Yoga and Singing

Yoga and Singing

R.I.P B.K.S. Iyengar

(12/14/1918 – 8/20/2014)

B.K.S Inyengar

B.K.S Inyengar(12/14/1918- 8/20/2014)

I took my first yoga class at the Joy of Movement Center in Central Square, Cambridge, back in 1973 when I was 20.  I had had a rocky introduction to adulthood which included a certain amount of illegal substances and being involved with the wrong crowd.  I was in a downward spiral until the birth of my daughter woke me up to reality.  In a desperate quest to find a different approach to life, I started therapy and attended some yoga classes.

I was a bookish kid who had never felt at home in my body and hated exercise; but Yoga immediately started to make me feel better. I began to make some positive changes in my life, eventually going back to school and reconnecting with my childhood passion for theater and music.

Some years later someone gave me a book called Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar.  I read it and tried to follow the instructions for the poses – some of them way beyond my skill level! I eventually found an Iyengar class.  The instruction was extremely detailed with many directions about how to keep the body in perfect alignment and execute each pose with precision.  For a long time, I didn’t feel that  I was doing it correctly but still, after each class I felt more energy, clarity and focus than I had ever experienced.

Throughout the years, I have studied with several Iyengar teachers, including most recently Karin Stephan.  Karin was one of the first practitioners to bring the Iyengar approach to the west, and when Mr. Iyengar came to Boston in 2005 to celebrate the publication of his second book, Light on Life, I was lucky enough to meet him.  Later, Karin and I designed and co-taught a workshop on “Yoga and Singing” for students at the Berklee College of Music.

Iyengar in Tadasana

Iyengar in Tadasana

In our workshop, we worked on simple poses that build strength and flexibility and promote good posture, which is so important for singers in achieving optimal breath support.  In fact standing in Tadasana – mountain pose – is a perfect way to prepare for singing.

Working at our desks with our computers and other activities cause us to hunch over and  collapse our chests.  Yoga, especially the precision of Iyengar yoga, can help to strengthen the muscles in the back, intercostals and core that keep our rib cages erect and expanded, and allow for free movement of the diaphragm.

 

Here is a simple “passive pose” to achieve that opening that almost anyone can do. I use a yoga bolster and block, but you can improvise with a rolled-up blanket under your back and a book to hold up your head.

picture: beliefnet.com

picture: beliefnet.com

Lie on your back on the floor with your knees up and your middle back draped over a bolster or rolled-up blanket.  You should feel that your upper chest is expanded in a comfortable way.  In order to reduce pressure on your neck, put a yoga block, blanket or a couple of books under your head, so that it is slightly higher than your chest.  Stretch your arms out on each side, perpendicular to your torso.   Relax, feel yourself breathing fully and deeply, and observe the natural movement of the belly as the diaphragm descends.   Be sure to get up slowly, and then see if you can maintain the feeling of the open chest in a standing position!

In addition to improving posture and breathing, yoga has many added benefits for singers, including improved stamina, concentration and relaxation.  Certified Iyengar teachers are skilled at adapting poses to all levels and working with people who have injuries.   You can find one in your area here.

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