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”
Greetings singers! I am starting a new Yoga for Singers challenge which I am calling #fitnessfriday Every Friday I will post a short video sharing and detailing an exercise specifically linked to what singers need most: core strength, coordination, release of shoulder and neck tension, and positive posture habits. Won’t you join me?
Week 1: core strength and stabilization
Singers need strong posture through the ribcage and a flexible yet empowered core. This simple and focused movement will help you to get there.
To start, you’ll need a slick floor and a thick blanket or towel. If you only have carpeting available to you, grab some furniture sliders. Place a block or large book between your calves to strengthen your inner thighs and place your hands on the blanket behind you creating soft “claws” with the finger tips. Make sure the fingers are pointing towards your torso. As you inhale, lift up your chest, broadening through the collarbone. As you exhale, roll your shoulder blades down your back. Then begin by inhaling and sliding the blanket away from your hips keeping your back and arms straight. Exhale to return the blanket closer to your hips keeping your back straight and your abdominal wall hugging in. Repeat several times as able, making sure to keep integrity through your practice.
Feel free to send me questions or videos and invite your singer friends to join!
In two days I leave to teach a Yoga For Singers courses and perform with the Redwoods Opera Workshop. It is such a blessing to learn from and be inspired by an amazing faculty and to work with such talented singers each summer. Unfortunately, the program always begins just a few days after my voice studio has its end of the year recital performance, so my own personal practice and memorization time is always severely limited…… that’s why this crazy dance party is absolutely necessary.
I actually learned this technique from a yogi who was working on perfecting her dristi “focus” in balance postures. She would perform the poses while her friends ran around trying to distract her. The point is, if she could maintain her focus through that, she could handle anything. I started taking this idea into my own vocal practice when attempting to memorize quickly. I would stare at myself in the mirror acting as ridiculous as possible and constantly trying to distract myself. If I can keep the words in my head while dancing around the room, then those words are going to be seriously locked in there. It sounds nuts, but it works! It gets me out of “thinking” mode and into muscle memory mode, which is where the real memorization happens. Plus, it’s fun to dance around like no one is watching…. well, except you are watching. Ah well. Enjoy my ridiculousness and try it yourself. It’s fun!
A big thank you to this video of the Watch Duet I found on YouTube to sing along with. In the middle the Rosalinda makes a few sounds which are interesting…… but that way you could hear how the two parts of the duet go together.
This Sunday my vocal studio has their annual recital. 25 of my students, of various ages, styles, and levels, will take the stage to share their progress and their love of music with the community. As their instructor, I am both excited and nervous for them. Performing is such an intense experience. When you’re successful, it can lift you up and make you realize you have a strength and courage that you never thought possible. However, if you’re performance is not as successful as you’d like, it can break you down, make you feel inadequate, and make it difficult to keep the drive to move forward. This week, I am doing everything in my power to prepare my students both technically and emotionally so that they’ll enjoy the process and continue to love singing. In honor of their performance, here’s a silly song I wrote to help my youngest students remember the meanings of various musical terms. Can you figure them all out?