The Power of Intention

As a voice teacher, I’ve learned to talk about breath support many different ways. Every student has their own “language” and responds to different cues, so I’ve come up with many ways of exploring this foundational element in singing. Often it is a student that teaches me a new way of approaching this important concept, as happened the other day. I was encouraging my student to engage a bit more deeply with their support muscles, using several different cues and metaphors, and when it really “clicked” for them, they said, “Oh! So, like I really mean it!” We laughed and I affirmed that, yes, we always want to “really mean it” anytime we sing! Although this may seem obvious to some, it is truly a concept we could all benefit to explore more deeply – the power of intention.

When we feel strongly about communicating something and there isn’t a layer of fear, doubt, or shame in the way, we naturally engage our deeper core muscles just the right amount to support our communication. There is a way in which “micro-managing” by intellectually knowing which muscles to engage at certain times, and how much, can actually get in the way of being fully in your body and trusting your instincts. Mind-based knowledge can only take us so far. Although it is helpful to have an accurate map of your body and understanding of the basic mechanics involved, we must then surrender to the present moment and trust the wisdom of our bodies, our intuitions and intentions. In doing so, we return to a child-like state of wonder, discovery, and freedom!

An especially powerful time to set an intention is as you inhale. Again, young children usually do this naturally, and beginning adult students often must release some amount of accumulated stress in order to achieve a relaxed, expansive inhalation. I’ll often use the adjectives “surprised and happy” as a cue to invite students to allow their breath to “drop in” naturally and fully, with a lift of the soft palette, and jaw and tongue free from unnecessary tension. When you inhale with the intention of what you’re about to sing or say, this often happens naturally, and we breathe in with the vowel that we’re about to use. Even if what you’re about to express isn’t happy, the ‘slightly surprised’ cue can help to encourage, rather than force, an internal lifting and opening, along with an easy release of the abdominal muscles so that the diaphragm can fully drop.

In life as well as singing, take your time to fully receive the breath or inspiration that is available to you; and when doing so, keep a strong intention in mind for your next phrase, or phase of life!

 

Advertisements

Dharana, Concentration

VoiceTrainingYogaLessons

Concentration is the fixing of the mind in one place.

– Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, sutra 3:1

Concentration is certainly something that is in short supply these days. With more distractions than ever before in our modern society, the mind is less likely to settle itself on one object – a key ingredient to meditation. Cell phones, tablets, relentless work schedules, busy families, and all the pressures of life are vying for our attention, making it more and more difficult to carve out time for meditation practice. If you are one of the successful ones and have a thriving meditation practice, good for you – keep at it! For the rest of us, let’s keep trying, but let’s also take advantage of other activities that give us opportunities to practice concentration – like asana practice and singing.

In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, physical asana (poses) is only mentioned three times in all three books (196 sutras total). The ancient sage seemed to think that living morally, concentration, breath practice, meditation and eventual union with the divine are all a bit more interesting or important. Nevertheless, engaging mindfully in the physical practice of yoga is a wonderful way to not only stay healthy, but also to ground yourself, get in your body, and focus the mind. A fantastic way to achieve focus as you’re practicing asana is to cultivate curiosity in each pose, each breath, each moment. Ask yourself, “I wonder where I’m feeling breath right now…I wonder how I could engage more deeply, but also relax more fully!”

Once you are experiencing each moment from the inside-out, try expanding the awareness to include different parts of your body. This is often necessary to achieve a pose to begin with! For example, ask yourself “how can I energetically connect the big toe mound with my outer hip, or the crown of the head with the tailbone?” By connecting these two points, or sometimes several points in the body, we are able to achieve an expanded awareness, hopefully with a soft focus and acceptance of what each moment has to offer.

In voice practice, it becomes even more challenging. Not only are we connecting two or more different points in the body, as I discuss in one of my previous blog posts, but we are also energizing the breath and often pronouncing different vowels and consonants to communicate something. There is so much involved in singing! No longer can we simply observe with curiosity as in our asana practice, we must be fully committed to each moment. This is often the case when performing poses, but not always. By requiring us to fully commit in this way, not only can yoga support a singer’s journey, but voice practice can support one’s yoga practice, too! The kind of focus required in singing is more integrated and zoomed-out – we don’t want to be working too hard, but we need to fully engage and energize all the parts of ourselves: our bodies, emotions, and spirits as much as our mind. We must dive in fully, without testing the waters.

I invite you to explore your voice in this way – start by getting in your body by practicing asana or organic movement, then maintain your curiosity as you start vocalizing. The next step is to let go on a deeper level – can you moan, laugh, sob, and wail with ease and full commitment, while maintaining your focus? It may help to explore those kind of organic sounds before you add pitches and words. Remember to let it be fun and stay open – you may just surprise yourself!

 

Lean into Discomfort

splitsinJune18

Have you ever gone to a yoga class and discovered a part of your body that has been tight, but you hadn’t realized it? For instance, you may have been walking around with tight hips and not known it until you tried to do Warrior 2 pose. This is a very common experience, and part of the reason is our tendency to avoid not only pain, but discomfort. Even though it may be good for us to utilize certain muscles more, like the hip flexors, the body unconsciously walks in a way that will avoid the pain. In that way, we avoid temporary discomfort but deepen the issue in the longer term. Until we consciously stretch, move, and bring in breath and awareness to those tight areas, the muscles may just keep getting tighter until there’s a bigger problem, like an injury.

Does this remind you of anything? The body is not the only culprit in avoidance. We often avoid emotions that are uncomfortable, and for that reason we avoid facing reality and confronting change. Change is unavoidable and there’s no way to completely avoid pain in life. As Haruki Murakami said, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. By avoiding discomfort and not facing reality, we miss out on not only the discomforts of life, but also the deeper joys. When we stretch those tight muscles and lean into discomfort, the muscles will be all the more available for us when we want to move and dance for joy!

In your singing practice, it is a bit more complicated. It may be difficult to become conscious of what we’re avoiding as we’re singing, since we must be fully in the moment, committing to an outward flow of energy. But see if you can fully commit in this way while also staying aware of the sensations in the body, and observing without judgment whether there are habits that are no longer serving you. After a short period of vocalizing, take a moment to meditate, asking yourself what it is you might be avoiding when you sing. Breathe deep and practice facing what you are avoiding – is there something that isn’t quite clicking in your body mapping/understanding of your own instrument? Can you admit to yourself the ways in which you have room to grow? Have compassion for yourself and let yourself fully feel any emotions that arise – journaling is a great way of letting these feelings out, or talk with a trusted friend or therapist. Then return to your practice, perhaps using a mirror or make a recording of yourself, and be sure and keep that compassion and curiosity flowing. May you find new layers of awareness as you explore your voice with vulnerability and openness!

Namaste! Reach out to me with any questions, inquiries about classes, or to schedule a lesson: writebecca@gmail.com

The Inner Journey

meditationPic2018

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

Wide River of Breath

goddesssquat

“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

20171229_105741

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

 

splitsatswaha17
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