This is one of my favorite stretches to release tension, holding, and inflammation of the neck muscles. As singers, we require freedom and ease through our neck and shoulder complex, but the act of singing, acting, and the stress and intensity with which we pursue our art leads to tension. By creating greater freedom through the neck and resetting the shoulders, we can free up the voice.
To do this, you’ll need a yoga block. Big box stores sell foam blocks which will work just fine; but I personally prefer these cork blocks because they create more pressure and give you something stronger to push against, allowing for a deeper release.
Start off on your back and place the occipital lobe (the base of your skull where the neck and skull connect) onto the block with the block horizontal at the middle height. Your head should end up higher than your shoulders. From there you can either keep your knees bent the entire time or extend through your legs, resting them on the floor and move your head slowly from side to side. Or you can do the twist I moved through in the video to accentuate the lengthening of the spine. To do so, lean your bent knees to the left, then slowly look to the right. Stay there for 5-10 breaths. Bring your head back to center first, then bring your knees up and switch directions. To finish up, you can extend your legs and adjust the angle of the block for maximum traction on the neck. It’s utterly delightful and I always feel so much taller and peaceful when I finish….even if it does give you a double-chin. 😉
(Click the title of the blog post to see video link)
This week we’ll be taking a break from our core work and focusing on the mental aspect of being a singer. No one said being a performer would be easy. We have to be at the top of our game at all times. We have to be 100% focused, even when someone coughs or opens up a candy wrapper during the performance. There are no do-overs in the world of performance artist and everything we do is constantly judged. Anxiety attacks abound in this line of work as we never get a break from the stressors of attempting to achieve the illusive perfection. Every one of us has become overwhelmed by it all at one point or another. It’s human nature to buckle under all of that pressure. However, as singers, problems arise when fear, anxiety, or even just excited adrenaline get in the way of your ability to perform your best.
Luckily, this meditation practice can help you to become grounded, focused, and calm. The real beauty of this practice is, once you ingrain the pattern into your memory, you can do this meditation anywhere. I always do it in the “green room” before a performance and none of the other perfomers have any idea I am meditating. When I have to sit on stage in full view of the audience and then get up and sing, I’ll also practice this with my eyes open. This focused breath helps keep me from worrying or running through my lyrics for the millionth time and getting myself into a nervous dither. I adore the simplicity and focus of this meditation and that it reminds us to breath deeply, something many of us forget to do when nervous and adrenaline rear their heads.
I hope this practice helps you. Try it the next time you feel flustered and still need to sing. As always, feel free to send me any questions you may have!
(Open on blog to see video link)
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
This week we’ll be doing a short core session on the floor. Oftentimes, when we think of working the core our minds instantly picture sit-ups and crunches. Unfortunately, most people don’t know how to properly do a crunch or sit-up and end up putting unnecessary stress on their shoulders and necks in the process. Luckily, this sequence focuses on keeping the head and shoulders down and the lower back lengthened while strengthening the abdominal wall, specifically the rectus abdominis: the front loaf-shaped abdominal muscle. It is important that this muscle is both strong and flexible for singers to have the breath support they need for their best sound.
While completing this series, attempt to feel the entire length of your spine from the base of your skull to your tailbone sink towards the floor. Feel yourself shortening the distance between the front of your hip bones to the bottom of your ribcage. This will help you to isolate the actions in your core and not bring tension or stress into your neck and shoulders. If you do start to feel that your shoulders are straining, don’t try to bring your knees so close to your body and when you are doing the straight leg lift, bend your knees more.
As always, if you have any questions or any requests for future videos, please let me know. If you’re on Instagram, tag me with @Yoga_For_Singers and share your progress.
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”
“When you stand and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else.” -Iyanla Vanzant
Well, tomorrow is the big day. It has been an emotional roller coaster this past month putting to paper 30 reasons I am grateful to be turning 30. When I decided to take on this challenge, it was to change the stereotype that it is all downhill once you reach that third decade on this earth. Part of this challenge was to celebrate all of the reasons why I love where I am in my life and why I am so grateful to be done with the stress, uncertainty, and growth that my 20s forced upon me. Sure being in your 20s is great and all…and, yes, you have perfect baby-soft skin, but those awkward transition years aren’t all they are cracked up to be. So, what is with this societal notion that you getting older is something to hide? Getting older means getting wise. And I think that’s pretty fantastic, personally. The other part of this challenge was to remind myself just how lucky I am and how much I have to be grateful for. The past few years have been filled with trials, self-discovery, pain, and fear. They’ve also, of course, been filled with joy, laughter, growth, and love. So often I find my mind listing off the failures more than the successes, but this project brought to light all of the reasons I should be thankful for this 30th rotation around the sun. This countdown forced me to share things about myself that I have never shared before. It made me admit things that I hadn’t quite admitted to myself, let alone the entire electronic world. But, in sharing there is healing and I feel that a weight has been lifted off my chest. The stories and memories that I played over in over in my head have now been processed and set free into the blogosphere, where they will hopefully inspire others to cherish their moments on this earth and learn from their experiences. Time is fleeting. Take a moment, sit down, look back on how you have evolved in this thing called life. The little details we take for granted everyday are often the most beautiful miracles. The struggles we survive through often spark the greatest growth. The moments that take our breath away are often the most life-changing.
What do you have to be grateful for today? I am grateful for each and every one of you. Thank you for supporting me through this journey and letting me share a little piece of my story with you.
