Today I am going to teach you my favorite exercise. I often jokingly refer to this as my desert island exercise because if I had to choose just one exercise from all of the dozens that I know, this would be the one. It’s called “the spinal roll.” Now, I didn’t invent this exercise, it’s been around forever, and it’s the type of thing that you would probably learn in your very first voice lesson.
Now I like the spinal roll because it has the potential to address all three of the crucial components required of any practice or warm-up. What are those three components? You hear me talking about them all the time.
Number one, relaxation, because tension anywhere in your body limits and distort your communication. The second element is breathing. Because the human voice is a wind instrument, the quality of your speech will never surpass the quality of your breath. The third element is resonance. In order to engage others, you must be fully engaged yourself.
So any warm-up you do, any practice you do, I don’t care what method you’re using, sooner or later it has to address those three elements; relaxation, breathing and resonance. The spinal roll, at least in a basic way, can do all three.
You are not going to see my head for the first part of this. Bear with me. It was the best I could do given the depth of field that I had to work with.
I want you to start with your feet about hip-width apart, not shoulder-width, hip-width apart, so your feet are going to be about 6-8 inches apart. Relax your head forward and beginning rolling down toward the ground as though you were going to touch your toes, but you are not reaching, you’re just relaxing as far down as it feels comfortable.
Hanging head downward, take a deep breath, and just breathe some tension out of your body [sound of exhaling] and notice what your body does when you exhale, when you let go of your breath. Breathe in and exhale [sounds of exhaling]. Some people will say, “Well, I feel my body relaxing.” Other people will say, “Oh, I feel myself getting closer to the ground.” You might something different. Just enjoy that feeling.
Let’s do it again. Breathe deeply and sigh out [sound of exhaling]. Then slowly roll back to an upright position, without tensing the back of your neck, without lifting your head, without holding your arms, without tensing your shoulders, you’re just going to unroll like a rug until you’re upright again.
Take a moment and notice what you’ve done. In the smallest ways, how is your body different now compared to the way it felt before you rolled down your spine? And we’re not looking for miracles here. Some people might say, “My shoulders feel more relaxed,” or “My neck feels more relaxed.” Others might say, “My legs feel more relaxed,” or “My back feels more relaxed.” Sometimes people even say, “My head feels more relaxed.” It’s different for everyone. Just notice something.
Now roll down the spine again. Let go of the back of your neck, relaxing your shoulders, relaxing your upper back, middle back, lower back, until you are hanging your head downward again. Now this time we’re going to take a deep breath and together we are going to sigh out the word “Waaaaay.” Just like that.
So here we go. Breathe deeply and way, “Waaaaay.” How about the word, “Woe?” Breathe deeply, “woooooe.” See if you can allow your body to let go and drop closer to the ground every time you release the sound, just like it was doing before when it was just breath. Let’s try “Wow!” “Wooooow.” And then roll back to an upright position with a heavy and heavy arms. And stand for a moment and notice what you feel.
Now, let’s roll down the spine the third time, sighing out sound as we roll down the spine. Let’s try way, “Waaaay.” Woe, “Woooooe,” letting go and wow, “Wooooow,” and then sighing out sound as we roll up the spine. Way, again, “Waaaaay.” Woe, “Woooooe,” and wow, “Wooooow.” And stand for a moment and notice what you’ve done.
Now, we did three spinal rolls, you might do six, eight or even ten, but every time you do a spinal roll, see if you can make it a new experience. Notice something that you didn’t notice before. Relax some part of your body that you didn’t relax before. In theory, no two spinal rolls should ever feel exactly the same if you’re paying attention. You’re always experimenting, you’re always adjusting, you’re always doing something that will make the next one feel better.
So, what’s the benefit of all this. Well, let’s go back to the beginning. The first effect of the spinal roll is relaxation. As you roll and unroll your torso, your body starts to open up. It starts to let go. You feel more relaxed, grounded, expansive, and as a speaker, your listeners feel more at ease.
The second effect is breathing. As you roll through your spine and your body starts to let go, you start to breathe more easily, more deeply into your belly, your sides, and even your back, and what’s the benefit of that? Well, your voice becomes stronger and clearer. The pace of your speech becomes more deliberate. Your delivery becomes more fluent, and you even think more clearly.
And the third effect is resonance. As you roll through your spine you start to feel sound vibrations changing as your body changes position. You start to discover the voice/body connection. Your whole body starts to vibrate with the sound of your voice. When your whole body vibrates then you start speaking with your whole being. Your message has impact.
Now, I am not saying that a spinal roll is the only exercise you will ever need to develop your whole voice or that it will be a complete warm-up before you have to speak in important situations. I am just saying that the spinal roll is a nice, simple exercise that touches on all three of those critical areas; relaxation, breathing, and resonance.
For a complete program to discover your whole voice, go to the products page at voiceandspeech.com and download the mp3 program, Your Confident Voice.
Voice Training: My Favorite Voice Exercise
If I had to choose only one voice exercise, I would choose the Spinal Roll. It’s so simple, but there’s no end to what you can learn from it. It benefits your level of relaxation, the quality of your breathing and even resonance. If you would do this voice exercise ten times daily, noticing something new with every repetition, you could dramatically change your physical state of being for the better and enhance your ability to communicate well. There’s no such thing as one voice exercise that does it all, but this one is a classic.