The use of the word alignment is subjective and can mean different things to different people. As voice teachers, we usually refer to alignment in the context of postural alignment. We understand that alignment is a necessary component for promoting healthy and efficient singing. However, to be in true alignment with authentic self means that we are balanced from a physiological, psychological, social and environmental perspective. From time to time, we can feel disconnected in our relationships with others, we may find ourselves in a job where we have lost our passion or we may feel physically disconnected in space and time. If you relate to any of these scenarios, you may well be in misalignment and this can impact all areas of your health, including vocal health. In this episode, I discuss alignment in all these four key areas and I share strategies that will help you realign to your authentic self.

In this episode:

00:58 – What is alignment?

03:35 – My experience with a misaligned student

11.59 – Alignment with self

15:35 – Does this sound like you?

18:09 – Alignment with the environment

19:55 – Measures for checking in on your alignment

21:17 – My story of misalignment

28:15 – Physical Alignment

29:30 – Identifying physical habits

32:08 – Postural Alignment

35:34 – Affects on the voice

37:06 – Conclusion

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  00:58

The word alignment can mean so many things to so many people and as voice teachers, we usually refer to alignment in the context of postural alignment or physical alignment. We understand that a balanced and boyuont alignment is a necessary component for promoting healthy and efficient singing.

However, if you’ve listened to this show before, I think you would be starting to get the message that as singers, our whole body is the instrument and our bodies echo everything that we feel physically mentally and emotionally. So in this episode, I am going to discuss alignment, but not just from the physical or postural perspective, but also how we align ourselves in life and the implications that can have on our instrument. Some may refer to this as looking at the voice from a bio / physical and social perspective, but look no matter what you may want to call this, true Alignment means that we’re balanced throughout our mind, as well as our body. Otherwise when our bodies and our minds are on a collision course and misaligned, there is disharmony, and we can begin to spiral downwardly in our mental, as well as our physical health.

Have you ever taught a student and you know you’re doing your very best to help them, but they are just not responding? You have worked and worked and worked with a singer, and you know there is a kink going on somewhere that is affecting them functionally, but nothing you do seems to help, because there is something else going on with the singer that is a bigger picture problem creating their voice inefficiencies. It could be anxiety, stress, or something that is happening in their social environment which is causing functional issues. And the problem with many of these issues outside of the physical are hard to diagnose and they are not going to show up on a computer screen even if you have them assessed by an SLP or scoped by an ENT unless they manifest into some kind of visible vocal pathology.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  03:35

I’d like to share a story with you. Allow me to introduce you to Tracey an ex-student of mine who was terribly misaligned physically, mentally and emotionally and how this misalignment prevented her from having a voice not only to sing with, but in her day to day life and in her relationships with others.

About 15 years ago I received an enquiry from a young woman who was interested in having singing lessons. Her voice over the phone was quiet and seemed to lack vitality, enthusiasm, in fact she sounded distant and quite disinterested for someone who made the call wanting to have lessons. She really didn’t want to share anything about herself and the few questions she asked me were general in nature, but I do remember her asking me one rather strange question and that was, could she come to the studio when there was no one else there, that there was no other teacher, cleaner, no other student, no one!! I did think this was very strange, but we agreed on a day and time and I re assured her it would only be the two of us there at that time.

I was upstairs in my office when Tracey arrived for her first lesson and when I came down the stairs, there was a young woman, in her early 20’s sitting in a chair right by the front entrance waiting for me. I thought it was strange that she wasn’t seated in the waiting area. Her head was down, she was very stooped over staring at the ground and she appeared very timid, like someone who was wanting to be small or invisible. I greeted her and she responded very quietly without lifting her head to look at me and made absolutely no eye contact. As I showed her the way to my teaching room, I remember taking note of what she was wearing and how she was groomed. I thought that this was not typical for such a young woman, she was dressed really very modestly, almost like someone who was at least 30 years older than her. She was not wearing any make up, her long hair was dishevelled and hanging around her face and she carried herself like someone who was defeated. As we went through the various segments of the vocal assessment, I could barely hear her voice and she was very hesitant and not very forthcoming. To be honest, it was hard to get her to make a sound. Every time she heard a noise and thought it may have been someone in the building she would immediately disengage and look around. This was disastrous and I wasn’t sure why she was there nor how to handle the situation. When I asked why she wanted to have lessons and what her goals were, she did not give me a definitive response. Anyway, Tracey quietly thanked me at the end of that first lesson and I was sure that I would never see her again, even though she said she would see me the next week.

