How to integrate mind and body for the stage

Mind and body

Overcome anxiety and negative thoughts by recognising the important link between mind and body, writes singer and fitness and mindset coach LEIGH GRAHAM.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you feel more than ready for the stage, feeling primed and in the zone, both physically and mentally? Other times, you feel tired, nervous, scattered or unfocused?

Perhaps you’ve been performing for a long time, but you still feel you lack consistency. You desire a singing preparation routine that works. You do the vocal exercises, practice the repertoire, maybe learn some choreography, and do some breathing exercises. After that, do you just hope for the best?

In my lifelong journey as a singer, I’ve had the privilege of performing in small and large venues around the world. In doing so, I have been reminded of the notion that, “wherever you go, there you are”. My doubts followed me, as did my negative self-talk and anxiety. Can you relate? It made me wonder, after singing on stage my whole life, is it too much to ask to enjoy connecting with the audience while delivering the goods? I didn’t think so.

Being a fitness and mindset coach, I looked for clues in the mind and body. I discovered that you don’t have to leave your state on stage up to chance. I realised singers could completely transform their performance using specific tools through mindset, movement and other nourishing habits in addition to practising the music. A big component of a successful performance centres around your mental state. I also discovered some other health hacks for feeling great on stage, in your body.

What about our bodies?

Should we be doing something in particular with them in between practice sessions? Singing affects the whole body. While proper breathing is essential, there are many other body aspects to consider including musculature, posture, strength, stamina, mobility and flexibility in all of the right places. A strong core is important, for example, but the abs can’t be too tight, or stuck, otherwise you will struggle with breath control and line. Immune and nervous system support are important to consider as well.

Enter the mind. Ever used visualisation? One of my favourite courses in my Kinesiology undergrad at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, was Sport Psychology. I thought it fascinating that science had proven that the brain doesn’t differentiate between skill practice and skill visualisation. Applying the principles to music performance courses as well, I found the claim to be true across the board.

Tip

When too ill to practice, try practising the song to perfection in your head. Then take the time to visualise your ultimate performance in real time. To see what you would like to see, hear and feel. You need to immerse yourself in the fantasy. It should feel real. In addition to helping you become very clear on your intention for the show, you are programming “future memories” into your brain.

The missing link

What we have not yet discussed is how to integrate mind and body for the stage. All the preparation in the world can go out the window when nerves and hyper (or hypo) stimulation come into play. So how do you manage colliding fears, doubts and habits that hold you back from freedom and joy on stage? First, you need to simply be aware of the state you’re in; then manage it if you’re not in a positive one. Particularly when used alongside an energising or relaxing physical activity set, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) offers some useful tools to get you in the state you want to be in. If you want to practice consistently getting “in the zone” (or in an optimal state) before singing, try the NLP exercise called Anchoring or Anchors.

The individual study of each of these components culminated in my development of a mind-body stage preparation programme for singers called Fit for the Stage.

In addition to the tips mentioned prior, here are a few of my singers’ favourite check-ins and resets that can be done anywhere relatively quickly to get you in the optimal state to sing; feeling grounded but energised, connected and present. I hope you will use them and enjoy the magic that follows.

Tip 1 – Tune into your body

Do you need to fire it up, or take it down a notch? If you need more energy, go for a brisk walk or try my energising set (for more on this go to www.fitforthestage.com). If you are feeling overwhelmed, slow down with a few stretches or use my relaxing set (learn more at www.fitforthestage.com) .

Tip 2 – Adopt a meditation practice

It will help you clear your mind more effectively and efficiently whenever you need to. There are some great free apps that guide you in only five minutes a day. Or contact me for singer-specific meditations and mantras.

Tip 3 Make sure you’re nutritionally nourished

On the run? Try a smoothie with greens, berries, healthy fats and protein. It will help balance your blood sugar, and subsequently regulate your nervous system, all part of a healthy singer. Particularly if you’re drinking it right before you sing, avoid substituting in dairy, coffee, anything ice cold, acidic tropical fruits, or spicy foods.

And happy singing!