Going to the Source: Using Yoga to Calm Performance Anxiety

In part one of this series we learned about the origins of performance anxiety and what the yogic perspective is on that state of mind. We now know the role the brain plays in putting us into the fight or flight stress mode and how if we stay there too long we will wire our brains to worry. In this post we’ll look at specific yogic practices and how, when in engaged in on a regular basis, they can help alleviate nerves felt around performing.

Yoga teaches us to practice awareness of our body, our breath and our mind. When we become mindful of these elements in our yoga practice, we can be mindful off the mat as well and apply them to our practice and performance. I define mindfulness as the act of maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. It also involves acceptance, meaning we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Yoga also encourages us to connect; with ourselves, our audience and our fellow performers. If you are a spiritual person you can also work to build a connection to God or the greater Universe. Remember that we all fundamentally want the same things in life and very likely we are more alike than we are different. It can also be useful to remind yourself that people attend concerts to see you succeed, no one goes to watch you fail!

The first step in dealing with performance anxiety is becoming aware of it. Perhaps you’ve known for a while that you get nervous when you have to perform but you’ve never sat down and really looked at when those nerves hit or where you feel them in your body when they are happening. If you have a performance coming up commit to being mindful in that experience. Just observe yourself without judgement. Try saying to yourself ‘how interesting I’m _____’ (fill in the blank with whatever you notice yourself doing or feeling around that event). (N.B. This is a practice you can use anywhere – in teaching, working etc. I use it frequently when I get frustrated with my children as a way of becoming more mindful of what sets me off and how I can spend less time annoyed with them!)

This is a step that may come easily to you or it may take you a while. I believe we can not effect change until we fully understand the behavior we are engaging in. Become friends with yourself and really delve into what is going on. You may find it helpful to document the feelings in writing and keep a journal.

Assuming you master this phase and you know what is going on and what triggers you have, you can engage in breathing, meditation and physical practices to help modify your stress reaction.

Breathing: It might seem sort of strange to tell a singer they need to pay attention to their breath as it is easy to presume you already know more about the breath than the average person, but I would challenge that there is still more everyone can learn and the way yoga encourages you to look at your breathing is very different than how a voice teacher might teach breathing. Often there is an emphasis in singing lessons on inhaling, or the intake, of breath. How we exhale is equally as important!

The way to begin is to determine your breath ratio and figure out how you breathe on a regular basis. You can read a description of how to explore your breath ratio here.

Another practice for a pranayama beginner is that of the Complete Yoga Breath. You can read a description of how to do it here.

Asana Practice:
Specific poses are also beneficial for reducing anxiety. While regular asana practice will help you long term, you can also identify what your energy levels are like the day of a performance and tailor your practice. If you are low energy, you can do a practice that will raise your energy to help you. If you have a lot of nervous energy and practice that burns some of that off to help you focus will be beneficial. When you engage in your asana practice, try to use the complete yoga breath as your guide. When your breathing strays from being easily full, you are working too hard in a pose and should back off.

Poses that help alleviate anxiety by helping to calm the mind and open the heart center include:

Standing Forward Bend


Puppy Stretch



Head to Knee Pose

Staff Pose

Seated Forward Bend

Easy Pose

Meditation: Meditation is another useful tool for singers to alleviate anxiety. By training the mind to be present, we can be more open to our performances. To sing our truth we need to be sure that our hearts and our heads are in agreement. In the weeks leading up to a performance, you can commit time daily to visualizing your performance going well. When you do this, you set yourself up for success. Read on for suggestions of how to visualize your way to killing it on stage!

Visualization Meditation –

Nearly every performer gets nervous before going on stage. As performers we want to turn this nervous energy into positive energy that propels our performance to be even better. One way to do this is to practice visualization. In yogic thought, anxiety stems from a sense of being disconnected and having a limited vision of ourselves. If you create a ‘me vs. them’ situation with your audience, you are disconnected from them. But, if you can believe that you are all a part of the same world, want the same things and they are there to receive the gifts you offer through your singing, you build a sense of connection.

