Over the years a number of clients have come to me because their voice was tired, strained, scratchy, unreliable, or generally thin-sounding. For some of these people, the only thing we needed to address was their posture.
What’s the connection between posture and voice?
It might be surprising to know that your posture has that potent an effect on the sound of your voice. Perhaps the most obvious impact comes from slouching. If you slump in your chair, your midsection collapses. This makes it difficult to breathe efficiently (see my blog post about breath for more information on that, or better yet download my free e-course, “So you want to speak from your diaphragm?” to learn even more about optimal breath for speech).
Not only does slumping from your midsection affect your ability to use enough air to create a strong sound, but also the position of your head relative to the rest of your body also matters. That’s known as “alignment”, and it’s what we’re going to focus on here.
Keep your head on straight
Heads are heavy, they weigh about 11 pounds. The human body is designed in such a way that the weight of the head is typically supported by the skeleton. That is to say, the head balances on top of the body. For many of us, however, that is not the case. Especially if you spend a lot of time at the computer (and who doesn’t these days?) or behind the wheel of a car, you are likely to develop some chin jut.
For every inch in front of your body that your head lives, it effectively doubles the weight of your head on the muscles at the back of your neck and top of your shoulders. You know those muscles that are tight on everybody, the upper traps? That chronic tension is partly because most peoples’ head slips forward so it lives in front of their body.
How to change habitual posture
If you want to bring your head into alignment, the most holistic way to do it is to think of lengthening the back of your neck. When your chin is jutted forward or up, the muscles at the back of the neck shorten. Now’s a good time to mention a form of bodywork called the Alexander Technique; if you want to do a deep dive into how your head affects the rest of your body movement, an Alexander teacher would be the way to go.
For now, think of lengthening the back of your neck so that your chin is level and your crown of your head is the highest point.
It may feel like you’re looking down when you come into this position. That’s because you’re used to looking up. When we jut our head forward we also often lift the chin a little bit. This means that the eyeballs have trained themselves to look down to avoid always looking up at the ceiling. So when you bring your head into correct alignment, meaning the most efficient way to carry your body, your eyeballs need to re-acclimate.
Use a mirror to check yourself so you’ll see that I’m not making this up! It will most likely feel weird; when I see clients in person, I snap a photo to show them that it looks a lot more normal than it feels.
What does this have to do with voice?
Try little experiment. Take a breath and then sustain the sound “ahhhh” at a comfortable pitch and loudness. While you are sustaining that vowel, slowly move your head in and out of alignment. Stick your chin way forward, then pull it way back. You will notice that the sound changes.
For most people the voice gets thinner and sounds more strained when your head is jutting forward, and more resonant and rich when it’s on top of the torso.
There are two main explanations for why this head position matters to the quality of your voice. One is mechanical. If the muscles on the back of your neck are contracted (which happens when we are not in good alignment), then there has to be a compensatory tension on the front of the body. Those muscles are at the front of your neck and around your larynx. There is also a ligament that connects your larynx to the bone in front of your ear. If your head is misaligned, it pulls your larynx up and out of its natural position. These things together make the internal space smaller, which reduces the power of the voice.
Extra tension in the neck is the enemy of a free voice.
The second reason has to do with the shape of your mouth and the acoustics that creates: when your chin is jutted forward, there is probably less space at the back of your throat. Again, this constriction cuts out a lot of the richness of your sound.
Practice keeping your head on straight as you move through the day and see if you notice a difference in the quality of your voice. It can be easier said than done to find this aligned posture, so as always, if you need additional guidance, feel free to reach out for a session.