Tracey did return the next week and once again she sat in the same chair by the front entrance and she kept coming back. I treated her with patience, tolerance and kindness. I became her cheerleader in the lessons as this approach seemed to be something that she responded to. After a number of weeks, I asked Tracey again, why was she there having lessons when she was clearly so hesitant and afraid to make any sound, even to speak was an effort.  Finally she felt safe enough to share her story. Tracey had been suffering from agoraphobia and had not left her house for five years. It took her all the courage she could muster to leave her home and come to the lessons. As she continued to speak she almost choked on her words as she told me she was the victim of sexual abuse by a family member and when she told her mother about the abuse, her mother didn’t believe her. It was at that moment that Tracey lost her voice in life. She felt insignificant, ashamed and she lost all her self worth. It took everything I had not to cry when I heard Tracey’s story and I quietly acknowledged her pain and thanked her for having the strength and the trust to share her devastating story with me. Tracey was in total misalignment physically, mentally and emotionally and had come to me to help her find her voice in life and singing became her gateway. We made a pact that, from then on, we would only chose songs of empowerment, songs that celebrated women and songs that brought her joy. As the weeks went by, her postural alignment began to change and she started to stand tall and proud. She started to face me and make eye contact. As she started re aligning with who she truly was as a young woman, her wardrobe started to evolve with her and she began to dress in fashionable clothing that enhanced her figure. As Tracey started to let go of the shame of her ordeal, she began to reconnect with society and even started dating again. And she came back week after week, month after month and for many years. I can’t remember how many years Tracey came to me for lessons, but all I can say is that by the time she finished her lessons, she was unrecognisable. She began speaking up, standing up for herself, unafraid to share her opinions, and she sang in all my concerts with pride. My job was done!! There was never a time during those lessons that I became or tried to become Tracey’s therapist. I saw my role in her recovering journey as a facilitator. Someone who was helping her rediscover her voice in life, through song. In discovering her voice, she reconnected to her authentic self. There have been many other students who have also discovered their voice in life, by releasing their voice through singing. It is such a gift!

Does this sound familiar? Has a situation like this ever happened in your teaching studio? Have you ever had someone like Tracey come to you that needed help like this?

We’re now going to look at all four key areas of alignment because it’s important to understand that when we aren’t in balance, long-term misalignment can ultimately lead to not only voice pathologies but a number of other health issues, such as pain and discomfort all the training and all technique you can muster will do little to help.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  11:59

Firstly we need to be in alignment with self and this means being aligned in life and discovering the true essence of your being and the deepest values by which you live by. Some of you may know this to be congruency. As humans, we have a psychological need to live in alignment, to be congruent with who we think we are. It means that if I think that I am a good person, but I don’t act like one, then I am going to have an inner conflict going on. You start getting upset with yourself, disconnected from yourself and everything starts to spiral downwardly from that point on.

Well you may ask yourself, “So what does this even mean and what does it feel like to be in alignment?” And this is a great question. But first let’s look at what it feels like when you’re out of alignment. From my experiences, I know when I’m out of alignment because I lose focus on the things that are really important to me, things like… I lose focus of my goals, or I cut myself off from others so I start to lose connection and the joy in life. When I’m out of alignment with my true self, I become resentful, my energy levels are low, I lack motivation, it’s hard for me to concentrate and I begin to feel physically ill. It’s a struggle to get things done. I cut off my flow and l lose my inspiration and my creativity.

You may not relate to this, and that’s ok because we are all unique and you may experience other issues.  You might feel stressed, anxious, frustrated with what you’re doing or with the people around you, you may feel sick, or you may be self sabotaging, even if it’s subconsciously, the things that bring you happiness, connection, creativity, and abundance. You may even find yourself speaking badly of others, attacking or judging them, and I hate to say that those are also really clear signs when someone is misaligned. This is the case for most of us and I really dislike myself for this. I know when I speak badly of others, I am only projecting my own stuff. It’s not me doing the talking, it’s my stuff! When any of us do this, we are not being true to ourselves, we are out of alignment with who we think we are, how we want to interact with other people, and how we want to live our best lives.