If you have a concert coming up, I recommend starting two weeks before the date of performance (if you are someone with a very high level of anxiety, add more time, perhaps start four weeks in advance). Set aside time every day to visualize going through the concert flawlessly.

Find a comfortable seated position – can be in a chair, on the floor or the couch.

Orient your mind towards your performance and take 3 breaths to center yourself.

Envision yourself backstage where you will perform – be specific about what you will wear, who is there with you etc.

Imagine yourself walking on stage to stand wherever you will begin your performance. You fill the room with your presence, knowing the audience has come to see you succeed. Through your singing, you will connect with them, sharing your artistry.

Imagine yourself taking whatever position you will take and bowing your head to prepare to perform. Pick your head up and imagine yourself singing through your program flawlessly.

This has ended up being a long post, but I hope you’ve made it this far!

Once you try some of these practices on the mat, there are some off the mat exercises you can do too.

1. Think of three times during your day that you can be mindful. When you reach those moments in your day, stop and observe your thoughts and what you are feeling.

2. When you listen to someone else perform, think first of three things you liked about their performance.
3. When you practice, focus on only one element at a time – rhythm, text, sound quality etc.
4. Try re-framing an experience you perceive as negative to cast it in a positive light.
5. Build time into your day to do nothing – turn the tv off, put away your smart phone and just sit in silence.

Good luck! If you would like to have some help talking through the elements of performance that cause you anxiety and develop a strategy for how to shift your anxiety into positive energy to propel your performance, please contact me.

Going to the Source: Origins of Performance Anxiety


Recently I talked with a singer who told me she’d been to an audition and in her words, “bombed it”. She said she’d disconnected from her breath, forgotten the words and generally felt awful. She chalked it up to not having done an audition in a long time.

I’m sure that was a part of it. There is an art to auditioning, as any singer will tell you. However, as our conversation continued, she went on to tell me how, at the end of the month, she would lose the administrative job that has been the bread and butter of her existence for many years. She runs a music program for children in the mornings and then goes to her desk job in the afternoon and sings in a prominent chorus as well as doing her own solo work on top of it all. Time to practice, she indicated, was hard to come by. The more we talked, the more I began to wonder if it was really the length of time between auditions that caused her anxiety and subsequent poor performance.

In our bodies, anxiety is created in the amygdala, a part of the brain where primal emotions are generated. When triggered it bypasses the rational part of our brain and sets off a physical reaction. Unfortunately, anxiety is also addictive in the sense that the more you worry, the more you wire your brain to worry. Your mind, therefore, will either be your biggest ally or your biggest enemy.

Anxiety can strike before, during or even after a performance (or it can happen all three times). Your brain’s ability to bypass the rational part of itself means you are left with a racing heart, shallow breathing, shaking body, nausea, dry mouth, tense shoulders and jaw and sweaty palms. Mentally there are repercussions too. You might have trouble sleeping, feel depressed, avoid practicing, snap at people around you because you are moody, forget the words, be confused on stage, worry, wrongly assess your performance or assume everyone there is waiting to see you fail. Once you start down the path of anxiety it can be hard to short circuit and instead it can snowball, pulling you into a vicious cycle. Some of you have probably experienced that on stage where you get anxious before going on, get out there and feel your knees knocking together, you can’t ever connect to your breath and then before you know it you forget the words and lose your place in the music. Ugh. No one should have to experience that more than once!

Understanding where your anxiety comes from can be tricky. You might be naturally shy or anxious, be afraid of the audience critiquing your performance negatively or had a specific experience in your past that triggered your anxiety. Perhaps you are singing music that is a bit beyond your current capacity, or you haven’t practiced enough or performed enough to feel comfortable. Maybe you just haven’t been taking good care of your self or are your own worst critic, seeing only the negative aspects of your performance. It could be that there is a stressful event in the rest of your life that you haven’t dealt with and that emotion is being represented as anxiety in your singing. Maybe you are not yet mindful of your anxiety to even know what triggers it for you.