2016 was a rough year for me. I suffered illness after illness caused by lack of sleep due to major pain from an internal injury. For months, it hurt to breath, let alone do my two favorite things: singing and yoga. I struggled to continue to teach through the pain. The simplest of tasks was daunting– from washing the dishes to getting dressed, I had to prepare myself to breathe through the inevitable pain. I put a good face on it. Most of my students didn’t know how I was feeling or they only vaguely noticed that my energy and vivaciousness had decreased. I showed up to teach each day and counted the minutes until I could go home and lay on the couch again, too exhausted to move. There was nothing to be done but wait for my body to heal itself… but I’m not very good at being patient. The 8 months it took for me to become myself again felt like a lifetime. There were moments when I was lying on the floor at 3 am with tears streaming down my eyes from the electric shock of pain when I didn’t know how I could carry on with this life. But, slowly my body did heal. What once was debilitating pain turned into minor discomfort and then finally faded away.
While I sincerely hope that I never have to live through such pain again, I can still feel gratitude for this period of my life. I now know true suffering and how difficult it is to function with that kind of pain. I have so much more compassion and understanding for those who suffer from chronic pain or depression. As a chipper optimist growing up, I never understood how someone could live under such a black cloud. I now get it. I lived through it. Thankfully, I survived. And I enter into my 30s the wiser for the trials I have endured.
“Letting go, of course, is a scary enterprise for those of us who believe that the world revolves only because it has a handle on top of it which we personally turn, and that if we were to drop this handle for even a moment, well–that would be the end of the universe. But try dropping it. Watch what happens. Life continues on.” -Elizabeth Gilbert
As I move towards my 30s, I’ve started to learn how to let things go. It has been a slow and arduous process of baby steps, but I’ve begun to process and release the little annoyances, to-do lists, emotions, opinions, criticism, and things which used to haunt me for years and even decades. For the better part of my life, I struggled with perpetual anxiety and fear of failure. I lived my days in a constant struggle of trying to be perfect, trying to get people to like me, and trying to be and do everything. I spent so much of my time worrying about all these things that I never truly lived any of them. I was so worried about being perfect, that I made more mistakes than were necessary. I was so worried about people liking me that I shut down and turned into a wallflower when others were around. I was so worried about doing everything that I did not have the energy to do anything. It was a vicious circle of perfectionism and I was trapped. The problem was, I was spinning my “world handle” so fast that it rocked off its axis. Everything fell apart and I would usually end each day curled up on the floor as tears streamed down my cheeks. The pressure I put on myself was unbearable and, when I couldn’t live up to my own impossible standards, I broke down. But, as my meditation practice became stronger, I started to realize how deeply I yearned for the peace of letting these things go–of releasing the yoke of stress from my shoulders and just letting go of the things that I cannot control. I’m still a work in progress and I continue to fight with my control issues, but I am slowly learning to release the little things so that I can focus on and enjoy the bigger picture. Letting go let me live again.
Today I am grateful for the freedom and ability to travel for pleasure rather than as a requirement. Due to child custody requirements, I was flying cross country solo twice a year starting at the age of 3. The term “unaccompanied minor” used to make me sick to my stomach. I dreaded each plane flight, usually crying during the duration of my travels. For the longest time, “travel” was associated with pain, heartache, nausea, and tears.
As I grew older and started to make decisions for myself, I began to recognize how fun and enlightening travel can be. To immerse yourself in a new culture, new experiences, and new people is such a joy and a privilege. The world seems a lot smaller and a lot more connected when we step outside our own habitual 25 mile radius. I’m excited for this new decade of my life and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
You never know what you might see when you go somewhere new and turn the world upside down.
As I near my 30th year on this Earth, I remark at how my body has changed over these three decades.
Growing up, I was morbidly obese. I went through a series of diets, all of which seemed to end in me gaining rather than losing weight. My doctors and nutritionists continued to berate me year after year for not “taking care of my body,” but, unfortunately, they did not realize that my difficulties were emotional rather than physically. The amount of emotional stress I was going through, which was exaccerbated by worries about my weight and health, were the cause of my eating problems. I buried my emotions in stomachaches. I hid my feelings underneath butter and bread. When I was upset, rather than throwing a temper tantrum, I would quietly sneak to the kitchen and steal food from the refrigerator. I thought that the pain in my belly would mask the pain in my heart.
When I turned 16, I decided that I was done enduring the taunts of bullies and the endless stream of fat jokes. I was done going to sleep with a lump of heartache in my stomach. I was done hurting myself. I decided it was time for me to ask myself some difficult questions. Did I want to take the easy way out and be unhappy and unhealthy for my entire life, or did I want to fight and struggle to take control of my emotions and my body? It was a definite crossroads moment, but, happily, I made the right decision. I started doing research, I found foods which made me feel light and energetic rather than weighted and achy. I became diligent about going to the gym to read my beloved books rather than sitting at home. I replaced the gallons of soda I drank daily with an endless supply of herbal tea. I figured out what worked for me and stuck with it. Most importantly, I began to develop a healthy self-esteem.
That all sounds well and good, but the difficult truth is that I have been on a constant diet for 14 years now. While my “diet” has become more streamlined by becoming a gluen-free vegan, there will probably always be that little voice in my head weighing if eating a cookie is worth the calories and judging if I did enough cardio for the week. The struggle now is keeping that voice from becoming an unhealthy obsession. It’s a difficult balance to create for those of us who are blessed with eating disorders of any kind. I say blessed, because going through those trials has made me the determined, self-restrained, and focused person I am today. I had to learn at an early age what it was like to reach for a goal that many considered unobtainable–to put in the time, to push yourself to be better, to give up what is easy in favor of what is right.
As I approach my 30th birthday, I hope to continue to love and take care of this body that I’ve been given–imperfections and all… and to maybe let myself eat a few more cookies. Life is too short not to eat a few [gluten-free, vegan] cookies.