Teaching a body old tricks

Okay, so I’m using the “my voice has left me” analogy to physical rehab again. I went to the Music Conservatory to practice, feeling like I now have a singing voice 7 weeks after first coming down with a bout of Bronchitis. I like comparing this with having a physical injury in the sense that you need to back off during the time that your voice or muscles are healing themselves, and how difficult it is to do this.  As I mentioned before, I had my first good sing and during this time, I have been singing a little bit here and there, but as my teacher said, having 1/2 a voice really makes you really focus on technique. It’s almost like you are starting over, and with 1/2 a voice, if you don’t use perfect technique, it can really harm your voice. Now that the voice is pretty much back, it sounds better than it has for quite a while. I can thank that to my Bronchitis and how careful I had to be during that. That’s irony for you. This is similar to physical injury in that during the time of injury, it is a perfect time to 1) slowly return to injury and 2) to fine tune your activity and re-educate your body to do this correctly to avoid re-injury in the future. 

Ugh…the waiting…..part 2

So the tail end of my bout with bronchitis seems to be carrying on and on. I guess the hardest part of getting back to singing is how much do I do? When I start out, I get really good resonance and volume but it’s still seems to be declining after 20 minutes or so. I have an appointment with a Ear/Nose/Throat guy on May 6, which seems to be an eternity away, to see if there is anything structurally that I need to be concerned about. My immediate guess is that there isn’t anything structurally wrong (like nodes on the vocal chords and such) as I get good clarity for at least the first 20 minutes of singing, but that there is still a little bit of swelling and irritation that will take a bit of time to go away. It would be great to have an idea as to when this will be over as I’ve had to cancel my recital in May and would love to reschedule for sometime soon. The waiting is making me crazy as singing is such an important part of my life and something that I really love to do. The vocal chords are such a delicate structure that I guess I should be on the side of caution. I’m doing lots of good stuff like Licorice Teas (really good for the throat), water, salt water gargles to reduce the swelling and Slippery Elm lozengers that are really good for the throat. 

My post heart surgery is at month 9 and I’m really picking up with activity again and everything seems to feel great and back to normal. There is nothing different that I’m doing that would be different from someone that hadn’t had the surgery so it’s almost like nothing happened. I’m glad that I got the tissue valve replacement as opposed to the mechanical valve. My surgeon was saying that there really is no proof that one lasts longer than another. Any history with tissue valve and it’s life seems to be always outdated as the improvements in tissue heart valves are continuous. The mechanical valve would have meant that I would have had to take blood thinners everyday and that would have dramatically reduced my ability to throw myself down a mountain with my bike. Blood thinners essentially make you a borderline hemopheliac so you have to be careful even with simple stuff like cutting yourself shaving, never mind falling and bruising. If you are having valve surgery in the near future, think about the tissue valve and get lots of opinions on both types of valves so you can do what is best for you.  

The Effects of a Good Long Stretch

I’m a big fan of stretching every day and pre and post exercises. There are a couple of aspects to stretching that is important to remember. I believe that a stretch should be done over a period of minutes and do not need to be intense to be effective. Stretching to me is similar to stretching leather. If you stretch it intensely for a short period of time, the leather will bounce back to it’s original length. When you are stretching, you are of course mechanically stretching the tissue but there is another important thing that you are doing as well. In every muscle cell and joint, there are receptors that monitor stretch and position and send that information back to the brain. The more time that you stretch, the more information is sent to the brain relaying information that the muscle in that stretched position is actually okay and there is no need for any protective spasm if the muscle is put in that position again during activity. Spasm can be annoying and unnecessary spasm can be reduced with a good long stretch and is gentle and not painful. Half of the intensity for twice as long is a good rule of thumb that I like during training. 

Speaking of training, when you stretch after an intense workout, it is doubly important to keep the stretch long and gentle. A good warm up and cool down is very important as well. The muscles are, for lack of a better analogy, hung over. They are tired and dehydrated. It’s like partying with your friend and when he’s sleeping and hungover, grabbing him and yanking him out of bed. Do you think he might be a bit annoyed? You need to ease him out of bed just like you need to ease your muscles while stretching them after a workout. 

Be nice to your muscles. After a work out simply squeezing your muscles repeated is good as well as it sends lots of blood there to pick up metabolic waste to be eliminated from your body which will help to reduce pain and fatigue and also help to repair any muscle tissue that may be damaged during the workout.

Taking a good, relaxed deep breath

As a singer, the job is to get as much air into your lungs with as little rigidity as possible. The more rigid you are, the less the sound can resonate, the harder you have to try to make more sound. What you want to try to do is to breath at the bottom of your abdomen, allowing your abdomen to expand to the front, side and back. What you try not to do is to expand your upper chest and more importantly not to allow your shoulders to rise. Having the shoulders rise causes tightness in the neck and around the throat. So, here I am, trying to breath in the correct manner. I’m getting lots of expansion out front and side but just not getting much expansion in the back. I discovered that my posture was very much contributing to this. I have been a victim of the “swayback” posture, and this compresses your lower back making it very difficult to expand. As soon as I tried a bit of a pelvic tilt and was able to expand my lower back much easier. 

The irony is singing is that the less “intense” you are physically, the better, more resonant sound you will get.