In the teaching studio, we may find we become impatient or frustrated with our students, we start to find fault and begin hating on our work colleagues. We may even find that we are not able to celebrate other people’s successes. We stop becoming cheer leaders and start becoming those people who are throwing cheap shots at others.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:35

Ok so I want you to be honest with yourself, does this sound like you? Are you living the best of who you think you are right now? Are you deflecting and not taking responsibility? If this is the case, don’t feel bad about it. You need to acknowledge and accept it and take some personal accountability. Ask yourself what I do I need to do to get back into alignment, and what thinking patterns or behaviours do I need to adopt to start tapping into the best version of myself again? Often when people say they have lost their enthusiasm, vibrancy or focus, what they are really saying is that they don’t quite feel like themselves anymore. If this is you, sometimes it can simply be that you need to stop and re-evaluate. Even just by asking yourself, who do I want to be each day? How do I want to show up today? What are my intentions in my teaching practice today? In other words, what are the things that I need to do to be congruent? You need to create practices that keep you in a high performance state and one of the first things you can do is start your day with a morning regime of meditation, movement and gratitude. Use this time in the morning to tap into your deeper self and be sure to align yourself for the day ahead.

You can get back to a state of being in alignment and congruent, so you can return to feeling happy and excited irrespective of what is going on in your world at any given time. When you face challenges in life, you want solutions to come easily to you so you don’t become worried, stressed or completely focused on those problems. You want good things to flow easily to you, you want to feel creativity moving through you and you want to feel hopeful, and positive even in the midst of adversity.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  18:09

Secondly you need to be in Alignment with your environment and this includes being surrounded by the very people who are your supporters. Connection is a base line for human drive and a great way to measure alignment. So we need to be aligned not only with ourselves, which requires self awareness, but we also need to be aligned in our connection with others, which means to be socially aware. Your social environment, can lead to you being misaligned unless you discipline yourself  and set the intention to be true to yourself in your interactions with others. Trying to be like others or even trying to please other people is the killer of motivation. You may find that you may want to keep up with all the things that your peers and colleagues are doing and have the things that they have, and not what you truly desire in life. Remember the old saying, keeping up with the Jones’s. Worse still you can start to live the life others expect for you. These are the things that stop your momentum and stop you being aligned with who you are in life.  You can start to think badly about who you are, what you have, how you exist, and how you create what’s possible. These feelings are the ones that lead to physical misalignment and are areas that will create tension and anxiety and cause you to grip, to hold and to constrict when you sing.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  19:55

You need to look at areas in your life where it doesn’t feel authentic to you and you can begin by checking in throughout the day and ask yourself, who do I want to be, in what I am about to do?

Another measure of how well aligned you are to your environment is checking in with task connection, which means how aligned are you with what you are doing? How connected are you in your current job? In your day to day teaching practice? With your students? With everything else you have going on at work? You may find that it’s hard for you to stay connected because you have taken too much on, and you find that you are over committed. We can all be guilty of that!!! It could be you are spread so thinly that overall, not only do you feel dissipated, you don’t feel connected no matter how much you give. Or perhaps you feel that you are trading time for money because you are in a job that you don’t like, Or you just don’t feel appreciated in the work place by your boss or your students.

So are you feeling disconnect during your teaching day within your work environment?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  21:17

I’ve never shared this story before but many years ago, I was teaching singing in the music department at a private school where I found myself in a toxic work environment. I didn’t realise this at first as I was very grateful for this amazing job. I taught there for a full day every Wednesday for 4 years and without fail every single Thursday morning for the whole four years, I woke up with a migraine and neck and shoulder pain. It was unbelievable. Not only that, but I found that every time I tried to sing while I was there, I would be so constricted that the sounds I produced were awful!!! It was so embarrassing and it had never happened to me before in my 20 years of teaching. I can’t explain the feeling other than I literally felt as though I was choking. I was so constricted! I decided to seek help and started working with a Feldenkrais practitioner and during that process, every part of my teaching day went under the microscope. How I sat, how I stood, how I played the piano, which way I was facing. How long I was sat for without moving. How I carried my bags from my car to my teaching room. I did a check of my water intake. I literally looked at everything and I did make some significant changes to my postural alignment but nothing worked!!! It was simply bizarre! These severe headaches, neck and back pain continued every week and the sounds that I made at the workplace were far from my best singing. I was just beside myself.

