Why Yoga for Singers
Imagine taking the stage feeling physically strong, breathing easily and fully and not having a whiff of nerves. It might feel impossible, but this is what yoga does for you as a singer. You need more than a well-trained voice to succeed: you need body, mind and voice to come together each and every time you perform.
Yoga looks at the whole person and offers a way to balance body, breath and mind. In the physical practice of asana, we learn to pay attention to how our body moves, gaining better alignment, strength and flexibility. In the breathing practices of pranayama we become aware of our breath, understand our patterns and stay connected to the breath at all times. In the mental practice of meditation we become conscious of our mind’s busy nature, learning to quiet our thoughts, becoming present to our performance.
Brief History of Yoga
Historically, the word yoga comes from the sanskrit word yuj meaning “to yoke or unite.” Its purpose was to link together body and mind and ultimately form a spiritual connection to the Divine, allowing the individual to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
The practice of yoga in the modern age is very different from its origins, 3500 years ago. Since its inception, yoga has gone through many variations and what we now practice has only been around for about 100 years and grew out of the Hatha yoga tradition that focused on physical poses. Yoga in other forms, however, has been in this country longer as shown in transcendentalists like Thoreau and Emerson who were intrigued by the contemplative elements of yoga talked about in books like the Bhagavad Gita. Though there was yoga in the form of physical practice in the United States in the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1960s when many Americans began to practice a non-spiritual, physical form of yoga and the multitude of schools of yoga now common in this country, began to emerge.
Benefits of Yoga for Singers:
*Improved posture and kinesthetic sense
*Better flexibility of spine and pelvis = better flexibility of diaphragm
*Greater awareness of breathing patterns and ability to control breath
*Management of performance anxiety
*Strength-building for large muscles like quadriceps that help to ground singers
*Improved sense of mind-body connection and balance
*General stress management
Families of Asanas (physical practice) and what they do for your body:
Standing – energizing, strengthening large muscles like quadriceps, grounding
Backbends – also energizing, open the chest, enhance inhalation, stimulate lymphatic system
Forward Bends – calming to nervous system, help facilitate exhaling, aidin sleeping, increase flexibility in the hips
Inversions – reverse flow of blood and lymph fluid
Twists – increase flexibility of diaphragm and intercostal muscles, cleansing for organs (bring new blood flow to abdominal organs like the liver)
Balance – strengthen core muscles, strengthen sense of self
Restoratives – help a body in need of rest and rejuvenation (recovery from injury)
Pranayama (breath practice) benefits for singers:
There are many pranayama practices that can aid singers. In yogic thought breath is what carries Prana, our life force – without breath no one can survive and our health is intrinsically linked to the quality of our breathing. It isn’t news to singers that your breath will change with your emotions – stress and nerves can cause the breath to become shallow as the body moves into fight or flight mode. Many singers will report a sensation of a high after a lesson or performance due to endorphins that are released when oxygen is exchanged. There are exercises that can help to calm the breath and keep a steady, even rhythm of inhale/exhale, exercises to help balance a busy mind and those to help to alleviate the flow of adrenaline that often runs high after a performance.
Breath Ratio: identifies patterns in breathing that can be dysfunctional
Wave Breath: brings awareness to belly, helping to make core muscles supple
Bee Breath: helps to lengthen the exhale and also works to calm an anxious mind
Alternate Nostril Breathing: helps to balance the mind, bringing clarity and focus. Aids in relaxation and may help prevent panic attacks.
Dhyana (meditation practice) benefits for singers:
It is said that the goal of meditation is a cessation of thought, but I think the true benefit comes from learning to be compassionately aware of your thoughts. That means the process of meditating is first about realizing how busy your mind is. Second, you learn to observe those layers of thoughts without judging. Third, you develop an ability to let the thoughts go, moving to a quiet(er) mind.
You can meditate by simply closing your eyes and focusing on your inhale and exhale. Every time your mind wanders, just come back to your breath. You could also do a guided meditation by listening to a cd or attending a class. Either way, working towards clearing your mind will help you relax and let go of stress, tension and fear. There is no hard and fast rule about when or for how long to meditate. Most people do well to meditate when they wake up in the morning before the brain has kicked into high gear, but if you want to take 10 minutes at lunchtime to sit quietly and observe your breath, that counts too.
A regular meditation practice will make your singing practice time more effective and it will make your time on stage more centered and connected.