WO WEEKS AGO I suffered my third hamstring pull of the summer. At least it was the left one this time. I’ve never been injury prone before, so if you want to blame 2020, I won’t stop you. (Have you heard that there are fire tornadoes now?)
My cardio workout involves running to a pedestrian bridge, running a series of sprints up the steep side of the bridge, and then running home. It’s a great way to burn off excess energy and clear the mind. Only I’ve obviously fallen out of good running technique in 2020 because I keep getting hurt.
One of my choir members has a solid grounding in physical therapy and human anatomy. After I offhandedly mentioned my latest injury in an email, she wrote me back the next morning with detailed instructions on stretching and rehab, as well as two video attachments of her performing the stretches she recommends.
Isn’t this one of the greatest benefits of being a church choir director? You meet the most remarkable people who will do anything for anyone without being asked. Will you stop right now and say a Hail Mary for this young lady, who is discerning religious life? Thank you.
As helpful as my friend’s tips were, I knew I also needed to fix my running technique. So I went to my bookshelf and pulled out ChiRunning, by Danny Dreyer. Dreyer’s approach to running is designed to imitate the principles of tai chi, about which I know nothing. It had been years since I had explored ChiRunning. I had forgotten how comfortable and natural this method can be if you just give it a chance to work.
I won’t get into running technique, other than to share the one element that really grabbed me:
“The most basic concept behind ChiRunning and the way it optimally works is that you create a straight line with your posture, from the crown of your head to the bottoms of your feet. We call this your Column. When your Column is aligned properly, your body weight is supported primarily by your structure, not your muscles.” (pg. 61)
I’m already finding this advice helpful in my running. And I naturally stopped to consider how it would translate to singing and conducting.
It may be helpful to picture a straight line from the crown of the head to the bottoms of the feet. But I was more intrigued by the concept of the body weight being supported by the structure.
Try it. Stand up straight—but don’t go to any great lengths to have “good” posture, because this can lead to tension. Make sure your weight is balanced evenly over the arches of both feet. Also, make sure you’re not slanting too far forward onto the balls of your feet, nor leaning back on your heels.
Next, simply be aware of the fact that your skeleton is holding up your body. What you’re really doing is giving your muscles permission to relax. Your bones are doing the hard work, so your muscles can step back and play a supporting role.
When I try this exercise, I feel little pockets of tension disappearing from head to toe. You might consider using it as a warmup activity with your choir; it takes only seconds. Like the Alexander Technique, it’s a natural, common-sense way to prepare our bodies for the rigors of making music.
Isn’t it amazing how good technique from one discipline can carry over to help you perform better in another? Now, if only “keeping my hands in the sound” could somehow help me keep my hamstrings healthy.