Saturday, November 14, 2015

Yoga Informing the Singing Informing the Yoga...

I love yoga. I've been doing yoga since 2005. I was always curious about it but could never get excited enough about it to take the plunge. I have been a runner, swimmer, step class junkie, weight lifter, dance class doer, and for a brief period I was a little Taekwondo warrioress. I've always had some form of "exercise" or physical activity in my regime. But as it turns out, adopting a yoga practice into my life wasn't just a "fitness fad" for me. It was a life changer.

I initially made the shift when I had gone to a physician to get to the bottom of a constant neck pain and stiffness that I was always living with. He said, "You know, I'm seeing more and more women doing yoga these days and having successful results when it comes to bodily pain and general well-being." Folks had recommended yoga to me for years and I had always blown it off but for some reason, at that moment, something shifted in me and I was very curious and ready to try it. I was excited and intrigued-as I always am when trying something new. But I had no idea just how deeply yoga would affect me. Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, philosophically, spiritually and musically.

My first few yoga classes were a bit of a bust. You see, there are so many different types of classes, styles, teachers, tones, purposes and flavors of yoga out there that I didn't know where to start. But I knew I would know when I found the right one. So I fumbled through 3 - 5 different studios and teachers very frustrated and annoyed until I found the right studio and teacher for me. I'll never forget the first class that felt like I'd come home. A "vinyasa flow" all levels class.

I walked into the slightly warmed room ( not to be confused with the "hot yoga" classes which bring the temperature up to over a hundred degrees) which I find completely unnecessary and dehydrating and depleting. This room was just a little warm. Like walking into a warm cabin on a snowy blizzardy day. Your whole body just goes "aaagh" in relaxation. It was a big, high ceiling, wood floored room with a huge statue of Ganesh, at the front of the room, sitting on a platform surrounded by candles and flowers. I just knew I was in the right place.

The particular Vinyasa class I took on that dayI now see as based in Ashtanga Yoga. Which is my yoga style of choice. It started with stretching and then moves to the delicious Sun Salutations, then the series of poses continues with standing poses, twists, backbends, arm balances, hip openers, shoulder openers until things cool down with pigeon poses and stretches. Then you're ready for the final resting pose, 'Shavasana", otherwise known as corpse pose because you just lay on the floor on your back like a corpse. You lay there for anywhere from 5- 10 minutes just allowing the effects of all of the rigorous poses you've done to sink into your body, helping to quiet your mind and sink into the center of your body and soul.

From that point on I was hooked and I've been practicing, growing and going deeper into my practice ever since. Like many people, my first intention with yoga was more focused on physical goals. Ease any kinks and pains, build muscle, and keep that long lean yoga look. And yoga has provided all of that for me but now I find that the major effects of my yoga practice are in my mind, reminding me of a more balanced and wise way to approach life. So in almost every class I get little epiphanies of how lessons learned through practicing the poses( asanas) can be taken off the mat and used in my daily life. And just recently I had a wonderful epiphany while in class that applies to my singing.

One thing that I really notice every time I do yoga is how differently my body feels every day. Just because I could fly around doing full twists, heads stands, forearm balances, and arm balances yesterday does NOT mean I can do them as easily today. Every day is a new beginning and you HAVE to remember to listen to your body and honor it in every moment. Those that don't are FAR more inclined to injure themselves. Yoga for me is such an art of LISTENING. Listing to my body, to where it is tight, loose, strong, weak, and timid. I also listen to the tapes and stories running in my brain as I go through every pose. And as we all know, those voices can be brutal. Chastising me for not being able to do a pose as strongly as I could do yesterday, ridiculing me for falling out of balance during a standing pose, badgering me for just feeling "tired". But yoga is a moving meditation. So you watch that voice but don't invite it to play. It doesn't get promoted to the grown ups table. It stays at the kids table. You watch it grumble in it's nonsense and bullying and use the experience to practice detachment from it in every moment.

Since the voice is a muscle inside my body, my instrument is deeply affected by whatever is going on in my body and mind. So the lessons in yoga apply directly to my instrument. When I sit down to practice, I notice where my voice is tight, tired, overworked, strong, or fluid. I approach my singing with the same diligence that I approach yoga. I listen to it and ease it into singing. I don't force it or push it immediately just because I felt so strong at my show last night. So the lesson is: Start where you are that day. Not where you were yesterday. Or where you wish you were. Start where you are now. Lean into how you feel now and ease yourself into your practice. And I feel like that's just a good lesson to take with me every day during life.

Another lesson that came to me recently was that yoga is really an art in finding the ease with which you can be in a challenging pose. Yoga poses are challenging. That's the point. Life is challenging. And in yoga practice you have the opportunity to find the "ease" in each challenging pose. And as I can go through life-fighting the moment or wishing things were different in a moment. This lesson helps me find the ease into that moment. And it is particularly helpful while singing. Find the ease in delivering the song. Step back into the truth of the song, notice how my voice feels in that moment and find the ease. Don't oversing, try not to over reach, push, struggle, or over work it. Find the ease. I just love that reminder.

And, of course, LISTENING. To me, listening is the key to making great music. Remembering to listen to my body during yoga keeps me in the habit of listening to my body and the information in each moment in daily life. The key is to stay grounded in yourself while listening to and being open to that which is going on around you and inside you. That grounded listening is essential when making music with others. Staying in that moment is what allows the magic to creep in and then what elevates all of you together. You listen and feed off of each other and create something completely unique together.

So little did I know how deep and wide the influence of yoga would go for me. And how intertwined the lessons would be in my singing and my life. So with each day I listen to my body and instrument, practice detachment from the little gremlin voices, and strive to find the ease in each moment so that ultimately I can share my voice and my spirit in the most truthful authentic and grounded way. It's a life-long daily process. Every day is a new beginning... maybe that is what the Buddhist's mean by "reincarnation"? I like to think so....