Thursday, January 23, 2014

My "Internal Brace"

Nothing is new under the sun, and so neither is this, but that doesn't make it any the less exciting to discover. After years of effort to build my air control and sustain it, I have finally discovered what my singer friend always talked about as "support" ... And which never made sense, and looked ugly as her belly pooched out when she sang.

My internal brace supports not only my air control, but my spine and internal organs. I learned it from my physical therapist whose goal was to strengthen my posture to protect my "new" knees and my hips from the deterioration of arthritis. (Check out my blog on Partial Knee Replacement - an awesome surgery that has restored my life!)

This brace is the area below the diaphragm, starting just below the waist, downward to just above the crease where your legs begin, and into the lower back. It is hard to describe, but I'll try, because maybe it will help. 

  1. Lying flat on a firm surface, place your thumbs on the top of the hipbone, fingers pointing down. Now slide your hands toward the center of your body, about 1 1/2-2 inches.
  2. Push inward with your thumb and index finger. Push pretty hard so that you are poking yourself. (It should hurt a little.)
  3. Now take a breath and try to expand into your fingers and thumbs without allowing the belly to push out. Try to create the sensation of a balloon within your body that pushes against the muscle walls, both front and back. It pushes on your backbone and supports it.
  4. Try to hold this balloon solid and breathe in and out. You will feel like you can't exhale without letting go.
  5. As you practice and get better at it, you will not need to poke yourself so hard. Eventually you don't need the fingers at all.
  6. This is an exhausting exercise! Easy does it!  Only do it for a maximum of 5 minutes each day. These muscles exhaust very quickly, and once fatigued it is counter-productive to keep working them.
It takes quite a bit of practice to master this technique. But it's worth the work, and eventually you should be able to hold the bace without a lot of conscious effort. As you feel more confident in the lying down position, try it sitting, standing, and even while walking about the room. For ladies, make sure you are lifting the pelvic floor before you brace so that you will not be pressing downward. This is an expansion out to the sides, not up or down. (An upward thrust will just push the belly out and give you that ugly look.)

I have been working at this for just a few weeks, and the other day when I was practicing,  it occurred to me to "put on my brace" at the same time I took a big breath for a long passage, and all of a sudden I could play it all the way through without losing the note! 

Give it a try and good luck!

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