Every moment is a fresh beginning.
With my last CAY post (“Beginning . . . Again”), I began again as a blogger after a summer off for recalibration and for research on an article for this month’s Choral Journal focus issue on mental health. In Breath, Body, and Being: A Yoga-Inspired Choral “Practice,” I explore how traditional choral approaches and methods can be informed by yoga principles and practices to not only help singers musically but also more broadly as they—and we—continue to navigate a challenging, ever-changing world.
I started out writing from a place of sharing information but soon experienced “beginning again” as I researched, attended an online conference, and considered what I might do differently going forward. Writing this article took more time than I had anticipated but my beginner’s mind and new eyes allowed me to see what I might otherwise have missed. I came to a different place in my awareness and hopefully, my practice, the way I teach and lead and live life.
Having been back with our students for six weeks now, I am encouraged by their joy of singing together again, their willingness to follow the protocols and manage the masks, and their commitment as we figure out how to make sense of it all. But I am also watching how they are dealing with their mental health and overall wellness. Most are engaging with each other, singing well, and regularly attending class. But on confidential information forms, some share ongoing struggles with anxiety. Some email to let me know they are starting therapy appointments so they might need to leave rehearsal early; and others are taking some time off to be sure they don’t “slide back” to where they were last year.
Maybe it’s my beginner’s eyes or the extended time away from campus, but my response to these realities has shifted. Yes, I am still concerned for these students and continue to be grateful that our college has multiple touchpoints and resources to help them. I am quick to respond to emails and to any behavioral shifts I see; to connect singers to the appropriate resources, affirm their proactive approach, and ensure them they can make up missed rehearsals.
But where I once saw “deficiency” I now see growth. I see the growth in singers over these many pandemic months as they have come to recognize and take positive action toward better mental health. When high profile athletes such as Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt shared their own struggles with mental health they made a big impact, giving voice to the expectation of perfection and the need to find ways to step away and reset toward better health, toward wholeness.
What about us? Conducting, teaching, leading, and living as whole humans takes a toll on us, as well.
Rather than just going back to the pre-pandemic lifestyle, schedule, and (if we are honest) the overwhelm, can we take this moment to decide how to begin again in our own practices, whatever that means? Can we reset to experience a Reset?
Reset (v.) retune, change, arrange differently, readjust
“Reset” only shows up as a verb in dictionary searches but maybe that’s good, because it means we need to take some kind of action if we are to experience a new beginning, to live the Reset (noun). What can we retune, change, arrange differently, or readjust in order to be more well, more often?
These can be small shifts, like eating cleaner, hydrating regularly (tough to do in our masked rehearsals), finding breaks in the day to walk, breathe, and get away from devices . . . or people (see my post, “It’s Buffer Time”). Or resetting may mean larger actions, like releasing some responsibilities, managing more realistic expectations, or seeking professional help, just as we encourage our singers to do.
“Reset” is different from “resume.” Resume means picking up where we left off. Reset requires change, however small, and signals growth; it is beginning again, but anew. The Reset begins by letting go of what no longer serves us or our singers. This is the yoga principle of Aparigraha or non-attachment, the non-grasping of things, identities, habits, or limiting beliefs. If we start by examining past practices and current realities, we can avoid defaulting into habit or giving away our personal agency as life or people determine our path for us. In the way yoga teaches us posturally to “ground down to lift up,” we can learn to let go in order to move forward.
Sometimes letting go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.
October 10 is World Mental Health Day and throughout this week and month, we have several opportunities to consider what we can do differently for our singers and ourselves to move towards wholeness. How we can retune, change, arrange differently, or readjust to live the Reset.
What is your Reset this fall?
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
On leadership and mental wellness:
On mental wellness initiatives this month:
On yoga and wellness:
“It’s Buffer Time” post: