Follow the directions on the video for a breathing practice that helps you to become grounded, focused, and balanced.
Here is the start of a 2 Part Sequence. Legs up the wall is my “go-to” for traveling, back and neck pain, and overwhelming stress, anxiety, and emotion. It is best to hold these poses longer than shown on this video. Holding each position for 5 minutes is like a trip to the spa. Set a timer and enjoy!
(Click on the blog title to view the video.)
Yogic chanting is a profound and sacred act. It is a chance for me to let go of the need to perform–the need to prove myself vocally–and to just enjoy the bliss of letting loose my soul through song.
During my Junior year at USC, my artist roommate dragged me along to her yoga studio in Hollywood in the hopes of alleviating my vocal stress-induced anxiety attacks. At the end of that first candlelight evening yoga class, we were asked to join our voices in the sound of an OM. I opened my mouth, inhaled, and let out a sound that reverberated around room and shook me to my core. I honestly did not know that I could produce such a sound. It was such a change from the thin and strangled sound that I was producing in my voice lessons. Free from tension, free from the need to “try,” my voice bellowed like an uncaged beast. As all the other voices in the class faded away, my own continued on as I could not stop the amazing sensation of freedom in my voice. As my breath finally ran out, two giant tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt such gratitude for this brief glimpse into vocal and physical freedom. Though, at that time, I was unable to replicate this freedom in the practice room or in my lessons due to my uncontrollable perfectionism, I knew that freedom was possible and that yoga studio became my sanctuary from the stresses of a vocal arts degree.
Years later during my immersive yoga teacher training program at Frog Lotus Yoga, I rekindled my love affair with yogic chant. After our daily meditation sessions, we would join together to sing a chant, taught by the head instructor. It was 6AM and there we were croaking through the daily chant, many of my fellow yogis very out of tune. Even with the pitchy singing and early morning voices, there was so much joy in our chants. We felt connected, free, and easy. We sang love. I created a special kinship to this particular chant “Jai Ganesh” as it praises the remover of obstacles who often puts obstacles in our path to force us to make changes in our lives. This reminds us that every hardship is a blessing which we can learn and grow from. By reframing our major life challenges (failed auditions, memory slips, vocal troubles, and the like) as opportunities to learn and make changes, we lessen the toll such experiences have on our psyche. Everything happens for a reason, but it is up to each of us to find that reason and learn from it.
Tuneful Tuesday Week 27: Jai Ganesh
Growing up I wanted to be Judy Garland. That voice. That style. That passion. Her voice and her stage presence were mesmerizing. I wanted her life so badly. I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be important. I wanted everyone to instantly hush when I opened my mouth. As I grew older, I realized the cost such vocal and charismatic gifts can take on your body, life, and psyche. Poor Judy’s personal life and health were at the mercy of her stardom. The exhaustion of constant performances, guest appearances, roles, and rehearsals literally broke her. Her debilitating struggle towards the illusive perfection, first in her voice and later in her body, forced her to waste away. Depression and anxiety plagued her and she lived in a never-ending state of fear and worry.
During my college years, I followed in Judy’s footsteps. I spent hours upon hours in the practice rooms repeating note after note trying to force myself to “get it right” until I was hoarse. I ran from studying to class to practicing to work to the gym in an attempt to be everything and do everything. I spent countless nights sitting on the floor of the practice rooms or in my bed with tears falling down my cheeks because I wasn’t “good enough”. My health declined; I was constantly ill; and I always had a stomachache from my endless anxiety. And yet, I kept pushing. For many years, I lost the joy of singing. And still, I wanted to be a performer. I wanted to sing. I wanted to be adored and live a glamorous life.
When yoga entered my life, it was a true game changer: not only for my body and mind but also for my voice. I learned not to push so hard and to just let myself be. I learned to find joy again in my life and in my voice. I learned to be at peace with where I am and not play the comparison game. I learned that my identity is more than just my voice and my worth is more than how many “likes” I can get on my YouTube videos. My life has changed drastically; but, I often find myself reverting back. There are moments when I feel that I’m not living up to my potential–that I should be performing, practicing, and doing more. I see the number of likes on other singers videos or recordings; I see the amazing performances and opportunities others are getting and that evil little guy jealousy rears his ugly head. In those moments, I have to breathe deeply and remember that fame is not everything. I am making a difference in my tiny, yet musical, town. I am living a life filled with music, yoga, singing, and teaching amazing students the power of this combination daily. My life is so much happier now that I’ve found a balance. Yes, I’d love to perform more and to find more opportunities; but, for now, easing off and giving myself space to “play” with my voice again and recreate that childlike joy is where I need to be. Judy Garland, I love you and you were an amazing singer, actress, and perfectionist; but, I wouldn’t trade lives with you. I’m doing a pretty good job being me, imperfectly.
Tuneful Tuesday Week 26: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
As the countdown to my 30s continues, today I am grateful that I’ve calmed my frantic, frenetic mind with meditation and I know the inner workings of my body and mind more than ever.
I’ve been plagued with an overactive mind my entire life. I grew up an insomniac. I would lay in bed for 3-4 hours each night before finally easing off to sleep. My mind would race, flitting from one subject to another, full of ideas and lists–some productive, some not so productive. I wrote songs and stories and plays as I layed in bed all evening. I worried and fretted over tiny details; I relived painful memories and stressful situations. I spent my life constantly waffling between hyperactivity and utter exhaustion. My inability to focus followed me through my college career and held me back during my vocal training. I spent most of my voice lessons worrying, fretting, trying to be perfect, and do everything my teachers asked of me that I became more and more tense which caused further vocal difficulties. It became a vicious cycle where I wasn’t even listening to what my teachers were saying because my inner monologue was screaming so loudly telling me all the things I was doing wrong and overthinking every minor adjustment. Most days, I simply broke down in tears, overwhelmed with the viciousness of my mental process.
