Healthy Narration Habits
What is #BoothHealth? I use my 15 years of experience as a medical myofascial therapist to educate fellow narrators on posture, breathing, and easy habits to stay healthy in the booth.
Let’s meet two muscles which need some love: Gastrocnemius and Soleus, otherwise known as your calf muscles.
When we are stationary for long periods, our calves can become tight and short. This can lead to aches and pains in other parts of the body further up and down the kinetic chain.
Ankles can lose mobility, knees can hurt due to tight calf muscles pulling down on them in the back, and Plantar Fasciitis can develop from tightness pulling up on the bottoms of the feet.
While you’re doing your lip trills and vocal warm-ups, try using the threshold of your booth, or another step, to stretch your calves.
Make sure to hold the stretch for 30 seconds to give the muscle time to release and lengthen, then repeat two more times.
Booth Health Tuesday is back after Hurricane Ida strolled through my area. Her winds were fast but her forward movement was slow.
Muscles of the skeleton are made of fast twitch and slow twitch fibers. Slow twitch fibers make up a large part of deep and core muscles responsible for posture and stabilization, while fast twitch fibers are for movement and bursts of activity.
Slow twitch fibers can work under heavy loads (posture) for a long time while fast twitch fibers are fatigued more quickly (movement).
Poor posture can cause core muscles to weaken from lack of use. Improper posture calls on fast twitch muscles to do the job, and these muscles become tired, fatigued, and achy.
Quick tip: Add a mirror to your studio/work area and let it be a reminder to lift yourself to better posture.
I got a new saddle!
People often ask what type of chair is best for narrating, editing, and working.
Answer: totally personal choice!
I do recommend a backless version such as saddle, kneeling, or yoga ball chair.
Engages the back muscles for improved back strength
Maintains better posture, opening respiratory pathways
Maintains proper spinal curves, reducing back fatigue
Do tongue twisting words in your narration make you want to pull your hair out? Me too, but did you know that hair pulling self-massage can restore your peace?
Head massage goes way back in history all over the world and it is known for its benefits regarding stress reduction, healing and recovery, hair growth (YES!!) and improved circulation.
Pulling on your own hair is an easy way to stretch the scalp fascia and refresh your mind.
-Start with grasping your hair at the back if your head, close to your scalp
-Reach in with open hands, sliding your fingers up your head, then close your hands to capture a fistful of hair in each hand
-Pull UP toward the top of your head
-Repeat on the sides above your ears
-Repeat at your temples, always aiming the pull up
-Finish with the center line of your head, following the line as if you had a Mohawk hairstyle, from front to back
-Only pull til you feel a stretch. It should not hurt. Adjust the pull to your comfort level.
Sorry, bald friends.
Anyone have a headache? Meet the SternoCleidomastoid Suscle (SCM). There is one on each side of your neck. You can’t miss it. See mine?
Tightness in the SCM from looking down at phones and desks can cause trigger points (areas of tenderness) that can radiate to other parts of the head, including the forehead, jaw and eyes.
Daily self-massage of this muscle can alleviate these pain patterns.
Turn your head to the right side and tilt your head down. Find the SCM on the left side and grasp the middle of the muscle with your thumb and index finger of your right hand. If you feel a pulse or feel like choking, let go and grasp it further away from your throat. Squeeze and roll the muscle and inch your way up and down the length of it. Hold it and tilt your head forward and backward and side to side. You may feel tenderness in certain spots. Pinch those (not too hard) for about 15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Squatting is an awesome alternative to bending, stooping, and sitting. The benefits range from digestive, respiratory, and metabolic activity. Blood chemistry is improved with less sitting because sitting for long periods increases insulin resistance. Not everyone can get low, so take your time. Sub squatting instead of bending to pick something up from the floor. Squat to pet the dog instead of stooping. Slow down if there is pain. Your future old self will be grateful for the hip mobility you develop today.
Sitting for long periods of time can cause tightness in the hips and groin, which can lead to back and knee pain. Here’s one way to stretch the hip adductors and lower back to bring some balance back.
Bucket of Rocks Stretch:
Place one foot on a stool, not too high. The bend in your knee should be 90 degrees or less.
Bend forward, go ahead and drop your head and curve your back.
IMAGINE you’re holding a bucket of rocks in your hands and “feel” its weight pulling your hands towards the floor.
Hold for several seconds, or as long as is comfortable.
Switch legs and stretch the other side.
Comb your hair, if necessary.
Is it true that “locking your knees” can cause you to faint? It is! But locking means more than just standing with your legs straight. It’s when your Quadriceps muscles in the front of your thighs are contracted enough to lift your kneecaps upwards, and held in that tightened position for an extended length of time.
Locking the knees can restrict blood flow through the veins, back to the heart, causing a depletion of oxygen to the upper part of the body, including THE BRAIN. Then….oops….thud.
