This post is in response to questions from a reader named Jeff:
I’m always a tad bewildered/beleaguered by degree of pelvic floor (ie lower ab) engagement, as well as by the specifics of it. What I’ve been doing lately is just centered around the sensations you feel upon a hiss—the obliques engage, and there’s a kinda belt-tightening feeling around the ‘cough’ muscles. This seems to facilitate that growing/blooming feeling of the upper torso upon exhale, which i take to be a good thing. Others, though, talk of a ‘kick out’ feeling.
I recently talked to an Alexander teacher, who talked of ‘upon inhale, our sit bones widen; and upon exhale, we delay their narrowing to help our breath/tone’. I found that a new (to me, at least) and fascinating way to describe it (though I don’t really know how to put it in practice).
But I’d just love to know if you think all these are describing the same thing, and what you yourself teach in regards to pelvic floor engagement.
Thanks for these great questions, Jeff! I relate to your desire to understand the details of your functioning and have some ideas that might allow you to easily let the pelvic floor do what it needs to do in singing.
Let’s start with your last sentence, about what I teach about pelvic floor engagement. In a word: nothing. I find that the less we try to manipulate individual parts, the more we can access the whole-body organization that serves our singing (and all other activities). I wrote about this in the context of ab muscle engagement in another post; everything I said there about abs applies equally to pelvic floor muscles.
Mini anatomy lesson: Let’s orient ourselves to the parts under discussion, starting with the pubic bone, the dividing line between the lower ab muscles and the pelvic floor muscles.
In this picture, the pelvis seen from above, the pubic bone is at the bottom. The ab muscles (not shown here) would attach to its upper edge. You can see that some of the pelvic floor muscles attach to its lower edge, others, to the tailbone and to the lowest portions of the pelvis to form a bowl-like structure at the very bottom of our torsos.
Now back to your questions, Jeff. The widening/narrowing pattern of the sit bones in breathing that the Alexander teacher you talked to recently introduced you to is part of a whole-body pattern. In my teaching I am always looking to tap into this natural cycle and free it up. I have developed a movement exploration that makes this cycle easy to experience, which I call Whole-Body Breathing. I offer classes dedicated to WBB. You may have watched a video of such a class when you signed up for my mailing list.
I will be leading full-day seminars on Whole-Body Breathing in NYC in November, February, and March. These seminars allow participants to experience the correct integration of the pelvic floor, the abs, and all their other parts in breathing and in singing. I hope you can make it to one of them, Jeff! What can seem confusing when we focus on the admittedly complex contributions of individual parts of the system becomes easy to grasp when we experience the system working as a whole, in an integrated, natural, unmanipulated manner.
Feel free, Jeff or anyone else reading this, to ask follow-up questions as a comment below.