscular initiation for the “sss” starts exactly at this point and you need to feel this. Take time. Do this exercise slowly and with intention for 10 solid breath cycles.
If you get tired during these two exercises and are unable to finish 10 breathing cycles for each, then take a break. Or start at a 5 breathing cycles and build up over time (days or weeks) to 10. In the end this is an exercise for you to get to know your body better. It is an exercise in beginning to understand how much singing is a bodily activity. It is not something mysterious or outside of you. It is within you. You are your voice and your voice is you.
To build a house, you have to start with a strong foundation. And for the voice, that foundation is our breath. In the first building stages it all comes back to this: learn to work with and love your pee-pee point. I do!
¹ The Voice Book – DeVore & Cookman 2009
² Yoga Anatomy – Kaminof & Matthews 2012