Dangers of Hyperflexibility

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The most important distinction anyone can ever make in their life is between who they are as an individual and their connection with others.”

― Anné Linden, Boundaries in Human Relationships: How to Be Separate and Connected

Each one of us is on a unique path and has our own challenges. One person’s strengths (in an area like yoga, singing, or otherwise) may be another’s weakness, and the other way around. In terms of our natural physical tendencies, which we get more in touch with through yoga practice, we tend to fall into one of two categories: those who lack flexibility but can easily build muscles, and those who struggle to build strength but are naturally flexible. I have, personally, always fallen in the second category, both physically and vocally (I’ll explain that later.) Even if you identify as being more in the first category physically, you might still be emotionally hyper-flexible (I’ll explain that later, too!) And even if you are strong physically and have good boundaries in your relationships, you still might learn something from the challenges and lessons I share in this article. Whatever category you currently find yourself in, yoga practice can help you listen to your body, bring in more awareness, and transform your habits.

I have always had joints that “crackle and pop” and tend to hyper-extend. This does not, however, mean I have always been flexible – spending my adolescence with little to no physical activity, stymied by stress and chronic asthma, I was pretty tight by the time I found yoga as a 18 year-old college student. I couldn’t touch my toes in my first yoga class, and had very poor posture. But once I started feeling the benefits of yoga, I was hooked; at least to attending classes (my regular home practice didn’t develop until later.) After a year or so of regularly attending yoga classes and releasing some superficial tension, it became apparent that my physical tendency was to hyper-extend in my knees, shoulders, and hips, which put me at risk for dislocation and other potential injuries.

Before we continue, a quick definition: Hyperextension, defined by Elizabeth Quinn, sports medical expert, is an excessive joint movement in which the angle formed by the bones of that joint is opened, or straightened, beyond its normal, healthy range of motion. For some pictures of hyperextended shoulders, and an interesting but dense article on shoulder issues in gymnastics, check out this article.

Fast forward to to when I did start to have a strong home practice in both yoga and singing, somewhere between five and ten years ago. Thanks to the expert guidance of my teachers and my own inner guidance, I started to develop healthier habits. Not only did I feel strength developing in the muscles around my joints and through the core of my body, I also became curious about what this process of strengthening could teach me in my singing practice and in my relationships. Then, when I went through my transition from mezzo-soprano to soprano, I came face to face with the consequences of my vocal flexibility. Just as the joints in my body were hyper flexible, my voice is hyper flexible, as well, and for years I was unconsciously bringing up my mix voice, thus “hyperextending” the passage (transition between registers) in my middle voice. It was becoming clear that my body and voice had some important lessons to teach me, some that I need to keep learning over and over again – to stay true to myself, to the core of my being; to fully engage with each present moment and with my own fears/challenges; and to be more focused internally than externally. This last one is the most pertinent to this article and the most challenging lesson for me to learn.

In order to fully embody this lesson in my daily life, I need to practice pratyahara, or “withdrawal of the senses” daily, through meditation. When I practice pratyahara, the fifth “limb” of yoga, I turn my senses inward to access my intuition and inner guidance. This is a necessary step in order to stay “aligned” and sing, move, or act from my core. I still have a ways to go with this one, but when I practice withdrawing my senses, staying aligned, and respecting my own boundaries in my yoga and singing practices, I become much more adept at respecting my boundaries in my daily life. It took guidance from several teachers and passionate dedication to my practices in order to find true alignment in my body and voice. It is so worth all that time and energy – my practices are now a source of much joy, peace and wisdom!

When you sing, you can practice an internal focus by paying more attention to the vibrations in your body than how you think you sound to others. Enlist the help of an experienced teacher to guide you closer to your own awareness of the registers in your voice, making sure they are aligned and that you are not “over-stretching” one register. In your yoga practice, rather than focusing on achieving the full expression of a pose, start by observing the breath and asking yourself what the next right step is towards your goal. Keep your spine tall and neutral, knees unlocked, shoulders centered, and chest open. In your relationships with others, take time to check in with yourself before agreeing to something that someone is asking of you, and openly (and respectfully) communicate your own needs and desires. Stick with these practices and you will feel the benefits of building both strength and flexibility in your practices, and in your daily life!

www.northwestvocalyoga.com

Sing from Your Core!

 

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Uttihita Chataranga Dandasana, Four-limbed staff pose or Plank pose, is one good way to stimulate the core.

After I gave birth to my daughter, I had a hard time coming back into singing in a stable way. Looking back on that time, I realize that my core muscles had been stretched so much during my pregnancy that I had a hard time accessing them afterwards. It felt as if they simply weren’t there anymore! This helped me realize just how important core muscles are to singing.

Often when people talk about “strengthening your core,” they mean simply the muscles of the abdominal wall, usually just the peripheral muscles. Special attention is given to the “six-pack” muscles, the rectus abdominus, since society seems to think that a toned belly is very attractive. However, when I use the word “core,” I am not referring to those muscles at all. The rectus abdominus is, in fact, the most superficial (closest to the surface) muscle in the abdominal wall, and can actually get in the way if it is overly engaged while singing. “Core” refers simply to those muscles that are deeper in our body, closest to the spine. The word can also be applied to our back body and all along the spine, even up to the neck.

When you sing, try releasing the outer muscles and feel an inner stability rising from your solid foundation: your feet pressing into the earth, and your pelvis aligned in a neutral position. Lengthen the tailbone without overly tucking, and perhaps feel a lifting of the frontal hipbones. Now activate the “pit of the abdomen” especially as you exhale, and be ready to release those muscles when needed. There is engagement yet fluidity, softness yet strength. If you’re having trouble striking this balance, there are many yoga poses you can try (like the one pictured above) that will help you access those deeper muscles. I always incorporate core strengthening, as well as stretching those muscles, into my group yoga classes. If you have specific questions and need more individual feedback, let’s schedule a private session!

Core strengthening and singing from your core takes time to develop, but eventually helps you release tension and strain in your singing, and find more ease. I eventually found my core again after giving birth – it just took a few months of regular, mindful practice. And I found that, by maintaining this regular practice and continuing to build core strength, I not only strengthened my body and deepened my breath thus further supporting my voice, but I established a deeper connection with the core of my being. This enables me to trust in my inner voice and compassionately redirect those parts of me that want to help, but are simply working too hard. When we sing from our core, our voices are all the more free!