So this is the very first of a weekly installment where I will talk about crucial components of voice production and voice-body integration. I was tempted to start in the vocal tract but it occurred to me that I should dig deeper, literally.
If you haven’t already met, let me introduce you to the Psoas.
The psoas is actually a set of 2 paired muscles – Psoas major and Psoas minor. They connect from your thoracic spine to your lumbar spine, through your pelvis, and attaching to the femur. They are the only musculature connecting your spine to your legs.
The Psoas muscles are pretty dynamic and have a diverse portfolio of responsibilities in the body. They are active in movement and stability for such tasks as, bending at the hips, forward and upward movement of the legs, torso stability and general movement stability.
They also support internal organs working like small hydraulics to move blood and lymph in and out of cell structures.
Importantly for our purposes as voice-users, the Psoas is deeply connected to the diaphragm through the fascia, and with the main ligaments of the diaphragm (the crura) which run alongside the psoas and wrap around the top of the psoas.
So to clarify, the psoas is deeply involved with how you move and breathe. Adding complication, the psoas is reactive to fear and stress in the body, preparing you for fight or flight. This is great in situations of actual danger but unfortunate when all we are trying to do is speak or sing.
This is why the Psoas is my first Friday Focus. It is incredibly important that we set ourselves up for success on our voice-use journey. Becoming aware of the Psoas and taking care to keep it limber and functional is the first step towards efficient breathing for the voice.
Let’s talk Psoas care.
First off, do you have a Psoas imbalance? Key indicators are; asymmetrical leg length, knee and/or low back pain with no other origin, bad posture esp. duck butt or tucked butt expressions, shallow breathing (especially an inability to expand the ribcage), and such symptoms as constipation, menstrual cramps, and exhaustion.
Next, it is important to determine whether you have a tight, or overly contracted, Psoas or whether your Psoas is weak and over-stretched. Keeping in mind that these are paired muscles so it is possible to have over-contracting on one side and over-stretching on the other.
Overly contracted Psoas are related to sitting too much, excessive contraction exercises (think crunches), excessive running or even walking (particularly with bad form) and improper strength training. Over stretching is usually associated with repetitive and specific stretching movements. It is not noncommon to find dancers, gymnasts, and martial artists with this issue. Also, because the psoas is a paired muscle, the muscle opposite the “problem” can develop the opposing issue in an effort to stabilize your body.
Okay, so we have an imbalance. What now?
- Get up. For a number of reasons, all of this sitting is killing us. Just stop. Well, if you can’t, at least stand up and move around throughout the day.
- Support your seated posture. There are lots of ways to help yourself sit more dynamically from a rolled towel under your sitz bones to a cushion. I am currently lusting after this one The Purple Cushion.
- Watch the workout. If you are an avid runner, speed walker, or other intense-exercise lover, the key is diversity. Making sure that whatever the prominent contraction of your activity is, you are strengthening and stretching in opposition to allow for balance. Also, watch your form.
- Do resistance-enabled stretches. Activities such as yoga, some pilates, and stretches with a resistance band can serve both the contracted and the stretched. There are many resources for this type of work so I won’t post a workout here (yet).
- Be aware. Look in the mirror and note whether your pelvis is even. Notice the length of your legs. Are you always rolling an ankle or misstepping? This may be an indicator of leg length variance.
- Get a massage. The benefits of skilled bodywork are myriad and too many for this post. Just do it. Massage, chiropractic, rolfing and even acupuncture can be effective in dealing with psoas imbalance.
Importantly, this post assumes a lack of injury and/or difference impacting the “ideal” psoas function in the body. Clearly, people with disabilities or other mobility challenges will have to find adaptations as appropriate towards their ideal voice-body connection. It is not only possible to find these adaptations, but there are also wonderful examples of great speakers and singers out in the world doing just that. So as with all things voice-related, kindness and courage in equal measure.
I hope this provides some useful information. There are incredible resources on the internet, some from a more medical perspective, on this issue so, off you go.
For those who want to geek out about muscular connectivity a little further. I have included a link to an amazing video on the Deep Front Line. It shows the connective line through the body from the toe to the tongue. It especially shows how very connected the psoas and diaphragm are (approx 2:35). This video uses real human tissue and dissection images so please keep that in mind before you hit play.
Deep Front Line video (notice – this video follows a long connective line in the body through dissection images and might be disturbing to some).
With thanks to Pilar Goldstein-Dea, this video is an animation which shows the psoas-diaphragm connection (~ :30) for those who rather skip the real thing. Alas, it is in French.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay. She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user. Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker. For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit www.growvoice.com.