In yogic thought, anxiety stems from a sense of disconnection from a larger Universe due to our limited notion of who we really are. In other words, we forget that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves, that we are more than our physical form. Instead we create ‘us against them’ situations and wrap ourselves up in our identities of being singers, parents, workers or any other hat you wear in your life, believing those identities to be who we are.  When we engage in those behaviors we disconnect from ourselves, our audience, (or conductor, band mates, pianists etc.) forget that we are all connected and box ourselves into specific identities. What anxiety universally tells us is that there is room for us to grow. If we befriend our anxiety we can see it as an opportunity to learn so as to make different, mindful choices in the future.

The time we spend on the mat in yoga helps us off the mat in these every day situations that arise. In yoga we get to know ourselves through the lens of compassion by being present. Present to our breath. Present to our bodies and what they can do for us. Present to the thoughts in our minds. If we pay attention through non-judgmental observation we begin to gain insight into our patterns. After our awareness is raised and we understand how we tend to act, we have an opportunity to make different choices at any given time because we are living in the present moment.

Let’s go back to the singer I mentioned in the beginning of this post. Her story told me several things: She hadn’t auditioned in a long time. She was facing a major life change by leaving a job she’d been at for a while which brought with it a need to find new patterns in her daily life and a big financial shift as well. Her life, in general, is a constant balance of juggling multiple sources of income, the demands of finding practice time, performing and fitting it all in around her personal life. Knowing what we do about where anxiety can come from, it becomes easier to see how her identification with her job, its end and the emotions surrounding that along with the constant stress of balancing her busy life on top of whatever other history she has with anxiety about auditioning/performing, how she typically assess her own performances and whether she is aware of any that, all contribute to her sense of anxiety. All of those things shunt her brain in the direction of anxiety, rather than staying open to connecting with the larger Universe and the people around her.

Her situation may sound familiar to you, or you could replace a few parts of her story with your own and see how this could be you. In Part II of Going to the Source, we’ll look at specific yogic based practices that when engaged in on a regular basis help quiet the mind, connect to the breath and turn performance anxiety into energy that can propel you to achieve your performance potential. Stay tuned!

Singer’s Wellness – Gratitude and Your Immune System

Singer’s Wellness: Gratitude and Your Immune System

There are the traditional methods of staying healthy including eating well, sleeping and hydrating. Then there are other ways that you can boost your health (and your happiness too) that you don’t normally think of.

At the top of the list is Gratitude.

About two years ago, I began a gratitude journal as I found myself caught up in day-to-day struggles and wanted to see more of the blessings in my life. Rather than going to bed each night fretting over what hadn’t gone well, or what I hadn’t done, I wanted to remember the wonderful things that were going on around me all the time. So, I bought a pretty notebook (I’m a total sucker for notebooks and have a ton of them around at all times) and a pen I liked and put it on my bedside.

Then, I didn’t write in it.

Seriously. I wrote in it about once every three months. At most.

One day, I went to bed particularly bothered by the day. I hadn’t felt like a good teacher, yogi, singer, parent or spouse. I had snapped at people, I was getting a cold and I just generally felt down about the world. I saw the notebook sitting there and I thought ‘what the hell, why not?’ and I pulled it out.

It was a struggle to come up with three things about the day that I was grateful for. It was really, really hard. I kept at it though. Each night I wrote.

Fast forward to today and I write almost nightly and can easily fill a page with the things I have noticed happening in my day that I am grateful for. Most of the time they are small, mundane, ordinary things, but they are worth a grateful moment of recognition. Occasionally I’ll write about things that I want to have happen in the hopes that expressing my gratitude for having something will help will it into existence. Sometimes I’m too tired and I just mentally make a list of things I’m grateful for.

I don’t even write in complete sentences, just phrases. Keep it simple.

Robert Emmons, PhD, a prof at UC Davis, researches gratitude and the effects it has on people. In an article he wrote for The Greater Good, at the top of the list of physical benefits of gratitude is “stronger immune systems”. You can view his list of 10 ways to become more grateful and at the top of that list is to keep a gratitude journal.

