How To Be A Healthy Teacher Part 1

Top Tips To Help Voice Teachers Stay Healthy

PART 1/3

It's time to turn the spot light back on you for moment. You give everything of yourself in a days teaching. You have student after student after student each with their own worries, anxieties and confidence crises. You spend every minute working tirelessly to help others reach their goals, and at the end of the day how do you feel? If you are anything like I used to be, you probably feel tired, drained, depleted, achey, sore and ready for bed the minute you get home. It's called 'over giving'. Over giving is very common among singing teachers because we do it for the love. We teach because we want our students to be great. We'll stop at nothing to make them as great as possible - and supporting people in their journey towards greatness is a tiring business.

So now it's time to start looking after YOU. The only way to inspire students to be great is to look after number one first. The more energised, healthier, focussed and balanced you are, the more space you allow to educate and inspire.

As well as training at The Purcell School of Music, Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Royal Academy of Music as a singer, I achieved my Diploma in Vocal Coaching and later trained as a natural medicine practitioner. Over the 12 years I've been working as a Holistic Voice Coach and practising natural medicine I've learned myself, the hard way, how to sustain long and tiring teaching days so that my students get the best out of me and I don't get blasted for all I am worth! In part 1/3 of my top tips to becoming a healthy teacher I will discuss sitting, posture and the physical body.

1. JUMP

This is a rebounder.

This is a rebounder.

We find ourselves continually telling our students about the importance of warming up. But do we physically, mentally (and vocally) prepare ourselves for a long day of teaching.

Sharon Parry & Leon Straker in their Bio Med Central Health Report state that "sedentary behaviour is emerging as a deeply important risk factor for poor health and mortality". 

So how can we combat our long, sedentary teaching days? I am afraid a little walk to the coffee shop on your lunch break is just not enough. Not with the rest of the sedentary time that clocks up in our lives; sat watching tv, train and bus travel, cinema, theatre, meetings, driving, staff room gossip over tea...

Rebounding could be the best thing you ever introduced to your day. Before I start my teaching day I do 10 minutes of rebounding. Rebounding is fast becoming considered the best form of over all body exercise. It can even be done by the elderly as it's so gentle on the joints. 

NASA discovered the benefits of rebounding when trying to find an effective way of helping astronauts recover and regain muscle mass after being in space. This is what NASA says: 

When the astronauts were tested while running on a treadmill, the G-force measured at the ankle was over twice what it was at the back and head. This means that the foot and leg absorb much of the force when running, which can explain the higher rates of foot, shin and knee problems from running (especially when done incorrectly). On a trampoline, the G-force was almost identical at the ankle, back and head and at a lower level than that of the G-force at the ankle on a treadmill. This shows that rebounding can exercise the entire body without excess pressure to the feet and legs

The external work output at equivalent levels of oxygen uptake were significantly greater while trampolining than running. The greatest difference was about 68%.” In other words, the increased G-force in rebounding means you get more benefit with less oxygen used and less exertion on the heart.

Averting the deconditioning that occurs during the immobilization of bed rest or space flight, due to a lack of gravireceptor stimulation (in addition to other factors), requires an acceleration profile that can be delivered at a relatively low metabolic cost. For equivalent metabolic cost, and acceleration profile from jumping will provide greater stimuli to gravireceptors. The acceleration and deceleration of rebounding provides benefits on a cellular level and at a greater rate than other forms of exercise like running.
— NASA
Astronaut on rebounder (obviously they do it on earth, not in space!)

Astronaut on rebounder (obviously they do it on earth, not in space!)

Other studies have shown that increased G-Force helps increase Lymphocyte activity in the body and is amazing for skeletal and muscle health. 

I have invested in having a rebounder both at home and at the place I teach. If you're lucky enough you can take it in your car. It can be fun to have around when you have a tired student as even 60 seconds of rebounding is invigorating, uplifting and energising. It is the single best thing I have done for myself as a sedentary teacher. I do ten minutes in the morning and a quick 3-5 minutes in every break to increase blood and lymphatic flow around my whole body. ENJOY! 

2. STAND

Me standing to explain something...

Me standing to explain something...

It is so easy to get caught in the trap of staying seated for all of your teaching time. Early on I started experimenting with teaching and communicating both seated and standing. If I need to talk or explain anything without playing any notes on the piano I will stand to do so. Not only does it keep my student engaged with me, but it also keeps me using my legs and keeps energy gently flowing through my system keeping me feeling dynamic and animated. Try walking out from behind the piano into the space to stand next to your student to talk through breathing technique or to demonstrate that acting choice or physicality.

In my studio I use an electric piano with extendable stand. I recently found out that offices are now using standing desks for their health and postural benefits so I thought why not at the piano then? I now extend my piano stand to my height and play standing for a few hours after lunch. I realise many of you will be playing at acoustic and real pianos so this may not be possible. However my next tip is for you...

3. PLAY BALL

Random man using pilates ball to play piano

Random man using pilates ball to play piano

The pilates ball is my new best friend. No more slouching on my hard uncomfortable piano stall. For half my day I now use a pilates ball to sit on. It keeps me upright with a beautifully formed spine. I stay balanced because it encourages micro-movements through out my skeletal and muscular system to keep me from becoming stagnant. The added benefit is you can do beautiful spine stretching exercises on it in your breaks if you don't feel like rebounding. I even gently bounce on the ball as I play through my students warm ups and vocal exercises. The slight smile this puts on their faces only helps them to retract their false vocal folds for a freer more open tone... 

I've spent an hour writing this article hunched over my desk... I am off to jump, stand AND bounce! Stay tuned for my next article on energy boosting techniques that don't involve sugar and coffee...

Love Gary x