Then I had a lightning bolt moment. What about the social and other environmental aspects of my job, could they be contributing to my physical pain? After an intense conversation  with my boss one day, I had a revelation that I always felt extremely undermined by him and I found myself so wound up and really upset. I did not feel valued for the work I was doing because I trained across CCM styles and he was an advocate for classical voice teaching as the only legitimate approach to training singers. But that was what my students wanted to sing! I honestly felt that I was being micro managed and under so much pressure to prove myself even though I was the most highly qualified teacher in the music department and I had the best retention rate by far.  I found myself trying to be invisible and stay under the radar as I moved around the department at work. The impact of this stress on my body, my voice and my mental health was manifesting into a migraine every Thursday. I had clearly become completely misaligned with who I was as a teacher and what I stood for in my teaching practise and this was having a devastating impact on my physical, mental and emotional heath. It was all too much and I ended up leaving after enduring that situation for long enough. I always believe that out of a bad situation, comes some good. Firstly, all the students followed me to my home studio located miles away from the school. I promise I did not poach them, they just wanted me as their teacher. Secondly, working for this boss, who did not believe that CCM was legitimate from a pedagogical standpoint, led me to doing a PhD in the field, which in turn has led to an academic text book due to be published in the next month. So thank you boss, you will be receiving the first copy!!

Do you relate to this? Are you in a job that you don’t enjoy or there is something going on in the work place that is not allowing you to align to your true authentic self?

Whatever your work situation is that may be causing you to feel misaligned, to feel that it’s all too much and you have started to lose that passion, it will have an impact on you too. You may find that during the day you can’t focus, and your energy levels slump. In these moments you must stop yourself and, remove yourself from the situation. You need to have the self-awareness to interrupt yourself from time to time, check in to see where in your work life you feel disconnected and then realign. I urge you, don’t put up with pain like I did.

You can recalibrate and realign yourself to your work, when you are not feeling that task or work connection.  Some people may decide to power through, but powering through won’t help you deliver your best work.

Instead of powering through, whenever you feel misaligned with your environment, it is important to centre in on your breath, inhale deeply the way you have been trained to do and in the way you train your students to breathe and slowly count to 20. So before you lose patience with someone, just breathe. There is so much research on the power of breathing and from what we know in nuero science breathing deeply can calm the mind, realign us and help us return to a high performance state.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  28:15

Number three is Physical Alignment. As we have already discussed, when we live out of alignment not only does it leave us in various negative states of mind, but it also leaves us feeling physically unwell and there is such a thing as physical alignment. So how do we become physically misaligned? What happens is that we can become so physically disconnected and misaligned with ourselves throughout the day, especially when there is so much chaos and drama happening around us, and this has certainly been amplified over the past 12 months, we go into a reactionary mode, and we are no longer present or mindful in our day. Then you have many other people who are so debilitated from pain, but they don’t do anything about it. It’s because their minds are elsewhere and they have no awareness of the way that they sit or the way they stand or even how much time they spend in one position for hours without moving or stretching?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:30

If you teach sitting down, do you ever stop to think how you are sitting? Or if you teach standing, is there anything you do that makes your body feel fatigued or sore? Are you slouching? Are your shoulders relaxed or are they way up around your ears? It is important to create time each day for body awareness and connection to your body. The most powerful thing you can gift yourself is to become body aware In the moments of the day – almost like a reflective moment when you become aware of how you feel from a physical standpoint. That means that you connect to how you feel and how you are holding yourself in space and time. If you don’t make this connection and go weeks and months without body awareness, injuries and niggles will eventually begin to appear.