Go ahead, indulge in a new notebook and a pen you love. Put the book by your bedside and commit to writing in it nightly. Start with just three things you are grateful for and watch how your list grows over time. If you need some ideas, try keeping track of:

  • the things your voice allows you to do,
  • how the people around you have helped you pursue your singing goals,
  • your admiration for your singing colleagues,
  • the opportunities you have to share your gift with others,
  • other small moments in your daily life that make you thankful.

Your healthy voice and your spirit will love you for it!

Head, Shoulders, Neck and your Voice

Physically, you need your larynx to be aligned just right for your breath to flow optimally and your voice to sound at its potential.

However, what do you you a lot every day? Type on the computer, drive, play piano or other instruments, hold children, carry heavy bags, slump in a chair…any of those sound familiar? Each of those activities pulls your head in front of your shoulder line, adding weight to your neck and pulls your arms out in front of you, putting your arms and shoulders into internal rotation, pulling your shoulder blades away from your spine.

The result? Tight upper chest muscles, weak rhomboids,  a neck that is strained by an additional 10 lbs for every inch that the head sits forward, a voice that isn’t set up to let little muscles do little work and big muscles to do big work, breath that can’t flow freely and posture that looks like this:

OW!  I’m giving a bit of an extreme example, but you get the point. Though you are primarily concerned about your voice, the long term effects of this position are a bit grim. This misalignment is linked to impingement of nerves in the neck, migraines, eye tension, breathing problems, endocrine issues as well as rotator cuff injuries.

Your situation might not be at a point where you feel pain in your neck and shoulders, but if you don’t address it now, it will get there. If you aren’t sure if your upper chest is tight, try palpating just below your collarbone from your sternum out toward your shoulder and see if you feel some pain. That’s one of your pec muscles – in an extreme situation, you might feel the pain radiate through to the muscles around your shoulders in the back. Then, extend your arms out wide and notice what you feel down your inner arm. You will feel how tight the inner arm is.

Honestly, I was shocked when I did both of these things at just how much sensation (sounds nicer than pain, right?) I felt across the top of my chest and all the way down my inner arm and into my fingers. I often have neck pain. The combination of a water skiing accident as a child and being rearended in my twenties with my head turned over my left shoulder left me with my 2nd cervical vertebrae out of alignment. My neck muscles spasmed after giving birth to my second and in the last two years the pain would sometimes get pretty intense, feeling like my head was in a vice and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and lie down. My vocal symptoms included not being able to sing the really, really high notes that I had been easy before.

Fortunately, I started exploring things through my yoga practice and have managed to keep the pain and tension at a minimum, re-finding some high notes and making my life much, much better.

Here are a few things you can do and your voice, neck and shoulders will thank you for it.

First, find your hyoid bone in your neck and imagine it moving back and slightly up, pulling your neck and head back with it.



Then, cup the back of your head with your hand and press the head back into your hand.



This will get you on the road to moving your head and neck back into alignment. It will probably feel pretty foreign at first and you’ll have to develop a sense of how it feels when it is in the right place so you can be aware of when it isn’t.

Taking it to the next level to really create a long term remedy involves some great yoga-based stretches that I’ll share in another post. Together, these go a long way to undoing tension and pain in the neck to help your voice function at its best!

Singer’s Wellness: Sleep

Singer’s Wellness: Sleep!

 There is no question it can be challenging to get enough sleep in today’s world. Our schedules as performers may keep us from getting to bed at a decent hour (hello, late rehearsal after working at multiple jobs all day to make ends meet). Sometimes we have things like sleep apnea that keep sleep from being high quality and many, many, many of us suffer from insomnia.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, the importance of sleep can not be underestimated. Adequate sleep helps to regulate our endocrine system (hormones), boosts immune system function, keeps fat accumulation at bay, staves off depression and keeps our hearts healthy. We have fewer accidents and work-related injuries when we are well rested. In terms of our voices, cellular repair happens while we sleep. When you’ve exercised your voice, it needs time to repair itself and time to renew the layer of mucous that covers the top of the vocal cords (this layer serves, in part, as protection to the cords). Sleep is a big part of what helps that to happen.

