Yoga and Singing

DISCLAIMER

Please refer to the disclaimer on my Pedagogy page.

Not everyone likes yoga, and to be perfectly honest I don't do it myself - not as a discipline, anyway, ever since I put my back out trying to do a pose. However, I use lots of elements of yoga in my teaching and practicing. I love what it does for singing. Yoga focuses on the participant finding his or her center - center of gravity, center of body, center of breath, and ultimately center of self. I'm always prattling blithely away about finding the central core of the breath, the axis of the body that runs in front of the spine and out both ends. It's the same thing you learn doing yoga.

What I don't take from yoga is the idea of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. You can't do this when you're singing- it takes way too much time and doesn't necessarily set you up to be vocally correct, although lots of teachers espouse this method of breathing. When you sing you need to inhale through nose and mouth together, through an opened/flared nasal passage and a loose jaw. This isn't the same as what you do in yoga class. Don't confuse the two.

I hear a lot of students say they prefer Pilates and that it's just like yoga. Now, I don't mean to knock Pilates, but it's not the same as yoga and I don't like what it does to the breath. Pilates is great for a lot of things but breathing for singing is not one of them. Understand that the contracted, held, rigid abdominal system has no place in singing. It might be great for toning the tummy and strengthening core muscles, which I'm all for, but you can't sing like that without giving yourself some grief. Go ahead and do Pilates, but do yoga too, to balance it out.

There are a lot of yoga exercises that enhance singing - if you do yoga you will undoubtedly find your own favorites. Here are a few to try. If you like them and are curious there are several websites out there that are specifically devoted to singing and yoga. You can also find a local yoga class and give it a try.

The Bridge

The Bridge is especially good for loosening up a blocked release/intake of breath. As with many exercises I teach in the studio, I sort of made it up for a specific student one day and discovered later that it was a yoga move. Love yoga.

Exercise:

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Raise your hips up off the ground, so that you are more or less aligned from knees to shoulders. Breath, visualizing an intake from knees to shoulders, or at least from hips to shoulders. Feel for the release through the core of the body, from pelvic cavity through the abdominal cavity and up through the ribcage.

The Plow Sometimes this one works when the Bridge fails. I usually use this one in the studio only as a last resort, for obvious reasons! but you can certainly try this at home, if you're up to it physically.

Exercise:

Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms down. Lift your legs straight up in the air, and keep lifting them until they are all the way over your head. Your body should be perpendicular to the floor, balanced on your shoulders and the back of your neck with your hands still flat on the floor to steady yourself, legs straight, toes more or less pointed at the wall behind your head. Breath against the resistance of your body. Even though you are sqrunched up looking at your navel, visualize the breath opening through the core of your body, opening space and filling up from pelvis to shoulders. Stay there as long as you're comfortable, breathing into the resistance of your body mass. Roll carefully back down to the floor. Lie on your back, knees bent, and visualize the breath opening from hips to shoulders. Quite often you will by now have removed whatever tension was blocking your release and intake of breath.

Downward Dog

This is also good for releasing blocked tension. You have to really relax into it, because if you're holding your breath or tensing because of the posture you're not going to get the benefit from it.

Exercise:

Stand with feet apart, probably further apart than the width of your hip structure. Bend from the waist and place hands on floor, a little more than shoulder-width apart. Walk hands forward until you are stretched forward with your bottom in the air, leaning on your hands. Let your head hang loose. Breath loose, big breaths, focussing on opening through the abdominal cavity down into your hips. Let the breathing open you up through your entire core, from hips to shoulders. Try for a release across the top edge of your hips going back to your spine.

There are lots of great postures that really can enhance your singing. Do some experimenting, you ought to be able to find some yoga postures that will help open up your breathing mechanism and release core tension.

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