Q&A – Correct Posture of the Chest/Sternum
First of all I would like to thank you for the effort and consideration you have given toward answering my questions.
It seems that correct breathing is a function of correct posture. More specifically, through careful studying of my own torso in front of body-length mirrors and experimentation, it seems that correct positioning of the chest, sternum, and correct innervation of the muscles (back, pelvis, abdominals) below it is necessary in order to sustain correct positioning. Under your Q/A section, your reference to “stay[ing] comfortably uplifted” seems to confirm this.
My theory is that the whole thoracic cavity must be raised (of course assuming that the initial posture was not optimal) in order to straighten the spine a bit, involving the back and front muscles. Unfortunately, I have difficulty doing this without either raising my shoulders, arching my back, or excessively flaring my ribs out.
I was wondering if you could clarify on this whole mechanism. Specifically, I was wondering if you could perhaps give guidance on how to achieve correct chest, sternum, ribcage positioning. It seems that with proper torso alignment there should be a sense of proper elasticity and gentle yet firm muscle activity below it. I have read and explored your advice which utilizes the floor as a posturing tool but in my particular case it doesn’t seem I respond too effectively too it.
I realize the difficulty of this particular request, because it probably involves invoking muscular action for inducing a physical sensation which I have not experienced before. Regardless, Thank you so much for your time.
You are welcome, and thank you for being a loyal reader and for your questions. They keep the site alive.
Everything you describe is very accurate. You show a good understanding of what we are after. There really isn’t much more to it. But I think you might just need some reassurance to clarify what is the correct way of achieving this condition.
Your first statement is absolutely correct. Correct breathing is a function of correct posture. That alone would make it very important. But posture also influences energy levels, stability of the structure, freedom of the larynx and openness of the resonators. We really need to realize that because our body is our instrument, posture is the most important aspect of vocal function. Because posture determines the condition of the instrument. If the condition is poor the singing will be poor.
I find it most helpful to not get too specific when dealing with the body. Specificity tends to cause interfering tensions and rigidity. We get a better result when we think in more general, over-all concepts. Like having a sense of lengthening and stretch through the torso rather than lifting this or that. We might be doing the same thing, but we do it in a different way.
What we need to keep in mind is the fact that the purpose is to create a positive condition in the body. Not just to put the body in a position. When we try to deliberately put the body into a “correct” posture we tend to get stiff and lose flexibility.
What we really want to do is recreate the energized physical condition that naturally results in singing. This relates to our emotional state. I’ve discussed before the concept of how singing might exist in our natural habitat. When we celebrate or are inspired and uplifted by something we might respond by singing. This is what we want to learn how to create whenever we want to sing.
These are the kinds of things I’m talking about when I say “instinctive response”. We have a physical response to an emotional stimulus. This is reflected in our posture and then in our voice. When we can learn how to access this part of our being singing becomes almost automatic and easy.
So our postural condition needs to be a result of a proper emotional condition. Otherwise it will be fatiguing and stiff. We can work on this by exploring the physical characteristics of positive emotional conditions like inspiration, enthusiasm, excitement, joy, celebration, and many more.
We can immediately identify some postural characteristics that don’t reflect these emotions. Collapsed, slouching, heavy, dropped, droopy. Anything going in a closing-off, downward direction.
What are some characteristics of the emotions we identified? Lifted, stretched, inspired, buoyant, energized, elastic, flexible, uplifted. Each person reading probably can come up with some of their own as well.
So again, the objective is not really to get each part of the torso in just the right spot and be “correct”. It is more that we want to create an effective emotional state in our body. This requires the use of the imagination more than the intellect.
So rather than trying to go down the check-list of correct posture, we need to create the physical state of uplifted inspiration. This should cause us to stretch the torso taller like we might if reaching over our heads. It also should include the feeling of stretch in the rib-cage so it feels open and vital.
The taller feeling from stretching the torso will “line-up” the air-way to create an open throat and take pressure from the sternum off the lungs. The open rib-cage will assist in suspending the breath in the inhale position so to not release the breath loosely though an exhale, while also putting the respiratory muscles in position to unconsciously compress the breath.
Something to watch out for when working on this, as with anything new to us, is to be open to anything. Don’t be too quick to write something off as wrong. We can only know what we have experienced before. The pitfall that goes along with that fact is we might experience something as wrong because it is so unfamiliar.
What I mean is when we experience something for the first time, it is obviously going to be unfamiliar. And when the body feels something unfamiliar it tends to reject it. Even when it is absolutely correct.
So avoid doing things that are obviously hurtful. But if you aren’t sure, then it is likely that it is at least in the range of possibility we are looking for. Remember we are looking for balance. And balance can never be found by just trying to accomplish perfect balance. We must explore the range of possibilities that lie on either side of the point of balance.
This is why I always ask people to not worry if they are “doing it right”. You have to do something to build up enough experience to determine if you are close to balanced. Gradually you will be able to tell, but not if you are always distracted by trying to do it right.
Deliberately do it “wrong” to find out what that feels like. This often teaches us more than our attempt to do it right. It also often makes it much more clear what we are trying to do.
So explore the “emotional” path to correct posture and see what you find out. Hopefully it opens up a new experience not only for your posture but your singing. Thank you.