A survey conducted by Keith Saxon and Pamela Harvey (reported in Vocal Health and Pedagogy: Advanced Assessment and Treatment, Vol. II) looked at a small sampling of singers and found that the most frequently reported problem by singers in nonperformance times is staying asleep (44% indicated this was a problem). During performance time 96% indicated they didn’t get enough sleep and the most frequently experienced problem was falling asleep. This same group listed the following as the results of poor sleep:

  • trouble with breath support,
  • reduced vocal endurance,
  • huskiness/roughness of the voice
  • needed more time to warm up

Do those sound familiar to you? Are you skating by on 6 hours a night when you know that isn’t enough sleep, but you have trouble staying asleep and when you’re in performance mode, trouble falling asleep?

Yoga can help! I have dealt with my fair share of trouble sleeping both in terms of staying asleep and in terms of falling asleep after a late rehearsal or performance. Here are some tips from yoga that have helped me immensely:

Yoga journal lists these poses as having a theraputic focus of dealing with insomnia. In general, forward bends will help relax you because they encourage a longer exhale and a longer exhale triggers the relaxation response (in other words it turns off the adrenaline that got you through the concert!). I would add the restorative pose of legs up the wall as one that settles the body and mind. Simply sitting or lying down and breathing consciously to extend your exhale will help too, if yoga poses aren’t your thing.

The practice of Yoga Nidra, which means yogic sleep, has been enormously helpful to me. I have a recording on my ipod and iphone and if I am awake in the night, I pop in my ear buds, lie on my back in bed and turn it on. I’ll be honest, if I’m really stressed out, sometimes it takes listening to it two times to get me to go back to sleep, but it is hugely helpful. There are lots of yoga nidra options out there, but the one I use is from the CD Relax into Greatness by Rod Stryker. I’ve been fortunate to do a few weekend intensives with him as part of my teacher training and his genius is not to be missed!

The Deal with the Diaphragm, Pt. 2

The Deal with the Diaphragm, Pt 2

In the first post we looked at the diaphragm and its role in inhalation – It is the primary muscle involved in the lifting of the ribs and the expansion of the abdomen upon inhalation. To be extra clear, it is always involved in breathing – there is no such thing as a non-diaphragmatic breath. It is just a matter of how efficiently it works. When you are a singer you need it to be very efficient, and how the body is positioned influences the way we use the other muscles of inhalation and exhalation all of which allows the diaphragm to function efficiently.

When we sing we need to slow down the rate at which air is expelled so it matches the needed amount to set the vocal folds in motion at the appropriate pitch and gives you the ability to sing through a phrase. We can’t do that with the diaphragm because we have no direct control over it.

We accomplish this by engaging the accessory muscles of exhalation. (When you aren’t singing you can slow the breath down by pursing the lips on exhale, hissing, or by using an ujjayi breath). The abdominal muscle that has the most direct relationship to the diaphragm is the transverse abdominus, the deepest layer of belly muscle, because it attaches to the body at many of the same points that the diaphragm does. We often refer to muscles in pairs as antagonists (think bicep and tricep in your arm). The transverse abdominus is the antagonist of the diaphragm. The other accessory muscles and their antagonists include the obliques (belly) and the costals (ribs), but we’re looking most closely at the transverse abdominus here.

Transverse Abdominus in deep red above.

If the diaphragm returns to its resting position quickly, you get a big burst of air that will either make your sound breathy, out of tune or more difficult to create than it should be. So, when we slow its return down by engaging the other muscles of the abdomen and back, especially the transverse abdominus, you create what is often referred to as ‘support’.

So, how do you know you are engaging the transverse abdominus muscle?

Try This:

Lie down in a well aligned manner. Place your hand just above your pubic bone on your low belly.

Exhale through pursed lips or on a hiss, continuing until you feel as though you are out of air. Like, really, really out of air.

While exhaling pay attention to where you feel muscle engagement – hopefully you feel it beneath your hand in the lowest part of your belly, almost as low as where the pubic bone is. It is a subtle in-and-up motion. That muscle engagement is the transverse abdominus muscle which wraps around the torso like a corset. If you aren’t sure if you engage it when you sing, try vocalizing on the sounds v, m, n, or the ng sound from the word sing with your fingers pressed into your softened belly. Those sounds are good triggers to engage the muscle and you’ll feel it press against your fingers when you vocalize.