If you stand to narrate, avoid locking your knees by keeping them softly bent and taking lots of breaks.
Reminder: Izotope RX doesn’t have THUD removal.
Here’s a SURPRISE! The little muscle in the front of your body has a big impact on your posture.
Pectoralis Minor sits underneath the muscles you know as “pecs.” If they’re tight, they will pull your shoulders forward into a rounded position causing back and neck pain. It may even cause shoulder injury by making the shoulder joint function out of proper alignment.
You can stretch this muscle daily in a corner or a doorway. Be sure to hold the stretch for about 30 seconds, breathing and relaxing into it with every breath as you feel the release in your chest. Headphones optional.
Let’s meet the piriformis muscle.
Located deeper than your glutes, the piriformis helps stabilize and rotate your hips. The very large sciatic nerve lays next to the piriformis. Fun fact: In 10%-15% of people, it can run through the center of the piriformis muscle.
If that muscle is tight from excessive sitting and slouching, it can push on the sciatic nerve causing pain down the leg. Massaging and stretching can help. Here is just one way to self-massage the piriformis.
Here’s a DIY self massage gadget for those long hours in the booth (or the car).
You just need a sock and a tennis ball. Place the ball inside the sock, fling that thing over your shoulder and control the placement with the open end of the sock. Now lean back against your chair or carseat. Enjoy!
Let’s visualize how good posture benefits your ability to breathe well.
Think of your respiratory diaphragm as the “roof” of your abdominal organs and the pelvic diaphragm (floor) as the “basement”. They work in concert with each breath to create and regulate pressure.
Breath dysfunction (shallow breathing) can lead to weakening of core breathing muscles as well as the pelvic diaphragm which can lead to bladder leakage, prolapse, and lower back pain. It also can induce those sharp intakes of breath which may sound distracting in our narration.
Some fellow #narrators have asked me about postnasal drip, allergy, and sinus issues. Since those are things beyond the scope of my training, I consulted with fellow narrator and Registered Respiratory Therapist, Peter Lerman.
Allergy Advice for Narrators
By Peter Lerman, Registered Respiratory Therapist
Licensed in the states of Connecticut and New York
Be aware that, unlike normal people, narrators inhale through their mouths while narrating. We all do. We have to. The humidification and filtering that normally takes place in your nose and sinuses is not happening when we mouth breathe. So, we must compensate.
Get Ready for Netti
The Netti Pot is the open secret of singers, actors and narrators. It’s a little ‘pitcher’ that you use to pour salt water into one nostril which flows through your sinuses and out the other nostril. It is harder to explain than it is to show. Just visit YouTube and watch some videos of people doing it. It is drug free, simple, easy, effective – and has great benefits with no side effects.
Thin is In: Guiafenesen
This is an over-the-counter medication popularly known as ‘Mucinex’. It thins the mucous secretions in your airways. It works well and is generally considered quite safe but check with your MD if you have any concerns.
The Salt of the Earth: Saline Spray
My favorite is ‘Simply Saline’. Convenient, safe, useful: no ingredients other than salt and water. Very handy if your airways dry out while narrating. Everyone’s airways do. Better than the squeeze bottle type of spray, which has preservatives and actually ‘inhales’ room air after you squeeze it out.
One by one, eliminate scented products from your life. There are scent free versions of dryer sheets, detergents, hand lotions, shampoo, deodorant, etc. Stop bringing that ‘pollution’ into your booth.
Honorable Mentions: Environment
- Dust Reduction
- Pollen Reduction
I have a secret code for you: Silly Lovers Try Positions That They Can’t Handle!
OK, it’s not a secret, but rather a mnemonic to help remember the bones of the wrist. Some of those bones help form a narrow canal called the carpal tunnel, through which the median nerve passes. Get where I’m going with this? You’ve probably heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, right? Maybe you’ve experienced it. Burning, tingling, numbness in your palm, thumb, or middle fingers?
There are many causes for this syndrome including repetitive wrist motions, certain health conditions and pregnancy but the one I want to focus on is posture. Slumping your shoulders causes impingement of the nerve before it even gets to your wrist, causing inflammation before it must squeeze through the carpal tunnel. Opening the chest with stretches can help, making it easier to adjust your posture to a more upright and open one.
Let’s meet some muscles of the back. Back muscles are many and their arrangement and functions are complex. Many of them are integral to maintaining good posture.
When I performed human dissections in my human anatomy studies, my favorite back muscle was the iliocostalis thoracis muscle for its beauty and bird wing appearance (Not posting a cadaver picture here because, not everyone likes that sort of thing.)
Slumping posture can weaken back muscles by overstretching them over time. Here is an easy way to perform the yoga pose, Cat Cow, while at your desk, to both stretch and strengthen those beauties.
PS: If you want to see what I mean, I’ll message you the cadaver photo.