Finally, after 6 years of intensive yoga study, I’m making progress at quieting that constant inner critic. I’ve started to recognize when the mental wheels start spinning out of control and I now have the tools and exercises to bring myself back to center and find my focus. I will likely always have difficulty keeping my mind from moving into an energetic frenzie, but it’s a blessing to be in control of my own mind. Here’s to this new decade of peace, deep sleep, and mental wellbeing.
One of my favorite meditative tools is my Muse meditation headband. This biofeedback support reads my brainwaves as I sit and breath, transmitting the intesity of my mental activity into gentle sounds such as raindrops, wind, or waves. This helps me to become more aware of the thoughts as they pass through. Recognizing my mental patterns allows me to focus on recovery and bring myself back to my breath while letting all else go. I am deeply indebted to my meditation practice for changing my health and my life.
“We can’t grow when we are only ever comfortable. We need the discomfort. We need the pebble in our shoe. We need the thorn in our side sometimes. We need to see what mental anguish is pacifying us to stay locked away. Just out of reach of our potential. Just shy of our greatness. Just comfortable enough not to ask questions. Sometimes we need to stretch ourselves. We have to feel the growing pains. But that’s also the signal that we are using muscles that are just aching to be of use.” -Chani Nicholas
It has been a rough week to say the least. Between a rainy 8 hour pilgrimage to Los Angeles for an intensive audition prep 2-hour lesson with my voice teacher, a crazy teaching schedule that had me in my voice studio until 9pm every night, and scrambling to carve out my own practice time, this week has left me mentally, emotionally, and physically worn out. To top it off, I have my first big audition of the season tomorrow with Opera Santa Barbara. The week leading up to any audition is always a roller coaster of excitement, anticipation, fear, and self-loathing. I start the week feeling ready to tackle anything. My voice feels powerful. I feel prepared. Everything is smiles and sunshine when I think about my upcoming audition.
But then, two days later, the negative self-talk kicks in. “I’ll never be good enough. Why am I wasting my time and money to audition? What if I make a fool of myself? Why should I even bother?” I become so worn out by all this crippling self-doubt that I try to come up with excuses as to why I shouldn’t go. My brain tells my body to start feeling sick to get out of the audition and my body listens. Suddenly, I’m feeling depressed, fearful, and, to top it all, sick. To make matters worse, I see all this coming. I know it’s going to happen. I know what to do to break the bad cycle I get myself into. But, my insecurities about auditioning are still stronger than the meditative, peaceful mind I have worked so hard to cultivate–old habits die hard, you know. This just leaves me feeling powerless and guilty that I couldn’t stop the negative sprial. I think become angry with myself for letting these insecurities affect me. Angry, confused, sad, and scared, my life is thrown into complete upheaval because of a few minutes of singing.
Even during those moments when I want to give up and stay at home hiding under my bed, I know deep down that I am going to that audition tomorrow. I will step into that room, smile at the nice people behind the table who mean me no harm, breath, and sing. As much as I hate auditions, I know that they can lead to performing-which is what I love. I know that the stress and trials that audition put me through are worth more than just the act of stepping out on that stage and singing. They teach me to deal with my own insecurities, to understand my own imperfections, to address my competitive nature, and to learn to love myself even when I fail. It’s a long, hard path we singers have to take; but, it is in the discomfort that we grow.
“Pressure pushing down on me/ Pressing down on you, no man ask for/ Under pressure that burns a building down/ Splits a family in two/ Puts people on streets/ It’s the terror of knowing/ What this world is about/ Watching some good friends/ Screaming, “Let me out!”/ Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking/ Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?”-Queen
We’ve reached the end of week one at the Napa Music Festival and, right on schedule, we’re starting to feel the pressure. With our first series of performances beginning this weekend and still so much to be perfected, memorized, and staged, all of the performers are nearing the overwhelmed threshold. Sometimes that pressure manifests itself in tears, sometimes in tight shoulders or sighs, but we’re all feeling it. “Exhausted” is becoming the standard answer to “how are you doing?” As we roam the halls from lessons to coachings to operatic rehearsals, we pass like zombies in the night. Feet shuffling and half-opened eyes, our brains are playing a constant shuffle of musical notes, staging cues, technique corrections, and texts. All of this scramble brings so much tension into our bodies that we struggle to sing or make progress. Frankly, it can become so much that I just want to collapse into the fetal position and whimper softly to myself. The weight of the world begins to land on my shoulders and I find myself rapidly moving into panic mode.
But then I pause. I take a 5 minute meditation break and just close my eyes and breathe. I begin to count my breath: inhaling for 4, holding my breath for 2, exhaling for 6, and holding for 2. I slow down my racing thoughts and move my awareness through my body to recognize areas of tension that I can release. I put myself in a time out, run through a few sun salutations to release trapped anxious energy, and do an inversion to ground my body. It’s amazing how taking 5 minutes to release a bit of pressure can make a difference in my ability to focus, breathe, and succeed. So, when you find yourself bubbling out of control, stop and let go of some pressure. Slow the boil to a light simmer and regroup for the next thing that’s being thrown your way. Your body and your voice will thank you.