The Deal with the Diaphragm, Pt. 1

The Deal with the Diaphragm, Pt 1

“What do you know about breathing for singing?”

This is one of the questions asked of students in my voice studio at their first lesson. My least favorite, yet most common response is, “well, I know you breathe from the diaphragm,” uttered as they hold their hand vaguely over their abdominal area.

If that is their answer we go no further.

The diaphragm, for those of you who don’t know, is an involuntary muscle. That means we have no direct control over it. We cannot make it do anything. At all. When not engaged it rests at the bottom of the rib cage. When activated it contracts and pulls and aides with inhalation.

Because it is an involuntary muscle, we do not ‘breathe from the diaphragm’ anymore than we breathe from our stomach. We breathe through our mouth or nose, down the trachea and into the lungs. Breathing occurs through an interplay of muscles, including the diaphragm, that pull on lung tissue, create negative pressure and allow air to rush in (a very boiled down explanation with apologies to those who do anatomical things for a living and would give a more complex, in depth explanation).

What we want is a diaphragm that is free to descend to its maximum position, allowing the bottom portion of our lungs, where the bulk of our lung tissue lives, to fill with air, giving us the best shot at singing long phrases.

What we need is a set of abdominal muscles flexible enough to allow the contents of the abdominal area (stomach, liver, spleen etc) to move forward when the diaphragm encounters them. Because the diaphragm inserts on itself in a central tendon,  its flexibility is also partly dependent on the flexibility of the hips and spine. (Working on flexibility while building strength is one of the many reasons why yoga can be helpful for singers.)

When teachers and conductors and the like tell students “Breathe from your diaphragm!” what they mean is release your abdominal muscles and get the ribcage in an optimal position so the diaphragm is free to descend on inhalation.  We ‘feel a low breath’ because there is expansion in the belly as things move around.

The way the diaphragm is involved with exhalation and how it is paired with its antagonist muscles in the abdomen to provide the foundation for a supported sound is for another post.

Go forth and sing, but know that you aren’t controlling your diaphragm as much as you might think you are!

Breathing 101: Brahmari – Bee Breath

Breathing 101: Brahmari – Bee Breath


In this post we’re going to add to your tool belt of ways to manage and soothe performance anxiety. If you’ve read other Breathing 101 posts, you are starting to get a feel for the power of your breath.  Being aware of your breath helps you to be aware of your state of mind: shallow breath = stress/anxiety, deep, full breath = relaxed, calm.


This breath practice is a way to move to a non-anxious state by using sound to help extend your exhale. It is something you can practice back stage before performing, or while riding on the subway, in your car or while simply walking down the street.




Brahmari/Bee Breath:

To begin this practice, sit in a comfortable cross legged position or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, spine tall.


Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose while softly and gently humming on an /m/ sound and comfortable, mid-range pitch.


There should be little effort in your hum and the jaw should be soft, the tongue resting between your lower teeth. As you continue your neck, shoulders and jaw will continue to release tension.


The bee breath are calms the anxious, spinning mind and helps to lengthen the exhalation without additional effort – forcing the breath beyond your capacity will have the opposite effect.


What you are doing is humming softly. There are many articles out there about the health benefits of humming. Including one from the New York Times that presents multiple studies on the effect of humming to help sinus infections, a short one from mindbodygreen on the health benefits of humming and one from relaxation lounge on the instant benefits of humming daily.


Give it a whirl and see how you feel after!

Breathing 101: Complete Yoga Breath

Breathing 101: Complete Yoga Breath

The foundational breath of yoga is the complete yoga breath, called Dirga* in Sanskrit (pronounced DEER-gah).

Mastering it means you have developed an awareness and freedom of your breathing which will enable other breath practices and also your singing. The increase in oxygen you bring in when you breathe deeply helps decrease stress and anxiety levels, something everyone can use!

