Last year I enrolled in the Yoga Medicine 500-hour program to reinvigorate my teaching and get some new tools for my toolbox. One of the most eye-opening components of my training has been learning about the amazing therapeutic benefits of myofascial release. You might have experienced myofascial release through foam rolling, massage, rolfing, self-massage, and yes, your yoga practice!
Over the past year I've been thrilled to discover the positive effects myofascial release has had on my singing, as well.
Think of the shoulders, neck, and jaw as a interconnected suspension system. Because everything in our bodies is connected, when one area is restricted another area will learn to compensate. Tension in our body can be temporary (i.e. carrying a heavy bag to an audition), or more deeply habitual (i.e. jaw tension every time you sing in the passaggio). When we free up these restrictions, our vocal mechanism can function more harmoniously.
MYOFASCIAL RELEASE 101:
Fascia is a connective tissue that encases everything in our bodies. The tension we develop in our bodies from habitual movement patterns is partially due to restrictions that develop in the fascia, which can become thick and sticky like velcro with repetitive movement. Muscles, tendons, nerves, all of it, gets kinda bunched together.
Myofascial release techniques aim to undo this velcro effect, freeing the body up for full range of movement again. The results can be felt immediately. However, if you're dealing with a deeply ingrained vocal habit you will want to work to retrain your voice for healthier function over the longterm; using the myofascial release techniques in conjunction with the vocal exercises suggested by your voice teacher.
Below are some of my favorite exercises to release tension in the shoulders, neck, and jaw: three places that everyone (not just singers!) tends to carry tension in. These are useful before vocalizing on a regular basis, or during more stressful moments when you need another tool to stay loose before a performance.
Because fascia is connected in chain-like patterns throughout our whole body, people often find that applying myofascial release to one part of the body has a positive impact somewhere else. Notice where you feel the difference!
If you're experiencing pain or currently recovering from serious injury, consult with your doctor first.
What you'll need:
-Two tennis balls
-A yoga block
Place the tennis balls between your shoulder blades, on either side of the spine.
Lay back on your yoga mat with the tennis balls behind you.
Slowly lower your head back to the ground. Use a pillow to support your neck if necessary. Stay for up to 2 mins!
Alignment: Line up the top edge of the block with the crease of your armpit.
Lay sideways with the block under your armpit. Use a towel on top if you need some cushion. Relax your head on your palm.
Rest in the middle and breathe deeply into your side-ribs
Roll backwards on the block to release tension on the back of your shoulder (lats)
Roll forward to release tension through the front of the shoulder (pecs). Breath deeply throughout and let the tension go on your exhale.
From an upright position, press your right fingertips lightly into the left side of your neck. (Opposite hand /to/ side of neck)
Keep the pressure of your fingertips on the skin as you slowly drop your head away from your hand, stretching the side of the neck.
Inhale as you lift your head up. Exhale as you drop your head to the side.
Work up and down the side of the neck, searching for areas that feel restricted.
Continue the previous exercise, but work your way all the way up behind your ear.
Keep your jaw slack as you stretch your head away from your hand.
Neck & Jaw
Place the block on the medium height behind the nape of your neck. Double check that the front edge of the block lines up with the hollow space behind your skull.
Roll your head from right to left across the edge of the block, massaging your neck.
Notice where your neck wants to grip, and stay in those spots a little longer to release them.
From fetal pose, wrap your top forearm around your low back. The lower your hand is to your tailbone = the less intense. The higher your hand is to your shoulder blades = the more intense.
Roll over onto your back (on top of your lower forearm.) Use your top hand as a pillow, and keep your feet flat on the ground at first to support your low back. Stay until you feel the tension in your bottom shoulder beginning to melt.
To go deeper: stretch your legs out straight. Challenge yourself: deepen your breath without tensing your neck and jaw.
Photos © copyright 2018 by Elliot Mandel. All rights reserved.