It’s #BoothHealth Tuesday and here I am, sitting around backstage with my cast-mates a couple of years ago *sigh*
Sitting is restful and relaxing, but when the majority of your life is spent in the sitting position, there’s going to be trouble, with a capital T!
“Regarding chronic illness, prolonged sitting can cause our mus- cles to utilize insulin less effectively. This can directly lead to issues with glucose metabolism and eventually with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Prolonged sitting can also be associated with pain syndromes. Strained neck, carpal tunnel, shoulder pain, and lower back and hip pain can all arise from sitting. In an age when most of us sit—commuting to work and sitting in a car for two hours per day, then sitting at a desk for eight hours—our posture and alignment can suffer.”Dr. Monica Aggarwal and Dr. Jyothi Rao
Keep on moving, friends! Stretch, do yoga, walk, swim, ride a bike, dance……
Let’s talk about narrating while STANDING. Lots of audiobook narrators prefer standing to sitting, feeling that it opens their respiratory mechanisms and gives them more freedom of movement.
So, standers, my suggestion is to remain aware of your standing position. Leaning on one leg, over time, like David, can create muscle imbalances causing knee, back, shoulder or neck problems. Plant both feet evenly on the floor, keep your knees relaxed and take frequent breaks to walk around or do a few squats.
However, just like David, pants are optional in the booth.
The CrossFit Games Open is officially over. I participated in this worldwide competition for the 5th time. Every year I am amazed at the tenacity and grit that everyday athletes bring to the Open. Do you need to be a CrossFit athlete to be fit? Do you need to withstand the rigors of narrating for hours at a time? No, but, you DO need to find a physical activity that you enjoy doing to keep your body (your most important tool) in healthy working order. I wrote a short blog about what fitness has to do with audiobook narrating here.
Move over, kids! Swinging is good for adults too. It’s #BoothHealth Tuesday and I’m talking about swinging in a swing or a hammock, romance narrators
Taking breaks from sitting or standing for hours in our booth is crucial to maintaining our health and well-being. Engaging in various activities during those breaks pushes some powerful re-set buttons on our physical and mental nature.
Swinging brims with sensory input in a calming way: the breeze that blows over your skin, the sensation of flying, the feeling of weightlessness, the relief for the eyes to view the distant scenery. Actively swinging in a traditional swing can burn about 200 calories per hour!
It’s springtime, and a perfect time to install some kind of swing or hammock in your world.
She said “It’s completely useless to say ‘use the diaphragm’ as the solution to many voice issues. It’s not a useful piece of advice because we can’t feel our diaphragm as there are no proprioceptive nerves in it, so it’s not actually possible to know if you are ‘using it’ because we literally can’t feel it. It’s much more useful to focus on release of the abs on the IN breath”.
Great advice, Nic! Now add my advice, which is to drop the shoulders and let your body feel heavy on the OUT breath.You won’t “feel your diaphragm being used”, but you’ll be using that workhorse of a muscle with these techniques!
My peeves feel less stressful already.
Let your chest enter the room/booth first! It’s #BoothHealth Tuesday and many people (especially women) live and move with their breastbone held down. Often they are “protecting” themselves, their modesty, their psychological sensitivities. This posture drags the collarbones down and the shoulders roll forward causing the neck and head to jut forward. The stress that this causes at the back of the neck can lead to a build-up of connective tissue, which can result in a condition known as “dowager’s hump.” Lift from the crown of the head and the ribs to avoid this.
Do you think you are sedentary or active? Most people don’t think of themselves as sedentary, but we narrate/sit at a desk, sit for meals, drive or ride a bus, and plop on the sofa to watch TV. The effects of all this sitting has been shown to create detrimental health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression. Research shows that even going to the gym for an hour a day does not reverse the effects of sitting for long periods at a time. Take frequent breaks, walk, stand, squat, run in place, take the stairs, or try an unstable chair, such as a yoga ball, or stool.
When I was a child, I thought the trachea and esophagus looked like the plumbing under the kitchen sink. I guess I heard someone say something went down the wrong pipe. In case you’ve ever been that confused about vocal cords, they do not look like bungees Rather, they are made up of layers of epithelial cells, connective tissue and muscle.
Vocal Health Coach, Austenne Grey says to keep your vocal folds in shape for hours of narrating try this:
“The straw is your new best friend. For five breaths, inhale and exhale through the straw. Make a note of where expansion takes place. HINT: it should be low i.e., inhaling should have a “baby belly” effect. No movement in the shoulders. Then, for five more breaths, inhale through the straw then, exhale while humming! HINT: You should feel a reverse megaphone effect. Wide and relaxed in the back of the throat. Air pressure sent from the lungs meets with back-pressure created by the straw thus, making sure the vocal folds are properly aligned.
Add this to your warm-up and throughout the day.”