The Inner Journey

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So often we are swayed by external circumstances, and we try and create an effect outside ourselves. This is especially true in our modern world of multi-tasking and perpetual distractions, and many of us are so used to running our lives based on external input and desired results that we don’t question it, we accept it as how things are. In singing, this manifests as a disconnection with our inner resonant space, being unable to sense the palette lifting and an internal sense of a vowel, and undue effort in creating a desired sound. But there is another way!

As you inhale and release your abdominal muscles, allowing the diaphragm to drop, see if you can extend your awareness to a feeling of effortless lifting of the soft palette, an openness behind the nose an eyes, as if you were naturally smiling with slight surprise. See if you can sense the air wafting in to the yawn space, not forcing a yawn by shoving the tongue down, but allowing the hint of a yawn-smile to emerge. This lifting is counteracted by the dropping of the abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and thus the larynx and base of the tongue – all of this happening in a passive way, from an inviting and allowing made possible first by a tall, neutral spine and activated alignment. When we inhale in this way while keeping the following vowel and intention in mind, we set ourselves up for an internal resonance that will resonate outwards to our external world without undue effort on our parts. Once we are phonating, whether it’s speaking or singing, stay in touch with your breath flow and your resonant inner chamber, the open pharynx, and stay curious about the inner sensations rather than overly focused on an external effect.

In life, we must also take some time to “drop in” and allow Breath/Spirit to permeate our beings before we share with others. Create regular times in your life to relax and rejuvenate while also setting intentions for the next period of activity in your life. Whether it’s yoga practice, meditation, chanting and singing, or a massage or retreat – give yourself the gift of nourishing your spirit and infusing yourself with life force before returning to your external activities. You’ll find over time that the inner journey is what it’s all about, and the external will unfold with more ease. Namaste!

http://www.northwestvocalyoga.com

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Wide River of Breath

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“The biggest mistake you could ever make is being too afraid to make one.” -Anonymous

One concept that I have been returning to lately in my own vocal yoga practice and in my teaching is that of giving oneself permission to make mistakes. So often when we are given a new exercise or a new song we react by being overly careful, trying to get it right, and this immediately lessens the flow of breath. There is a subtle fear or doubt that arises – can we explore this fear? Are we afraid of a punishment if we get it wrong? Perhaps we are triggered into a childhood state when we were punished for a mistake. The yogic perspective reminds us to observe the fear and doubt without judgment, become curious about where it’s coming from, and see this as an opportunity to create a new pattern.

After embracing your fear in a self-compassionate way and perhaps discussing it with your teacher, try creating a new pattern of release, abandon, playfulness by giving yourself permission to make mistakes. Prioritize the breath, making sure there is always a wide river of breath flowing and resonance through your whole head and perhaps your whole body, and then explore the new exercise or song with curiosity, staying fully in the present moment. Don’t question it – go for it! Mistakes will happen – they happen to all of us! We notice them without judgment, adjust as necessary, and move on. It is only when we are afraid of making mistakes that we set ourselves up for repeated disappointment. When we instead trust our breath and resonance, we are able to be in the flow of the music and embrace each new note, each new moment.

Namaste,

Becca

http://www.northwestvocalyoga.com

Themes and Intentions for 2018

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Greetings and Happy New Year, dear friends! I have just recently returned from a short, magical trip to the big island of Hawaii, and I did my best to bring some sunshine back with me! Practicing yoga outside is one of my favorite activities, and I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do that and also to design some sequences which I plan to offer in my Sunday morning Hatha class this week. I hope to see many of you there!

I also have been meditating on the themes of the year ahead – setting intentions and opening to what wants to emerge. In February we will enter the year of the dog – this happens to be my Chinese zodiac sign, and I’m excited to enter this time with the themes of loyalty, community involvement, and cultivating wisdom. Our new year coincided with a full moon, and we are still feeling its effects – it is a good time to get grounded and set intentions. Courage is a big theme that seems to be emerging these days – we need to be brave enough to be vulnerable and to share our unique wisdom. We need to participate fully in both giving and receiving – whatever we do, we must be all in! It is time for us to truly come together in communities and take risks, voicing ourselves and extending our hands to others who may be faltering. Take this time to fully rest when you have the opportunities, and during those times meditate on what you’d like to create, what you are grateful for, and on what you value. It is like taking a breath before you sing – we must open to fully receive the breath, allowing it to drop all the way down, while also inviting the slight lifting of a smile to emerge, and at the same time imagine the note we are about to sing! This sounds like a lot, but if we stay playful and curious, it will flow naturally.

I personally will be working on focus and full engagement this year, as well as deepening love and connection and allowing myself to be vulnerable. What are you working on? I invite you to journal and draw your intentions, sing them and speak them, and feel free to share them with me so I can support you in them. Many blessings of health, happiness, and joyful singing to you for 2018, and Namaste.

