Oct 07, 2016
This is the second in a series of simple posture tips that are designed to give you the tools to create a better alignment--quickly and easily. As teachers, we all want to keep our instructions simple, but we need to be more specific than just saying, “Stand up straight!” Whether you are a teacher, a student, a performer--or all three at once--this post provides helpful information for getting back to basics, by grounding our posture and support in our feet.
How are your feet? Most of us never give our feet a second thought, until they painfully remind us to pay attention to them. As I do my Vocal BodyWorkShops with singers, actors, and speakers of all shapes, sizes, and genres, I see firsthand how many people have lost any real connection to their feet. But in our bodies, everything starts with the feet. And the support for our singing begins there as well. So, here are some simple tips and an exercise to help you support your voice from a firmer foundation. Most of us are dumping our bodies down onto our feet, trusting the solid surface below to hold us up. Very few of us are using the muscles in our legs in a balanced way; typically, we are overworking the quadriceps and adductors (the muscles that work from the outside of the body toward the middle), and we are underworking the hamstrings and the abductors (the muscles that work from the middle of the body to the outside). Have you ever noticed that walking on sand gives your legs a real workout? That's because the sand does not provide a solid surface for us to collapse onto. As the sand shifts, we are forced to use all the muscles in our legs (including the tight, weak ones we like to let off the hook), in order to remain upright. If you happen to live next to a beach, walking on sand every day would be a great way to improve your alignment and strengthen those underworking leg muscles. For the rest of us, installing a large sandpit in our practice rooms is a bit impractical. You can achieve a similar effect by walking in place on a BOSU, which is a piece of exercise equipment that looks like a large inflated ball, sliced in half (pictured below).
But what we're really looking for is something we can do anywhere, including on stage or at an audition. Before you learn that exercise, though, I want to teach you to do what I call TAKING STOCK. Rub the palms of your hands together briskly, creating warmth and energy in your hands. Then place the palms of your hands over your closed eyes, and look within. Notice the distribution of your weight over your feet, from your left side to your right side, from the front of each foot to the back, and across each foot. Do all your toes feel like they are touching the ground? What does the arch of your foot feel like? The image below shows what often happens to our feet from wearing shoes that look good, rather than shoes that support the natural shape and function of our feet. You can see why most people don't feel supported by their own feet.
PLUGGING IN THE FEET: EXERCISE ONE Think of your foot as a four-pronged electrical plug. I literally want you to visualize four prongs coming down out of your feet at the following points: the inner heel, the outer heel, the mound of the big toe, and the mound of the pinky toe. We're going to "plug into" the ground with those prongs, but in a very specific way. Don't press the foot down into the floor; rather, the foot should feel as if it were floating on the floor. Think of plugging in only the prongs you are imagining coming down out of the foot. You may also think of the prongs as magnets, if that is a more useful image for you. Now, one by one, plug each of those prongs (or magnets) into the ground: first, the inner heel. Then, without losing the connection of the inner heel, plug in the outer heel. Next, without losing the connection of the heel, plug in the mound of the big toe. And then, keeping the other three prongs firmly plugged into the ground (but without forcing), plug in the mound of the pinky toe. Take a moment and feel that all four prongs are connected to the ground with about the same energy.
When you are firmly planted on your feet, TAKE STOCK again. Rub the palms of your hands together, and place them on your closed eyes. Look within. Does your weight feel more evenly distributed over your feet? Can you feel more of your foot actually connecting to the ground? Can you feel each of your toes connecting with the ground now? You may even feel that the position of your pelvis has shifted slightly. You can use this simple exercise while you're singing (and I hope you do), but the practice will be even more effective if you do it all day long, as well. Plugging in your feet, which you can do while standing or sitting, will improve your alignment and give you what I call "automatic up" in the torso. With your feet plugged in properly to the ground, you will feel that more of the muscles in your legs are engaged. After staying plugged in for a while, it will be fatiguing to engage those muscles with this much energy, and that's fine. Relax, take a break, and then return to the exercise when you are rested. MASSAGING the feet is also very helpful. The bones in our feet (metatarsals) that connect to the toes (phalanges) are very similar to the bones in our hand (metacarpals) that connect to our fingers (also called phalanges). Massaging to create space between the metatarsals in the feet allows more healthy movement in the foot, helps more of the foot connect to the ground, and encourages more movement in the toes. The brilliant dance and movement teacher Rudolf Laban exhorted his dancers to create the same kind of flexibility and control in their feet that they had in their hands. We don't need to achieve that lofty goal in our feet, but massaging between those metatarsals will move you in that direction.
Once you've spent some time building this firmer foundation while standing and sitting, you'll be ready for the next installment in my Quick Posture Fix Series, PLUGGING IN THE FEET: EXERCISE TWO--WALKING.