A simple way to realign is to get up, move around and take some deep breaths. Have a drink of water and stretch, sit back down and set an intention for the next lesson you are about to teach and go!! Think about setting alarm triggers twice a day to check in with yourself as to how you are holding your body and how are you feeling. This is the time to check in. Give yourself five minutes, twice a day to stretch. If you are working online, stand up every half hour for a minute and move or stand up. Stretch in between students or as you connect to your next online lesson. Schedule in breaks. I have had to learn to do this otherwise I wake up with headaches. I suffer from neck, back and shoulder pain. Whatever you do, move!!! It will make you want to take better care of yourself. Set the intention of what you want to be and how you want to show up in your teaching studio. Don’t respond badly and don’t be reactive, be intentional, just find your unique way of discovering how your body behaves in movement and a way to find the physical movement that is most efficient for you.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith 32:08

Finally, we are going to talk about something that is most familiar to our teaching community and this is postural alignment. To be in complete alignment requires you to have your physical body, as well as your mind, and your emotions in harmony. As a singer the whole body is the instrument and one of the most important components of a singer’s vocal health is their postural alignment. Postural alignment influences your body’s movement, balance, stability, strength and flexibility. It affects and moderates every physiologic function from breathing to all aspects of vocal production.

Now to understand postural alignment, we must first understand that every living thing on the planet is under a constant stress. And that stress is GRAVITY! No matter what you do in life, you cannot escape the constant force of gravity pulling your body to the Earth. The human body is the machine we utilize to navigate the world and this is the main reason why postural alignment is so vitally important.

Movement and postural alignment are as critical to your health as air, water and food. Without movement, your blood would not circulate, your digestion would stop and you would find it impossible to breathe. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by postural alignment. When everything works properly, your body is considered healthy, however all of these human parts can break down in the face of poor postural alignment. You’re likely to suffer joint problems, sprains & strains which can then lead to chronic postural misalignment. This only goes from bad to worse, chronic poor postural alignment has been linked to multiple organ system problems, a reduction of blood flow to the brain and even early death. These things are all published in some of the words best scientific journals.

As singers we are vocal athletes and our vocal apparatus is made up of muscle, ligament and cartilage, which all need to be finely tuned and well aligned. Let’s look at this a little further. How easy it is to move a joint depends on its postural alignment. Muscles are attached around a joint to allow their proper motion. Ligaments are attached around a joint to limit excessive motion. It is a delicate balance of forces and when bones/ joints are NOT aligned properly, muscles lose their flexibility and ligaments lose their rigidity.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:34

What happens to your voice when your body is out of postural alignment? The muscles you use in breath management for singing are dependent on your ‘body alignment’. If misaligned, this can cause aesthetic and functional problems in singers. Poor alignment is often caused by muscles that are tight, stretched or weak which put different strains on the body and affects the way we stand when we sing. If the body is out of balance it will create tension in our instrument which, in turn, will have a domino effect throughout our whole vocal production process. So chronic postural misalignment needs correction sooner than later

Many singers who continue to sing through these harmful conditions may at some point in their careers suffer vocal damage. Take care of your postural alignment and it will take care of you.

Be attentive to how you are holding your body because standing in balanced and bouyant postural alignment will not only help you to sing efficiently, but will have you looking confident in performance, no matter how nervous you may be. It will leave you feeling better mentally and emotionally when the physical is aligned.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  37:06

Alignment in all areas of your life is not an option. When you have that nagging feeling that something isn’t right whether you’re stuck in a bad relationship, or in a career or somewhere that leaves you feeling out of sorts it’s a signal for you to do some work on re aligning yourself.

As you take steps to align on deeper levels, the results may be felt in your body. You’ll become more peaceful, experience less stress and have a desire to take better care of yourself with diet, exercise and meditation. You may notice how you’re more relaxed and full of positive energy. Unhealthy situations or people will either change or be released from your life. You may find yourself changing careers, friends, spouses, hobbies. As you see the shifts in yourself—and as others begin to notice—you’ll begin to trust more in the process. Always remember that you’re never given more than you can handle, or anything that you can’t do.

We have a choice in life to make change. We can start a new story, shift our perceptions, and allow greatness to unfold. Each time I have made change in my life, especially into the unknown, I realised later that it was the dive that was the scary part—not the unknown. Of course, the first step into the unknown is never easy; it can be terrifying. But this is how we make the necessary shifts in our lives is by letting go of our fears and taking the plunge into the new. When we say, “I’m done with feeling this way. I’m ready to feel good,” we’re sending a strong energetic message to the mind. Your desire to feel better is all you need to pivot toward alignment.