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Sternum Up (2)

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Two pictures of the Sterno-Thyroid Muscle. One with a low sternum whereby the Yawning Muscle is overstretched and one with a high sternum, whereby the Yawning muscle is in a relaxed position from which it can contract.
Raising the Sternum takes the Sterno-Thyroid (Yawning) Muscle out of an over stretched position.

In this post, I want to explain why a strong yawning muscle is essential for a capable voice.

A Picture of the thyroid cartilage from above, showing how the vocal cords are attached to the thyroid cartilage at the frontal tip, called adam's apple.
This is the Thyroid Cartilage from up above.

First of all, let's cover some anatomy basics. The vocal cords are situated inside the thyroid cartilage in your throat. They are attached to the frontal tip of your thyroid cartilage.

In order to have a flexible range and sounds, your vocal cords need to be flexible, which means your thyroid cartilage and the muscles around it need to be flexible too.

To accommodate a wider range, your Thyroid Cartilage needs to move; it has to be flexible enough to stretch the vocal cords.

two pictures. One depicts the thyroid cartilage in resting position and one depicts the thyroid cartilage with an active crico-thyroid pars oublique muscle that elongates the vocal cords 30% more than their length in resting position.
The forward-downward movement of the thyroid cartilage grants the singer an elongation of the vocal cords of up to 30% more than their length in resting position.

However, the stiffness of the Thyro-Hyoid Muscle, also known as the Swallowing Muscle, can hinder the flexibility of the thyroid cartilage inside the throat for many people. The swallowing muscle is attached to the thyroid cartilage and goes up to the hyoid bone, the origin of the tongue.

Two pictures: Left: The swallowing muscle is relaxed enough to grant the thyroid cartilage downward movement. Right: The swallowing muscle is stiff and jolts the Thyroid Cartilage continuously up against the Hyoid Bone.
Left: The swallowing muscle is relaxed enough to grant the thyroid cartilage downward movement. Right: The swallowing muscle is stiff and jolts the Thyroid Cartilage continuously up against the Hyoid Bone.

When the swallowing muscle is so tight and stiff that it cannot loosen up and provide space, the thyroid cartilage is always very high in the throat and cannot offer the flexibility required for a flexible range and sounds.

Two pictures showing how the Yawning muscle and the Swallowing muscle are antagonists.
Left: When the Swallowing Muscle is active, it stretches the Yawning Muscle. Right: When the Yawning Muscle is active, it stretches the Swallowing Muscle. They pull the thyroid cartilage into the opposite direction.

But, you cannot grab your thyroid cartilage, pull it down and stretch that muscle, as it is potentially harmful and won't yield the desired outcome.

Instead, you need to use the antagonist of the swallowing muscle, which is the yawning muscle, to stretch it.

In order to stretch the swallowing muscle, your yawning muscle needs to be stronger than your swallowing muscle. Therefore, I will share an exercise that strengthens the yawning muscle.

A picture of the overstretched yawning muscle, due to a stiff and un-flexible swallowing muscle.
The stiffness of the swallowing muscle keeps the thyroid cartilage always connected to the hyoid bone, thereby constantly overstretching the yawning muscle.

With many people, the thyroid cartilage is very far up in the throat due to a stiff Swallowing muscle, which leads to the yawning muscle constantly being overstretched.

When a muscle is overstretched, it's hard to contract it. However, if you can get the muscle out of the overstretched position into a relaxed state, it's much easier to contract the muscle. This exercise will help you bring your yawning muscle out of a position where it is constantly being overstretched into a relaxed position.

Here's how to do it: you need to bring the sternum and the thyroid cartilage closer together. Bigger muscles are easier to control than smaller muscles, and many bigger muscles around the sternum can help raise it up. Therefore, you need to learn how to raise your sternum towards the Thyroid Cartilage so that there is little to no distance between the two.

Two pictures: Left a low sternum, overstretching the yawning muscle. Right: a high sternum, relaxing the yawning muscle and letting it contract easily.
Raising the sternum up brings the yawning muscle out of a position where it's overstretched into a position where it's relaxed and can easily contract.

Two pictures of a high sternum, in combination with the tongue pulled back into the throat. The left picture portrays a relaxed yawning muscle. The right picture portrays a contracted yawning muscle.
Simultaneously putting the sternum up whilst pulling the tongue back into the throat, brings the sternum and the thyroid cartilage close enough together to enable the yawning muscle to contract.

When you put your sternum up like this, it's going to be possible for your yawning muscle to contract because it is out of a position where it's constantly overstretched.

One important thing to consider is not to arch your back to achieve this. Arching your back tilts your sternum and stretches the Sterno-Thyroid (Yawning-) Muscle even more. You don't want to stretch the yawning muscle; you want to shorten it. Therefore, you need the sternum to go up vertically, not tilt.

Three pictures. The 1st portrays the length of the yawning muscle with a sternum in resting position. The 2nd portrays the yawning muscle being stretched due to a tilted sternum. Picture 3 shows the shortening of the yawning muscle through raising the sternum up vertically, thereby enabling the yawning muscle to get out of an overstretched position and contract effectively.
Tilting the sternum elongates the yawning muscle. Only lifting the sternum vertically effectively shortens the yawning muscle and enables it to contract.

The movement feels like this: Your sternum goes slightly to the diagonal front up, but your back is extending to the back.

Two pictures of Voba showing how the sternum lifts to the upper front and the back extends towards the back at the same time.
Your back should simultaneously expand towards the back and when the sternum lifts towards the upper front. That's how you can make sure to lift the sternum vertically without tilting it.

Once your sternum is up there, you get into an authentic yawn. The high sternum ensures that the yawning muscle is not overstretched but rather relaxed, allowing it to contract easily. This exercise will improve the ease with which you can yawn, which, in turn, will optimally strengthen the yawning muscle.

By the way, this is also what happens naturally when you yawn: your sternum comes up. Try it out and see the difference it makes!

However, keep in mind that it's an exercise, it's not that you have to sing like this. It's not an end-product, it's merely one step of working out your muscles in order to make your voice stronger. I hope this exercise will help you a lot! It helped me tremendously to build my voice.

If you want a bit more input, check out my YouTube video that explains how to practice putting your sternum up and why it's so important:

Picture Sources:

PIC 2.0 (Vocal cords attached to the thyroid cartilage)

Ro, T. (2013, 17 of February). Ch. 4 Part 3, Communication Disorders and Science 3100, Utah State University. StudyBlue.

The Rest: Wikimedia

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