Unhinged

 

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Working on opening my heart and stretching between two opposing truths in hanumanasana.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” – Dr. Brené Brown

Control is such a tricky subject in singing, in yoga or any physical discipline, and also in life. We can’t go around controlling every little thing in our lives, but we also don’t want to completely “lose control” and become so passive that we let go of responsibility (the ability to respond!) and taking action towards our deeper dreams and desires. As I discussed in this blog entry, in singing and yoga we want to determine how much muscular (or energetic) engagement is necessary and helpful and how much is simply trying too hard. In this way, we aim to strike a balance between relaxation and receptivity and committed, dynamic engagement. This is yet another area where my yoga and singing practice is a rich reflection or microcosm of the inner work I need to do and bring into my everyday life; as I become more aware of the tension in my jaw and tongue and practice releasing it, it becomes easier for me to release control in my personal relationships and in the every day ways I choose to spend my time.

This common issue of tension in the jaw and tongue area is connected with the throat chakra and may point to issues of expression – speaking your truth, voicing yourself without holding back, etc. – but also I’ve found that issues in that area specifically relate to themes of control in one’s life. There are two common ways in which the jaw and tongue tend to want to “help” and we end up asserting too much control: 1. By clenching the jaw shut and the tongue becoming wide and highly arched, often pulling the tip of the tongue away from the teeth. The palette often drops, as well, resulting in a nasal, forced sound. 2. By shoving the jaw down from the front, without awareness of the release needed in the back of the jaw and going all the way up to the muscle insertion just above and behind the temples. In this scenario, the tongue often gets shoved down the throat, resulting in an overly darkened sound, losing the instrument’s true resonance.

In both cases, we are exerting control out of some sort of fear or mistrust of our own breath support or true resonance. This fear and mistrust often manifests in our everyday lives, as well, and the two ways in which we exert control in our singing practice may correlate, in a sort-of fun-house mirror way, to the ways in which we exert control in our lives. In the first case, we are suppressing an emotion, an expression – repressing and holding something in, perhaps avoiding something we don’t feel we can confront. In the second case, we are exerting control externally in a forceful way, perhaps intimidating others in an attempt to get one’s way. Neither methods of “control” are, in fact, effective.

But wait, you might say – does this mean if I tend to shove my jaw down, that I am an anxiously-attached person who tends to try and exert control outside of myself? If I tend to clench my jaw when I sing, does that mean that I’m an avoidant-attached individual who tends to suppress my feelings and emotions? Not necessarily – remember, it is a fun-house mirror…try to stay curious and open, exploring the tendencies in your body and how they might show up in your life. Perhaps you’ve experienced both ways of controlling, at different times, depending on the situation!

Once you’ve observed your tendencies and “caught yourself in the act,” invite in the possibility of full breath engagement connected with vulnerable open-ness through the resonator – let the jaw hang in a neutral position and release from the back when needed. Get out of your head and into your body, and observe and respond in the moment with truth and trust! Breathe in and go – surprise yourself and sing openly, despite the fear – that is true courage!

http://www.northwestvocalyoga.com

The Art of Allowing

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”  – Lao Tsu

Too often in our western culture we think of creation, of “do-ing,” as a very active and will-full endeavor, and our days are filled with this sort of imposition of our will upon the world. How often do we pause, reflect, and let an idea or inspiration come to us? How often do we ask ourselves, “what is the right action or in-action for me to take in this moment?” Thankfully, there are reminders throughout our lives to slow down and allow inspiration to flow through us or emerge on its own. For many, these reminders take the form of intentional mindfulness practice, moments savored in nature, or hearing calming music. For others, one’s spiritual path encourages this sort of rest and reflection, and I’ve personally been exploring the concept of “allowing” within both my spiritual traditions, Judaism and Yoga, as well as in my braided practices of singing and physical asana.
In Judaism, we have the opportunity every week to practice stillness and allowing when we observe Shabbat, our weekly day of rest. I feel my whole nervous system calm and settle when I’m lighting the Shabbat candles with my daughter. And in my yoga practice, we practice allowing and surrender in Savasana at the end of our practice – fully releasing all our muscles, stilling the mind, and “handing over” all that we can’t control to a force greater than our limited awareness. Whatever your beliefs, we each have an opportunity to practice allowing in our everyday lives, although sometimes we need to actively carve out that time from our busy schedules! This is your reminder that carving out that time is always worth it, even for just one moment of allowing the present moment to flow forth like water.

In my singing practice, there are moments of rest when we truly need to “reset” and ground before we can actively phonate – how can we more fully “drop in” to those moments and truly appreciate them? How can we allow the breath to fully drop in to us, even down to our pelvic floor, our heels? How can we let the truth of a song come to us, and how can we allow it to flow through us with minimal effort? If you find yourself practicing with too much fervor or frustration, how can you practice bringing yourself back to stillness and from there, let inspiration flow through?

