I can still hear his voice ringing in my ears after nearly half a century. Stand up straight Robert! Pay attention to your Posture! He would use that slightly frustrated tone of someone who had been there before.
It’s ironic that I now find myself doing much the same thing with my clients, although I rarely get frustrated.
I was always tall for my age. A haunting refrain that followed me wherever I went. Unfortunately, it did nothing to build my self-esteem. It just made me feel more awkward and self-conscious. In the last year of junior school, I hit puberty. By the time I got to secondary school, I’d reached the giddying heights of six feet. I just wanted to shrink and blend in but that’s hard when you tower over everyone.
Although it didn’t feel like it at the time, I know that dad’s concern was that I should take advantage of my height.
By the time that I was fifteen, I’d reached my full six feet three and a half inches. It was about then that I finally understood that I wasn’t designed to blend in. There were some benefits in being six feet three and half inches tall. For a start off it bought you a lot of respect. Long legs meant that cross-country running wasn’t much of a problem. Few places were out of my reach.
Of course, there is a lot more to good posture than being able to reach the top shelf in the supermarket. Most areas of life benefit from paying attention to the way you stand, sit, walk or run. Making sure that your body is well aligned and supporting itself properly without placing undue strain on any part will pay off.
Working with voice, we’re interested in getting the lungs, windpipe, mouth and nasal cavities nicely lined up so that the vocal folds can operate optimally and without stress. But there are other benefits to the speaker, singer or performer that this attention to good breath and vocal technique brings: the main one being the ability to communicate with the whole body.
Posture Supports Muscular-Skeletal Health
Good posture reduces the stresses and strains that we place on our bodies. Even primary school children understand the importance of standing up straight. How quickly and easily it’s forgotten. Sadly it’s only remembered when the damage has been done and we’re in pain.
To the trained professional, the effects of poor posture are easy to spot. I remember about eight years ago visiting the osteopath and being reprimanded for my lob-stance, mainly leaning against walls, even though he hadn’t actually seen me do it. He could see the strain I was creating after a brief examination.
Posture Supports Breathing Technique
Good posture keeps your breathing apparatus well-aligned and able to work effectively.
One of the first things affected by poor posture is your breathing. For example, slouching will dramatically affect your lung capacity by as much as a third. As your shoulders roll forward, you’re restricting the ability of the intercostal muscles. These muscles connect your ribs together.
Furthermore restricting the movement of the stomach makes it harder for the diaphragm to do its job. To compensate for lack of capacity breathing has to become more shallow and rapid. This in turn will stimulate the release of stress hormones.
Posture Supports Vocal Technique
It’s surprising just how much room your vocal chords need to work properly. For example, if your head is tilted a little bit too far down you will reduce your ability to access the full range and power of your voice. Just as an experiment try lowering your chin onto your chest and then try to speak. You should notice quite a big difference in the tone and quality of your voice.
The effects of other postural issues can be just as marked. In particular, anything that affects the lungs’ ability to do their job will make it harder to create a good sound. So much technique depends on having a full tank of air.
Posture Supports Circulation And Digestion
Good posture supports circulation and digestion. What is good for your lungs is good for your heart, digestive system and many of the other systems in your body. Good posture, supports good respiration, which supports good digestion by providing a better pH balance in the stomach. Slouching, stooping and so on will restrict the ability of your heart, stomach and so on to work efficiently.
Posture Improves Self-Image
If you look better, you’ll feel better. I’m not a great believer in the school of thought that says fake it until you make it. But in one thing, they have a point: whatever state of mind you’re in, the mind has to fall in with what the body is doing.
One of the things we tell new radio presenters when they’re starting out on air is for heaven sake smile! People can hear you smiling. So, if they’re not feeling particularly relaxed and happy we teach them to do a fake smile. Most of the students report that a natural smile comes much more easily and much more quickly.
You could call this smiling thing posture for the face because it works just as well with the rest of the body. Try it sometime.
Posture Supports Mental / Psychological Wellbeing
Maintaining good posture takes a bit of work, especially to begin with: you have to start working muscles that have been used to having it easy. However, as you work at maintaining good posture and you start to see some of the benefits you become more resistant to feelings that pull you down. If nothing else, you’ll be able to walk down the street and look other people in the eye.
And that is a neat segue into the seventh benefit.
Posture Improves Communication
Good communication is whole body communication and engaging people with your eyes is an important part of that. It’s hard to keep engaged if your posture means that you’re looking at the ground most of the time.
We human beings are designed to communicate with each other: all the time we’re with another person. Even a sullen silence communicates something. In other words, your voice is only a part of what you say. Body language can say a heck of a lot.
If you find that people are constantly misinterpreting what you say it may well be because your posture is not allowing you to communicate very well.
Whilst maintaining good posture might be hard work initially, it has a lot of benefits and not just for a good speaking voice.
We’ve only touched on what good posture looks like because the principles are simple. If you are struggling, there are plenty of people can help you. The important thing is to make a start.
I’ll write another article on the principles of good posture in a few weeks time. If you can’t wait for that then drop me a line or give me a call.
Robert Williams, Voice Coach
© Clearly Talking Vic Pty Ltd February 2013
ABN: 15 612 360 648