Begin by practicing on your back, then try in a sitting position and finally try it standing up.

1. Lie on your back in constructive rest, with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. 

2. Place your hands on your belly. Breathe in and feel the belly rise on inhale and fall on exhale. Do this for a few cycles.

3. Move your hands to your ribcage. Inhale and feel the belly expand and then feel the breath cause the ribcage to expand on inhale and retreat on exhale. Do this for a few cycles. 

4. The final part is to feel the breath move into the area under the collarbones. Breathe in, feel the belly and ribs fill and then a slight rise of the collarbones as breath enters the upper lung tissue. This final step is subtle and small. 

This breath is about finding freedom in the muscles involved with inhalation in exhalation such that your diaphragm can descend enough to allow for a deep inhalation and your ribs expand to accommodate your filling lungs. If you feel light headed while doing this, back off from the practice and lie with your legs up the wall or on a chair for a few minutes while breathing normally.


*If you have asthma and are experiencing symptoms, avoid engaging in practices such as this until your symptoms have abated. Then, begin with gentle breathing to avoid aggravating your condition.

Back to school…Healthy Habits for Singers

It is back to school time and I thought I’d offer up a list of habits you can institute that will keep your voice healthy throughout the year.

1. Don’t smoke. Don’t use drugs. Don’t abuse alcohol.

2. Find a way to deal with stress! If you don’t your body will find a way to let you know usually by getting sick or injured in some way. Yoga in the form of physical poses, breath work and meditation will do this for you.

3. Make sleep a priority. Staying rested will help lower your stress level and keep your immune system in balance. Sleep is also the time when our cells repair themselves. If you’ve had a long rehearsal, sleeping will help your voice repair for another day’s voice use.

4. Eat a healthy diet and drink water throughout the day. My rule of thumb is eat actual food and not food products. Whole foods are rich in the protein, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need. Hydration is systemic so drinking water every day until you pee pale is the way to know you are hydrated (and your voice will function more efficiently when you are hydrated.)

5. Exercise regularly. A daily dose of thirty minutes of moderate exercise (walking) is all it takes. Strength training is also beneficial to keep muscles in peak condition.

6. Observe how much you talk throughout the day. It is unlikely that you spend more time singing than speaking. Limit your voice use so you have time to recover – put yourself on voice rest if need be. Don’t use your voice to imitate sounds, yell excessively at a sporting event or engage in competitive talking (like what you do on the subway when you try to make yourself heard over background/ambient noise).

7. Always warm up the voice completely (15-20 min.) before full-on singing. Each voice needs different exercises to target certain areas, so don’t rely on a choral warm up to be perfect for you, if you are a choral singer. Ideally, warm your voice up in the morning before you have used it all day to speak. This will help you to speak efficiently. Before you visit the extremes of your range, spend a lot of time on middle voice. Use lip trills, glides and a variety of vowel sounds to awaken the voice.

8. Ask questions! If you are having trouble singing a piece meet with a conductor or a voice teacher who can help you develop strategies for singing difficult passages. Improving your sight singing skills will also help keep you from getting vocally fatigued when learning a new song. Be sure you are singing the right voice part! If you are unsure of the appropriate range for your voice, go and see a voice teacher.

9. Don’t sing if you are sick. Instead, use the time to visually learn your music. If you aren’t contagious or coughing excessively, learn by listening. If you find yourself vocally tired, heat some water in a pot on the stove and bring it to just under a boil, so steam is produced. Tent a towel over your head and breathe deeply through your nose and mouth for 5-10 minutes. The steam will help to rejuvenate your voice and make it feel better.

10. When you are done practicing or rehearsing, take a few minutes to stretch and do some deep breathing to help the body return to a rested state.

11. If you find yourself in vocal trouble for 10 days or longer – persistent hoarseness, sudden loss of vocal range, the voice easily fatigues or it is painful to talk or sing – get in to have your vocal cords looked at. For many, this involves a visit to a primary care physician or campus health services and then a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor. If you can get in to see a Laryngologist that is preferable – this is an ENT with specific training in the voice.