No matter how you choose to find space within the rhythm of your days and the rhythm of your practices, remember that sometimes silence is necessary and that by cultivating an attitude of allowing we can more fully awaken to what wants to emerge. I wish you many blessings as you allow more space into your practices, and your life!

www.northwestvocalyoga.com

Vocal Care and Wellness for Cold Season

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It’s been an especially rough cold/flu season so far, and we’re not out of the woods yet! I have been sick twice, which is extremely frustrating and not usual for me…but it gave me the opportunity to revise my vocal tips for cold season! Below are several tips that I sent in a newsletter last year, but never got around to posting here on my blog, so here you go! There are even some new tips for you that I’ve collected this past year! In general, I recommend creating good general wellness habits like washing your hands often and eating plenty of fruits and veggies. In addition, I have found the tips below to be extremely helpful and hope you do, too!

Hydrate | Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink plenty of water, herbal tea (I recommend “Throat Coat” tea from Traditional Medicinals, or “Throat Comfort” tea from Yogi Teas), or hot water with lemon and honey.

Rest | Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and get plenty of rest! Avoid loud environments like bars where you are speaking over music and/or other people’s voices. Speak softly but don’t whisper, as that can wear on your vocal folds. If you can, give yourself a full day (or several hours) of vocal rest with no talking at all.

Steam | Steam your face! Boil water, then remove from heat and place a towel over your head. Center head over the pot and breathe in the steam. Perhaps put some oregano oil in the water, or another essential oil or herbs of your choice. Essential oils that I enjoy: peppermint, eucalyptus (great for the lungs but a bit drying for the throat), cinnamon, and cardamom.

Supplements & Herbs | We all know Vitamin C is great for your immune system – did you know you can take it every few hours? But don’t forget Vitamin D, as well as Zinc. You might also try Yin Chao, a great Chinese herb, especially right after noticing symptoms. See your local trusted acupuncturist for other Chinese herbs that could help you. Garlic, Ginger, Echinacea and Turmeric are some great natural antibiotics and anti-virals. Slippery Elm is a great herb for the vocal folds, as well as Licorice, Fennel, and Marshmallow Root. There are some nice throat sprays on the market, including “Singer’s Saving Grace.”

Expectorants | Expectorants are great — I recommend Mucinex (just the plain version, not Mucinex DM) which contains an herb called Guaifenesin, a natural expectorant which thins mucous. Apple Cider Vinegar is another natural expectorant, and it also helps your body fight bacteria and clear your lymph nodes!

Salt Water | Gargle with Salt water, and/or use a Neti pot. When using a Neti Pot, make sure to use boiled/distilled water and wait for it to cool to almost room temperature. Be sure to add non-iodized salt, versus your everyday table salt. When gargling with salt water, use hot water that is as warm as you can comfortably stand, and keep gargling (and spitting) until the whole glass is gone! Remember not to gargle loudly, which could do more harm than good…just a soft gargle! It isn’t always fun, but it really helps!

Coconut Oil “Pulling” | This practice might seem strange to our western minds, but it is an ancient Ayurvedic practice with proven benefits! Take a tablespoon of coconut oil and gently swish it in your mouth for 10 to 20 minutes without swallowing any, then spit it into the trash or outside (not in the sink as it will clog your plumbing). You can do this 2 or 3 times per day while you’re sick, and it is especially recommended first thing in the morning, even before you brush your teeth or drink anything. When you’re healthy, this is a great practice to incorporate into your routine for general wellness, 2 or 3 times per week.

Practice | Even when you’re sick, gentle practicing can do you good! For singers, don’t forget that you can always visualize performing your songs, listen to the music you’re working on, work on memorizing your text, and mouth the words in front of a mirror! As for yoga, unless you’re super low on energy, a gentle practice sure couldn’t hurt and might help open up your chest and free your breathing. Some poses to incorporate into your practice: supported backbends like supported fish posture with a block between your shoulder blades, addho mukha virasana (downward facing hero’s pose, or “prayer”), and low lunge.

I wish you good health, and I hope you’ll be singing again soon!

Blessings of Viveka and Tapas (Plus, a post-election sequence!)

