"Singing from the Diaphragm" – An open letter to the world of voice training

Leslie works with Della on diaphragm release.I’ve had the opportunity lately to work with a number of singers and voice actors. When they tell me about some of the instructions and information they’ve been given, I never cease to be amazed by the lack of basic understanding exhibited by their vocal coaches. Admittedly, this impression comes entirely secondhand, but If I could send a message to all the voice trainers of the world it would be this:

Singing first and foremost is a breathing pattern. This breathing pattern consists of long, slow, supported, vibratory exhales, followed by short, quick, efficient inhales. The ability to do that breathing pattern must be the foundation for all vocal techniques, and if you are not training a singer’s body to efficiently execute that pattern, they will invariably have problems.

Perhaps the statements of this yoga teacher will be viewed as presumptuous by the voice community, but consider this: you do not need to be an expert in auto mechanics to know that the fanciest car will go nowhere without a functioning engine. Similarly, I do not need need to be schooled in vocal pedagogy to know that an efficiently operating breathing mechanism is quite literally the engine that makes singing possible.

Is the diaphragm important in this process? Of course it is, but the diaphragm is a muscle of inhaling, while singing is 90% exhaling. This means that the diaphragm is shortening its fibers only 10% of the time during most vocal phrasing. What, then do vocal coaches *really* mean when they tell a vocalist to “sing from your diaphragm?”

If you are a voice coach, and you can’t answer this question accurately, you need to educate yourself.

If you are a voice student reading this, and this is brand-new information to you, I would encourage you to show this article to your voice coach, see what they say, and if they have questions, please send them my way.  I’d love to have this conversation first-hand for a change.


A return to being an anatomy student

What a privilege it’s been to spend this week back in the anatomy lab with the singular Gil Hedley and 35 outstanding, talented, accomplished fellow Somanauts.

Lydia and I came in on the third and final week of Gil’s unprecedented marathon teaching event during which he is recording on video and photographing never-before seen dissective technique and perspective for his upcoming “Atlas of Integral Anatomy.”

I always learn an enormous amount while spending time with Gil and the amazing people who show up in his lab.  This is my sixth time since 1997, but several participants and assistants have done far more than I.

Yesterday I had to leave early to teach my Yoga Anatomy course at The Breathing Project. Switching from student to teacher mode proved to be very energizing for me and I was jazzed to teach my own material in a way I haven’t been for quite a while.

Thank you, Gil.  And thank you especially to the essential generosity of the 8 donors whose forms grace our tables in the lab.  Please consider donating your body to science. I can tell you from personal experience as a student honored with access to such generosity, it’s a profound gift to your fellow man.

NJ Somanauts


Tom Myers, Leslie Kaminoff & Amy Matthews teach NYC Symposium, Nov. 22-23

Spacious Feet is sold out

Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains®,
Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy &
Amy Matthews’ Embodied Asana present

Spacious Feet:

A weekend symposium in New York City
Sat-Sun, November 22-23, 2014, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
Helen Mills Event Space, 137-139 West 26th Street NYC
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn from anatomy and movement pioneers Tom Myers, Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews co-presenting a transformative weekend symposium.

Using lavishly illustrated lectures and movement explorations, this workshop is for anyone with feet, especially movement teachers and manual therapists of all kinds.

28 bones wrapped in a fascial bag, our uniquely human foot is a marvel of engineering – and it needs to be: such a tiny base of support under a tall and gangly skeleton with a high center of gravity.

Tiny changes in the position of our foot bones can make huge differences in functional ability and pain.  Learn to see proper positioning and response to guide your clients or students into dynamic, responsive feet that hold the body up easily and tread lightly on the planet.


  • The essential arches of our feet
  • The ankle joints and body balance
  • The improbable heel and support for the back body
  • Slings and arch support: the calf muscles to the rescue
  • Responsive walking and the myofascial meridians — how we handle forces as we walk
  • Maintaining a pliable foot in an urban environment

$550 SOLD OUT!

Questions? Contact Leah for more information

Fall tour recap, part 1: Toronto, ON

I just finished a weekend workshop at the Yoga Sanctuary in Toronto, sponsored by new friends, Ashley and Bryon, who run Body Evolutions

One of the highlights was the opportunity to work with a young woman with a 75° thoracic c-curve scoliosis stabilized by Harrington rod surgery. We played with combining warrior stance with asymmetrical arm movements to identify the most unstable combination. By  varying the vector of her arm movements, she was able to activate long dormant muscles, helping to relieve some chronic pain under her right scapula.

