As performers we want to be present and “in the moment.” That phrase is thrown around a lot, but what I mean by “in the moment” is taking in the information that is currently happening. One way we can encourage this is by opening up our bodies before we get on stage. All performers should do a physical warm-up of some kind before they hit the stage for a performance or speech. Stretching and opening our bodies helps us to shed the accumulated experiences of our day so that we can perform at our best.
Below are 5 warm-ups I always do before a performance. By no means is this list exhaustive, but it’s a good place to begin if you are just starting out as a public speaker or performer. It’s also an effective list if you need to warm-up but are short on time. Most of these exercises are from the Miller Voice Method work that I practice. In all of these exercises I encourage you to breathe in and out of your mouth, which is the most economical and easiest way to breathe. Focus on breathing into your low belly (the area between your navel and hip points.) You want your breath to be flowing easily in and out with no stoppage at the bottom of the exhale or top of the inhale.
- Jaw massage: I like to begin my warm-ups with this exercise: take both of your hands and clasp them together, bring your thumbs to your right and left side of your jaw and rub into the muscle that is just in front of the jaw hinge. You may find this to be slightly uncomfortable or painful. As a matter of fact, if it isn’t you’re probably not in the right spot. Most of us hold a lot of tension here. This is the last place of holding before “information” leaves our lips and is out in the world. If there’s something we want to say but feel like we can’t or shouldn’t, it often gets “stored” in our jaw muscles. Remember when you’re doing this exercise to release your jaw and breathe in and out of the mouth.
- Roll down: In a standing position, bend your knees slightly and bring your feet hips-width apart. (This is most likely going to be narrower than you think it should be.) Bring your chin to your chest and then slowly roll down the entire length of your spine, go vertebra by vertebra if possible. When you are completely released in this position take a few deep breaths into your belly and low back. Feel your belly expand and release against your thighs. If you would like to deepen this stretch, clasp opposite elbows and continue to breathe deeply. Stay in this position for about 30 seconds, then slowly roll back up through the spine. If you feel dizzy, put your index finger a foot in front of your face and focus on it until your dizziness subsides.
- Half-Moon: In a standing position, bring your feet together and clasp your arms above your head. You want your pointer fingers pointing towards the sky. Wiggle your rib-cage up off of your internal organs and feel the space that is created. Staying in this position stretch over to the right side, stretching out the left side of the rib cage. Notice how your ribs expand as you breathe in and release as you breathe out. Remember to keep your body facing toward the opposite wall so you are not collapsing down towards your feet. Repeat this stretch on the opposite side.
- Hip Opener: Bring your legs a bit wider than hips distance apart. Bend your legs fully so that you are in a squat position. If possible, your toes and heels should be rooted into the floor. Bring your hands into a prayer position between your thighs. Use your forearms to gently press against the inner thighs encouraging a deep stretch. Try to maintain a long spine in this position. Breathe in and out of the mouth, maintaining the pose for 30 seconds to a minute.
- Tongue Twister: The last thing I like to do before going on stage is tongue-twisters! If I’m pressed for time and can only do one it’s generally going to be “My Sister Sally.” The reason being is that the “s” is the most likely sound to be sloppy in our speech. Having as much clarity as possible with our “s” makes all of our speech more crisp. You can find the full text of “My Sister Sally” in Edith Skinner’s “Speak With Distinction.”
I like the progression of this warm-up because it warms up the whole body: the jaw, the spine, the ribs, the legs and the tongue. All of these exercises are linked by the continuous breath that you maintain throughout the warm-up. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments and also leave any warm-ups that you find useful!