We all know yoga is good for the body and mind, so it follows that practising yoga would be good for a singer, since the body is our instrument and we use the mind to harness its ability.
If you haven’t yet considered practising yoga for the voice directly, you should, as the benefits can be far-reaching, both in learning and performance. Yoga can improve not just the quality of our voices but enhance our enjoyment of singing too.
Singing as sensation
A friend was smashing a song on stage the other day. She has one of those voices that makes everyone stop and listen: powerful, clear, emotional and seemingly effortless.
As I watched her sing, I felt envious, but it occurred to me that I didn’t want to sound like her; I wanted to feel the way I imagine it feels to sing like that. How many other singers, I wondered, have the same desire when they watch someone they admire?
In an industry that is so focused on the external, there is immense value in getting back to what it feels like to sing, not just physically but emotionally, and indeed to explore why we sing.
So why yoga?
Forget standing on your head, stretchy hamstrings or floating around in a zen bubble; yoga is simply about feeling how the body feels from the inside out. It’s about noticing the mind and its apparently endless thoughts and being able to step into a place beyond them. It’s often called “present moment awareness” or “mindfulness”. Simply put, it is living rather than thinking about living. Or singing, rather than thinking about singing!
So why is this good for singers and how can we put it into practice?
Yoga as preparation for singing
We all know warming up the voice is vital but how much consideration do we give to warming up the whole body? And do we even consider preparing the mind for singing?
Singing is a holistic affair. Every part of the body and mind affects the voice, regardless of whether we can feel it or understand why.
A few minutes of mindfulness can have a profound effect on the quality of your warm-up. Try following this quick and easy exercise. It works wonders for calming and focusing the mind before you perform. You can do it anywhere, from your car (parked obviously) to a busy green room – it doesn’t have to be empty or quiet.
Mindfulness for the stage
- Stand or sit still and close your eyes.
- Take three deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Feel how the body softens.
- Become aware of the sounds around you. Notice loud and soft, near and far, constant and fleeting, familiar and unfamiliar sounds.
- Take your awareness to the top of your head and, from there, start mentally scanning down through your body. Notice all the different sensations you can feel from place to place: heat, coolness, lightness, heaviness, tension, ease, even numbness, all the way down to the tips of your fingers and toes. Don’t linger and don’t judge what you notice, just feel it and keep moving evenly through the body.
- Take three final deep breaths as before.
- Open your eyes.
Using this sort of meditation before we even begin puts us in the right frame of mind. Continuing to then be mindful throughout a physical and vocal warm up makes it easier to spot areas of tension and find the best ways to release them.
Yoga for learning and change
The philosophy of yoga is to accept yourself as you are and allow room for change, rather than force it. This is a powerful attitude to adopt while we’re learning, as we often experience feelings of frustration that can hinder our development.
The more you practise yoga, the more you begin to feel the finer details of the body. This is incredibly useful as we try and manipulate certain muscles, particularly in the throat, that we can’t really see or feel externally. The better you know how your throat feels, the easier you will find it to move or change something.
Feeling sound as sensation is useful for pitching issues, too. We can encourage students to tune into the feeling of certain frequencies so they can learn to match their sound to your voice or a note on an instrument.
Yoga for performance
The relaxing effects of yoga can be wonderful for singers who struggle with performance nerves. However, the benefits go far beyond relaxation.
In many gigging situations the monitoring is not sufficient. Being able to trust how your voice feels when it’s well-connected and in tune can help overcome poor sound on stage, making us less likely to push and strain.
Furthermore, when we are aware of the feeling of the voice, we tap into the innate enjoyment which comes from producing sound. This relaxes the whole system and makes singing easier, which increases enjoyment, creating a virtuous circle. Singing from this space, we are also less inclined to compare ourselves to other singers.
In performance, all this translates to a greater level of unique self-expression and authenticity. The more you feel connected to yourself, the more you will feel connected to your fellow musicians and to the audience.
Our Voice Has Body
In her book Our Voice Has Body, Mariana Masetto, a musician, composer and teacher from Argentina, presents practical and thought-provoking ways to develop the voice through yoga.
Masetto’s interest in the body-voice connection grew from personal experience. She often felt the desire to break into song while practising yoga and to move her body while singing.
Her unique approach focuses on adding movement to sound, pairing certain yoga positions with vocal exercises. Her ideas are well-considered and she includes preparatory, high-intensity, restorative and so-called “unusual” poses to develop the connection between body and voice. Each section is rounded off with introspective questions to help you get the most out of the exercises.
Masetto’s teaching is holistic and deeply rooted in the ancient philosophy of yoga. This is by no means a book about just stretching or relaxation, nor is it a book to read sitting down. It’s a book to have open by the yoga mat or piano, since its value lies in experimenting with the ideas and concepts it offers.
Masetto takes on the tough challenge of giving written instruction about two disciplines which are innately practical. Given its depth and complexity, I would recommend this book to those with some experience of yoga, an understanding of anatomy, or singers with strong body awareness.
I hope Our Voice Has Body inspires more singers to study the body-voice connection and leads to more research into the value of yoga as an approach to singing.
Our Voice Has Body is out now.