Hint: Not in the Way You Might Expect . . .
Relax and breathe!”
My voice teacher has said these words to me a thousand times. Sometimes it’s, “Relax and breathe!” and sometimes its “Relax and Breathe!”
The funny thing about studying something as finely detailed as classical singing is that your teacher can say the same thing over and over again until finally one day you suddenly understand what she means.
“Relax and breathe. Relax your belly and breathe!” She said, and with the addition of those two extra words it hit me.
You see, as a woman, a kind of big woman, a woman whose body tends to store extra weight front and center, a woman who has on at least one occasion been mistaken for pregnant, I have trained myself to “suck it in.” My default, as I go about my day, is to hold my abdominal muscles in a way that pulls my belly as much as possible in toward my spine so that it appears slimmer.
I never realized that this was holding my singing back. In the privacy of my teacher’s studio, I allowed myself to consciously relax my “suck it in” muscles and let my gut out. I inhaled. I sang the phrase again. It was stronger, cleaner, and easier. It was a major revelation.
And I realized, that I’ve got a major hang-up to get over if I want to be able to sing well. If I’m going to release those muscles in order to take a decent singer’s breath, I’m going to have to learn how to not be ashamed of my pot belly, something I’ve been trying to hide for my entire life. Even when I’ve been at my thinnest, I still felt like I had a bit of a gut. But when I let go of it the difference it made in my singing is undeniable.
I don’t know what it’s going to take to feel comfortable enough to “let it all hang out.” I don’t think of myself as a woman who hates her body. I’m generally pretty comfortable in my skin, and I have learned how to find clothes that are flattering, and I own more than one pair of Spanx. I’m rather proud of my breasts, I’ve got great hair and I often get compliments on my complexion. I’m not model-thin, but I’m not huge either, and I’m healthy. I’ve just got this one issue.
I think the first step is just to make a habit of releasing when I’m alone in the practice room. Maybe then, that habit will unconsciously carry over to the concert hall.