Tonight my chiropractor, a great, big, burly man who is tall on charm and long on kindness, spoke these words of wisdom as he pummeled my back like a meat tenderizer. “From what I know about you and your work in the world of opera and the world of yoga, the art of you is in the letting go.” He was trying to get my muscles to release so that he could press in to adjust my spine, but something about these words spoke to me on a much deeper level. Their poetic power meant more that just letting go of a muscle system: they created a mantra to live my life by.
So many years of my life were spent in self-inflicted turmoil: struggling to achieve, to be the best at everything, and to prove my worth. I firmly believed that my greatest chance at success was to do more and work harder than everyone else. If I suffered more, if I studied more, if I practiced more, if I gave of more of myself, then I deserved it more. Right?…
And yet, this approach only left me physically, mentally, and spiritually drained. In that state, though I continued to struggle, I saw no success. Tears were shed over the sheer unfairness of it all. If I was working so hard and spending more hours in the practice room than everyone else, why were they getting all of the roles, getting into the good schools, winning the competitions? The pressure mounting higher and the frustration becoming too strong to bear, I thought the only cure was to work even harder than before. This skewed ideology really hit rock bottom in grad school. After 6 years of intensive vocal study and dedication, my voice had less strength and clarity than during my high school years. I graduated in a fog of disbelief. How could my voice have come to this? No one had worked as hard at me. Why was my voice the one regressing? After a full year of introspection, soul-searching, and yogic study, I came to the realization that the art truly was in the letting go. It was my strong work ethic that inhibited my progress. It was my deeply rooted type-A personality that held me back. I realize now that all of that work, all of that repetition, all of that frustration and the tears shed in the practice room wrapped themselves into knots of tension throughout every muscle in my body. The harder I worked, the tenser I became, and the more my vocal technique deteriorated. My yoga practice finally altered my idea of success and “work.” I learned that some of the greatest achievements of flexibility, strength, and freedom are found by releasing the ties that bind and softening rather than fighting. Not everything has to be a struggle to be a success. When you use the right amount of effort in isolated areas coupled with the right amount of release in the areas that don’t need to be working, you can achieve the perfect balance: whether on the yoga mat, in the concert hall, or in the dramas of daily life. Under the watchful eye of my voice instructors, I began the arduous process of “unlearning” how to sing. Three years later, my voice is finally settling into its own and learning to let go. Finally, singing is easy, not arduous. It is enjoyable, not exhausting. I am no longer putting pressure on myself to achieve; and yet, suddenly I am finding myself achieving. While I wish I had understood these things during my college years to save myself from the heartbreak and smeared mascara, I am grateful for the journey I had to take to get to where I am today. My vocal journey has taught me so much about the voice and body which I am able to pass on to my own students. When they are having difficulty with a certain vocal technique or a certain yoga pose, I can honestly say that I have been there and I understand. While I by no means consider myself a master at letting go, I now feel as if I am moving in the right direction, and that is a path I haven’t been on in a very long time.
#letsgetflexyin2015 challenge day 6: prasarita padhatonasana. Nothing teaches me to be humble and to surrender like a forward fold. There is something about turning in on yourself and letting gravity just take your body where it will that teaches you the art of letting go.