It was very rewarding to help her discover how much rib cage movement she still had and experience freer breathing as a result. Lydia was able to snap some photos documenting her curve flattening out during this exploration.

All in all it was a fabulous weekend with a roomful of experienced teachers and studio owners. I look forward to returning to Toronto soon.


More photos available on Flickr (photo credit: Lydia Mann) .


Come on vacation with me!


If you’ve been reading these posts for a while you know I love to travel, love to teach and love a good party. I hope you’ll join me – along with Sadie Nardini and some of our closest friends – when we’ll get to do all those things at once!

We’ll be teaching at Maya Tulum during a weeklong retreat April 5-12, 2014. It’s not too soon to plan your next vacation, and it’s starting to fill up, so check it out:

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Yoga Therapy Summit in the Black Hills of South Dakota – Sept. 13-15

YT Summit
I am very excited and honored to be presenting alongside my esteemed colleagues and fellow students of the Krishnamacharya/Desikachar lineage at this unprecedented event.
I hope you can join us for this one-of-a-kind experience in this beautiful setting.
Check out the Facebook page.

For the occasion, I’ve created a brand-new presentation entitled: The Knot of Brahma – Emotional Suppression as the Source of Common Pain Syndromes.

Here is the description of the topic:
The ancient model of prana/apana samayogah as a definition of pranayama offers a simple, yet powerful model for how we can uncover and resolve the internal obstructions that result from a lifetime of managing our emotional “spaces.”
These ideas are especially important for Yoga Educators because there is mounting evidence that the most common pain syndromes suffered by vast numbers of people have their origins in the mind-body/psyche-soma mechanisms of emotional suppression.
In this wide-ranging lecture/demo, Leslie Kaminoff will review some of the latest research that supports this view, and he will relate it to the uniquely integrated teachings of breath-centered yoga practice within the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya.
For educators dedicated to working more deeply and effectively, these insights will be invaluable in the pursuit of reducing the “bad space” of dukha and increasing the “good space” of sukha.


yogijbrown: Is Your Yoga Safe?

Another great piece from my friend J. Brown’s blog.  He’s given me permission to re-publish on e-Sutra anything I think my readers will enjoy, and I’m sure this qualifies.


From J. Brown:

Infrequent visitors to the yoga blogosphere may not be aware of the recent kerfuffle surrounding a NY Times article about how yoga will hurt you, but there also has been some mainstream media coverage on the safety of yoga.

While the article seems to have broken a few glass jaws in the broader yoga community, practitioners with a therapeutic orientation have been sounding alarms about questionable practice for years and getting nothing but flak in return. Those with the courage to take a stand and level public criticism of overly aggressive and guitar-hero-like approaches are usually written off as haters who are just jealous of the cool kids with their feet on their heads.

I’m not going to address the article directly. This has been done well enough already by voices more qualified than mine (I recommend watching Leslie Kaminoff’s three-part video response.) But I am interested in people questioning what they are doing and whether or not it is safe, even if it is a byproduct of a sensationalistic and irresponsible ploy to sell books.

Unfortunately, the subsequent conversation has largely been dominated by a reach for easy answers that avoid deeper issues. More often than not, injuries in yoga are being attributed to a lack of proper alignment or understanding of anatomy. It is said either that practitioners are not doing the poses in a technically correct way or that their teachers are not educated enough about anatomy to instruct students how to do the poses in a technically correct way.

When it comes to alignment, I find it curious to notice teachers who are are usually quite rigid in their instruction are now bending over backwards to explain how they respond to the needs of students. Specifically, I was reading an excerpt from a new book, written by a senior teacher in a classical tradition, who was considering the instruction to “straighten your leg.”

Without referring to any particular poses, the author asserts that the instruction is a “very coarse truth [that] new students need to hear” and that the way to accommodate different capabilities is to offer different “levels of truth” in the form of more detailed directives (i.e. lift the quadriceps, resist with the calf muscle, root the three corners of the feet, etc.) The suggestion is that different students need different details as they develop the fully realized truth behind “straighten your leg.”

