The last few months have been an interesting time for me...
After 12 years of London as a base I've decided to jump ship and emigrate to Ireland. Life in one of the best cities in the world through my 20's has been great fun, but I'm ready to tone things down and once again embrace the small town living which I longed to escape as a teenager.
To that end I've been back in Yorkshire for a few months, learning to drive (essential for life in Ireland) and spending some quality time with family and friends. Yorkshire has plenty of clean air and small towns, but to add great music and craic to the list I need to get to Ireland - and with Brexit around the corner, sooner rather than later!
From being back up north, the effect on my voice and spine have been noticeable. Both are essential as a performer and teacher, so care and knowledge of these is essential to best working practise.
Firstly, within a matter of weeks of being back, my voice dropped. This isn't the usual accent adjustment you'd find moving to a home region after being away (usually a change in tone rather than pitch), but a drop in the habitual voice level by three of four notes. Essentially, this is a result of relaxation of the laryngeal muscles - the cause? No, not the various muscle release techniques (direct and indirect) favoured by so many acting and voice teachers, but just from escaping the madness of London, "The Big Smoke". I wonder, is having the vast majority of acting conservatoires in London conducive to the most efficient models of movement and voice training? Much as I have my reservations about Linklater training (a distinct understatement), I can nonetheless appreciate why Kristin conducts her training in beautiful Scottish countryside. After so may years of cramped tube travel (the metro), striving to get through crowds, and appalling air quality; my habitual pitch had simply become that slight bit higher - both by necessity of needing to be heard, and by slight tensions in the vocal tract from the general stresses of living in the capital.
Secondly, I've noticed a big difference on my posture and spine. This has been positive in day to day use - the space in even a busy city Yorkshire shopping street being akin to a quiet day in even a suburban London high street, thus allowing a freedom in use of my full width and height. At 6' 4'' (1.93cm) I'm fairly tall so it's been a great relief to avoid the daily stooping in small underground carriages. However this has proved problematic in learning to drive! Surely a body awareness course should be available to sit alongside all driving tuition? So many vehicles, all different shapes and sizes, with different force needed by arms, legs, and feet to operate them...
After the first lesson is was my knees which felt strange, asking them to be positioned and used in a manner I'd not done in the previous 31 years. It was almost as if my knees were twisted, like I could feel my Popliteus muscle for the first time (this connects the back of the Tibia to the outside of the Femur). Of course, this got better after only a few lessons, but until now the main issue had been driving in cars too small for me, ones where I had to hunch/crick my neck slightly to ensure that my head wasn't pressed hard against the roof of the vehicle. After a four hour lesson before my test I knew I'd pulled or knotted a muscle, likely my Iliocostalis (cervical part) or Longissimus Cervicis (these connect from between the shoulder blade and spine up to the same side of the neck) - and painful it was too! Every lesson required spinal work afterwards, and I may still even go for a deep tissue massage even now, to be sure.
But hey-ho I passed my test first time, am now fully mobile (a strange feeling after so many years of depending on lifts/public transport), and have a vehicle with plenty of head room so am rid of the posture problems plaguing me for the past few weeks. Hooray!
I'd be interested to hear thoughts from tutors on this matter, driving position must have an enormous effect on our student's posture and use of spine, and until now wasn't something I suppose I'd considered much.
Have you posture or back pain problems from driving? Do you know you get tense in your neck when using your voice? Driving may be a cause, and a massage might be a relief, but training yourself in body awareness is undoubtedly the best full time solution. I've been fortunate to study both Alexander and Feldenkrais techniques and would recommend either. These are minimum effort (though require strong/specific focus) practises which will help many people, and certainly any performer. Search online for a practitioner or group class in your area and give it a go!
And if you want to try something without paying, have a go at these short, free, online Feldenkrais lessons here.
Thanks for reading, comments very welcome.