Why do yoga and singing go together?
I think a lot of people assume that it is because of the breathing. Breathing for yoga and breathing for singing are similar, since both require expanding in the abdominal area, rather than clavicular breathing. However, slowly breathing through the nose doesn’t work very well for singing. Mouth breathing, which is usually not known as something that intelligent people do, works best for singing, in my opinion. You prepare the space in the mouth and throat for the word/vowel and the pitch that you are about to sing. Also, the mouth is a larger space than the nostrils, so you can inhale more breath more quickly.
People would probably go next to relaxation as a reason to do yoga if you are a singing. This is certainly a good idea. Within the varieties of yoga, there are elements of cardiovascular workout, stretching, strength training, meditation, and relaxation. All of these things can benefit a singer since they help to improve the body, which is the instrument. If you have some experience from yoga classes, or if you can learn from a YouTube video, you can do yoga at home, and sessions can last anywhere from 10 minutes (or less) to an hour (or more). It is an easy thing to do if you are traveling, your schedule is busy, or you can’t afford a gym membership. The relaxation that comes from a good yoga practice can be great for singing. You feel relaxed and energized, rather than relaxed and ready for bed.
One of my favorite things about yoga is awareness, which is also very important for singing. In yoga, you are often asked to “notice” or “be aware” of how something feels, and you do this in a non-judgmental way. This is very important as a singer and as a voice teacher. I will often say to a student something like, “are you aware that your jaw is going forward when you sing that word?” Being aware of what is happening in your body, whether it is your breathing, alignment, or your mouth, is very important. If you are aware that you are doing something that hinders your singing, you can then correct it. Once you have this awareness, it can apply to your overall health and well-being!
For any musical endeavor, students are told to practice, and yoga is considered a practice. I believe that a good yoga practice can really inform your singing practice. In yoga, you are instructed to observe and notice what is going on in your body. You learn the best form for the asana, or pose, and you do the best your body can do on that particular day. If you are supposed to bend over and touch your toes, that is the goal, but if you can only reach your knees today, it is ok. With each breath, you try to reach a bit further. Then you come back the next day and try to get closer to touching your toes. The same is true with singing. You can’t force yourself to sing a high C. You work on the G, then the A-flat, then the A, and so on, until you can sing each note with freedom and comfort.
Dr. Gregory Broughton, my voice teacher while getting my doctorate at UGA, said, “The key to vocal artistry is legato.” He had many different exercises for achieving legato, such as moving from one vowel to another while allowing all of the possible shades of each vowel from one vowel to the next. The idea is that just as there are infinite shades of blue, there are also infinite shades of each vowel. When you allow more shades to happen, you allow for more artistry and beauty. Cooper Seay, my yoga teacher at A Garden for Wellness in Clarkesville, GA, would instruct us to make the movement from one asana to the next as beautiful and as slowly as possibly within a breath. To me, these ideas complement each other, and the idea of allowing for all of the beautiful possibilities within a breath, whether in singing or in moving, is a revelation. One final idea that sums this up is a quote, as I remember it, from Rachelle Jonck, a coach in NYC: “Each phrase of singing is one expression of breath.”
I would highly recommend yoga for anyone. It is such a healthy thing to add to your lifestyle and possibly change your lifestyle. Although there are many YouTube videos available for free, I thought I’d mention the first DVD I used, which is Rodney Yee’s AM & PM Yoga . I also recommend Linda Lister’s Yoga For Singers and a classic yoga book, Yoga the Iyengar Way. Happy practicing. Visit me at www.jonathanpilkington.net or www.atlantavoiceteacher.com!. By the way, I had reservations about being “Atlanta Voice Teacher,” but I want to show up on Google when people search for that or for “voice lessons in Atlanta”!