After spending some free time at the piano this summer playing through Jazz tunes like “Autumn Leaves,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” I am back to focusing 100 percent on my life’s purpose: singing. Singing is a really fascinating experience. Unlike external, material instruments, the voice is the only invisible instrument we carry with us at all times. To study singing is very difficult. You cannot see the actual instrument, you can only feel and hear it, and the terms used in voice lessons can sometimes seem a bit esoteric: feel the vibrations coming from inside your head or your chest, make the sound vibrate in your nasal cavities, “think” the notes higher (as my high school choir teacher used to say). Voice teachers are used to seeing a lot of puzzled faces on new students.
I studied Classical Voice intensely when I was a high school student. I studied mainly Italian Art Song, German Lieder, Gospel Choir, and Catholic-style Latin Mass music. As a teacher, there is only so much you can do for your students, because there is no way to really demonstrate on the actual instrument they possess. You can sing for them and try your best to describe how you do it, but ultimately, I find the experience of studying voice to be more spiritual in nature for the student. Which is why I titled this post “Singing=Yoga.”
In yoga, we learn how to stretch our bodies in ways that seem impossible at first. With visualization and breath, we learn how to twist and stretch, and once we conquer a pose, the result is a calm, almost meditative feeling. I am beginning to feel the same way about singing practice. One must use breath and visualization to make the internal vibrations come out as pleasant, flexible sounds.
Everyday, before I practice, I do thirty minutes of vocal warm-ups and then I practice a form of meditation called “Toning.” In eastern philosophy, it is believed that we all possess seven chakra points, or wheels of energy throughout the center of our bodies. In this philosophy, it is believed that each chakra point can be balanced by singing it’s pitches that supposedly resonate with each chakra. For the lowest chakra point at the base of our spines, we sing a very low pitch, and as the focus goes higher up the spine, the corresponding pitch also raises. I spend about five minutes toning each point. It not only helps me focus my mind, but singing extended notes helps me practice vocal control. After I finish, I am calm and my voice is steady.
For several weeks I have kept this daily vocal practice going, and it is paying off. Something clicked today. For the first time, all of the notes came out of me with very little effort. It was like all of my internal muscles relaxed, and the sounds that came out of me where beautiful to feel. I remembered very clearly how I fell in love with the act of singing when I was a very young teenager. It is very much like spending a year trying to form the perfect triangle pose in yoga, struggling each time to get your arms to reach up and down in a perfect vertical line, while your legs form a perfectly straight upside-down V and your face turns up toward the sky. At first it is impossible, but after a lot of practice, one day everything just falls into place, and the result is worth it. Once you form that perfect pose, and you are relaxed enough to take in a calm breath or two: total peace.
I felt that way today as I sang. For several months, I have struggled to get my voice back in shape the way it once was. After years of only singing folk and rock music, my range had withered to only two octaves, and my breath control was weak compared to what I once bragged about. Today, the hard work finally proved to be worth it, because just like spending a year in a challenging yoga class, everything finally clicked and I felt the encouragement to keep going. Just like yoga practice, my muscles finally figured out how to relax so I could take a breath or two, and for a few moments I felt total peace.