The problem is that finding different ways of articulating the same arbitrary configuration is not an example of how to adapt to the needs of students and certainly will not make the practice any safer for the large majority of people who benefit from bending their knees. The concept of “technically correct” is open to interpretation and much of what is considered proper alignment in the classical forms is contraindicated for huge portions of the population. Thus, it is possible to have perfect alignment and still hurt yourself.

For those who are inclined to rely on science, I have written a full length article for Yoga Therapy Today magazine entitled: Does Studying Anatomy Make Yoga Safer? In the piece, I ask several prominent anatomy for yoga teachers to weigh in on the role of studying anatomy and science in making yoga safe. What I think most people might find surprising is that even the experts in the field do not agree that anatomy is the key to ensuring safety in yoga.

As Neil Pearson, clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and the chair of the Pain Science Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, put it: “In the end, it is not Western scientific knowledge of the human body that will make Yoga safer. Changing the students approach to the discipline of yoga and the practice of asana will create the greatest shift.”

Instead of looking to alignment and anatomy as a panacea for what ails the yoga profession, perhaps we would do better to foster a different mentality around the physical work of yoga practice that minimizes any potential risks and encourages smarter choices.

Most of the professionals I have spoken to agree that the key to safe yoga boils down to the sensitivity and adaptability of the instructor, his or her capacity for dialogue with and responsiveness to a student, and the humble confidence of knowing what you know and what you don’t know.


Video Review of "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards," by William J. Broad and a defense of my friend Larry Payne

In this video review, I accuse William J. Broad of launching an ad hominem attack on my friend Larry Payne.  Realizing this may need further explanation, I offer the following:

“Ad Hominem” literally means “against the man.” It is the name of an often-employed logical fallacy that seeks to refute a person’s ideas by discrediting their character.  For example, “Mr. Smith is known to be a drunkard, therefore his views on the economy should be dismissed.”

As I mentioned in the video, as a longtime friend of Larry Payne and teacher of the anatomy section of his LMU course each year in Los Angeles, I am hardly a neutral observer regarding Larry. This does not reduce my ability to offer objective criticism of Broad’s tactics in this part of his book.

On page 154 of “The Science of Yoga,” Broad lays the cornerstone of his attack: “If the origins of the modern field [yoga therapy] can be traced to a single person, it would be Larry Payne.”  Here, Broad is preparing a case of guilt by association in which he will try to discredit the entire field of “modern yoga therapy” by assaulting the character of the person he is identifying as its key founder. He will go on to portray Larry as an opportunistic huckster who, unlike Loren Fishman, M.D., one of Broad’s heroes, took what he considers an easy path to credibility by obtaining a Ph.D. from a questionable school. Broad goes on to point out some commonly-held physiological errors that ended up in Larry’s book “Yoga for Dummies” as a way of further discrediting him.

Broad’s clear goal in the chapter in question (chapter five for those following along) is to cast aspersions on the organization Larry helped to found, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), by drawing a parallel between what he perceives as Larry’s lack of a valid credential and the certificate one obtains upon joining IAYT. Broad observes that the IAYT membership certificate resembles a professional accreditation, but “a quick read shows that the document is in fact quite meaningless…The phony credential does an injustice to the talented yoga therapists who have labored for years and decades to develop their healing expertise and have helped countless people.”

This is a classic example of an ad hominem attack, setting up guilt by association. Forget the fact that Larry Payne is also one of the “talented yoga therapists who have labored for years and decades to develop their healing expertise and have helped countless people.”  Forget the fact that IAYT has never represented their membership certificate as anything other than what it clearly states on its face.  Forget the fact that never – to my knowledge – has any yoga therapist, whether a member of IAYT or not, expressed outrage over misrepresentation via a “phony credential.” Forget the fact that there is a real, live human being named Larry Payne at the other end of this attack who has been walking around for the past week feeling like he’s been simultaneously kicked in the gut and stabbed in the back by the writer to whom he granted – in good faith – full access and lengthy interviews.

William J. Broad makes a strong case for accurately representing oneself in the professional sphere.  Did he do that when he approached my friend Larry for the purpose of writing an authoritative book about the field in which he has faithfully labored for four decades?  I’m sure Larry Payne, Ph.D. welcomed Mr. Broad with the same open heart he offers to everyone he encounters.  He deserves far better than what he got in “The Science of Yoga.”