 

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On the evening of November 8, 2016, I started out hopeful. I had done my yoga practice that day, I had voted weeks ago, and I was determined to keep my yogic calm despite a growing fear that had been bubbling in me for a few days, a fear that the polls could be misleading and that a climate science denier who had objectively made racist, misogynist, xenophobic comments during his campaign could be elected president. This man represents, for me, the opposite of what the ancient practice of yoga strives for: balance, equanimity, peacefulness, and connection with the divine spark within us, which is inherently joyous and loving. Most of all, yoga strives for unity and one-ness (the word “yoga” itself means union), whereas Trump ran a campaign of divisiveness, scapegoating and generalizing populations like immigrants and Muslims, and disparaging women and disabled persons. I could go on about all the reasons that I am clearly not a Trump supporter or the reasons that I lost my yogic calm that night, but as we all know, that growing fear became a reality and many of us felt not only deeply saddened, but also suddenly unsafe. As a non-Christian and (only recently “out”) openly bisexual woman, I personally feel afraid, but I also recognize that I’m not on the front lines and I resolve to stand in solidarity with, and take action to support, more visible vulnerable populations such as immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and non gender-conforming people.

As I put my daughter to bed that night, shielding her from what was happening because I didn’t know what else to do, a certain calm settled over me despite the feeling of panic and dread. Suddenly I knew what I had to do, suddenly there was a feeling of clarity. It became clear to me that now we must all be the best versions of ourselves, we must all do, with deep commitment and vigor, what we came here to do. Now that the sickness and shadow of America is more visible, there is a gift of focus and motivation. If we open to it, we can receive the gift of an extra dose of tapas, the fire of motivation that gives us consistency and discipline. We are all being called to find the toxic masculinity within ourselves – that part of ourselves that grasps for control, that uses force, that blames others or becomes overly defensive. We must find that part of ourselves and carve it out with scalpel-like precision. Yoga teaches us to use viveka, or keen discernment, to discover what is real and what is unreal, what is ours and what is someone else’s, what is helpful and what is hurtful. We must be in-alignment with our values as much as possible – our thoughts, words, and deeds must line up. When they don’t, use your scalpel unflinchingly and without judgment. We must do this work with ourselves continuously, and in our communities and in the world. How can we step up and do our part in fighting hate and ignorance? We must turn our practice into action. I know it is a cliche, but we must take it “off the mat.” This is what we’ve been practicing for.

So yes, it is time for kriya, the yoga of action. But we must not forget about our personal practice, self-care, and the inner work. We need that more than ever. If there is an inner blind spot or pocket of resentment, a place where our pain or dukha is in danger of growing into hatred or dvesha, I can guarantee it will manifest in your life and in your work. So, carve it out. We must take it off the mat but we must spend plenty of time on the mat, as well. Or on your meditation cushion, or out in nature, or in a practice room. We must tend to our riverbeds within, so that the clear flowing water of Source (or inspiration, loving-kindness, insert your own term here) can flow through, unobstructed.

May your unique riverbed be wide and clear. May you fully receive these gifts of viveka and tapas. May you do the work that you are uniquely called to do. May you feel supported by your community and by your practices. Namaste.

And now, a post-election sequence for you! No pics yet, but I will edit and add as soon as I’m able. Not going to give times for each pose because it varies from person to person. I’d say, stay in each pose anywhere between 5 long, deep breaths, and 5 minutes. For asymmetrical poses, roughly 2 minutes each side.

Addo Mukha Svanasana – dowward facing dog. Because it is a good pose with which to begin your practice, and it’s a good pose to prepare for the next pose.

Addo Mukha Vrksasana – Handstand, or full arm balance. Because our world has been turned upside-down, and we could always use a different perspective. If this pose is not in your practice, try Viparita Karani – legs up the wall pose, with your hips on 2 or 3 firm, folded blankets. If you’re menstruating, inversions are not recommended, so practice Viparita Karani with your hips on the mat, no blankets.

Vrksasana – tree pose. Because we really need to stay balanced these days.

Virabhadrasana II, then Virabhadrasana I. – Warrior 2 and 1. Because we must practice standing our ground, and being warriors against hate and ignorance wherever we encounter it – in ourselves and in the world.

Anjaneyasana – low lunge. Because we need to be like Hanuman (Anjani was Hanuman’s mother) and leap over seemingly un-surmountable hurdles. Because we must practice opening our hearts and training our nervous system to stay calm in challenging situations. Be sure to keep the breath slow and steady.

Addho Mukha Virasana – downward-facing hero’s pose, sometimes called prayer pose. If you pray, now is the time to do so. This pose will decompress the spine after a backbend.

Ananda Balasana – happy baby pose. Because we must find the seed of innocent joy within. Or, we might just need to cry unabashedly. Either way, opening our hips can help us connect with our deeper emotions, fully experience them without the spinning stories and intellectualizing that sometimes go along with them.

Salamba Sarvangasana – Shoulderstand. And Halasana – Plough pose. Again, we are turning ourselves upside-down. These two poses can also help you reset your jagged nervous system. If you’re menstruating, instead practice supported Setu Banda.

Savasana – final resting pose. If you only practice one pose from this sequence, let it be this one. Die to hatred, die to ignorance, die to escapism and avoidance. Die to any habits that no longer serve. Connect with your breath and surrender to the deeper truth within you. Rest, and be re-born.