This year I am fifty, so when I made a New Year’s resolution to look after my body and mind more in 2020 I took it more seriously than usual, and decided to practice yoga everyday. I was helped by my husband telling me about the world’s most popular You Tube yoga teacher Adrienne. She has helpfully made available more free home yoga classes than it is possible to complete in a year. It’s now March, and aside from a couple of days I have been unable to practice due to ill health or needing to get up at ‘stupid o’clock’ for work, I have stuck to my resolution. This is a first.
I have practiced yoga for around twenty years, off and on, but never quite as regularly as this year. I began to notice the benefits after the first couple of weeks. Now, three months in, I feel more connected to my body than I have for in years. I almost feel calm. Almost. And there has been an unexpected positive side effect when I sing. I can sing louder,and longer, and mostly, more in tune. My voice feels supported and strong.
I shouldn’t be surprised, both yoga and singing combine the body and the breath. In both posture and support are key. And both produce endorphins and other feel good hormones. It’s a great combination.
I’m not the first person to notice the benefits of yoga for singing, there are numerous posts, sites and a few books, written on the improvements yoga might bring to someone who sings. So I did some research into which parts of yoga might be having this positive effect on my voice.
Yoga is divided into physical movement or positions, the asanas or postures, and breathing practices or pranayama. I’ve selected a few key ones that came up most frequently in my reading and research into yoga for singing. These are generally safe ‘beginner’ practices but you know your own bodies, so be careful.
- Tadasana or Mountain pose: This is the foundation for all yoga standing poses, and supports correct posture. When singing, standing tall and opening up your chest helps the flow of the breath. Try breathing down to the soles of your feet. I know it sounds mad, but try it!
- Neck releases: There are lots of variations of neck releases but they are really important. If your shoulders and neck are tense any sound you make will be reduced on every level.
- Cat-cow pose: Great for spine flexibility and posture, again. As you breathe out squeezing all the air out also works the core gently, and builds support for the breath.
- Alternate Nostril breathing: This helps to relax the facial muscles and focus the breath. It’s also great for reducing panic and anxiety (great for that performance anxiety I suffer from). It’s such a focused breathing technique that it feels like meditation.
- Lions breath or Simhasana: Technically both a posture and a breath practice, it looses the tongue, relaxes the jaw and strengthens the vocal cords. It also looks gloriously silly!
- Breath of fire: It takes a bit of practice to get your rhythm right but it’s worth it. It works the diaphragm so builds up support and strength for the voice.
Once you are familiar with the poses and are becoming more aware of your breath, try replacing the exhale with a sound. It could be a vowel or a ‘mmm’, play around with it. The sounds will focus your awareness on the breath, so you will make that exhale longer, and gently work the vocal chords (just like a warm up before you sing).
If you haven’t tried yoga before, and sing at any level, join a beginners class or find an online teacher who works for you and practice in your living room. Or just move with your breath. It doesn’t need to be complex. Smile. Stretch. Relax and breathe. Sing loud and proud!