The October 2021 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Breath, Body, and Being: A Yoga-Inspired Choral ‘Practice’” by Ramona Wis. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the article.
Don’t you know yet? It is your light that lights the world. —Rumi
The triad of Breath, Body, and Being can help organize our understanding of yoga and its application to choral music. Breath, Body, and Being are interwoven, and while each influences the others, Breath and Body create a tangible pathway toward better Being—to our sense of felt wellness and state of mind.
We will explore a yogic approach to breathing and movement and follow this with two short practices so you can experience the effects for yourself and guide singers in rehearsal. The Sanskrit names8 do not need to be used, though singers often enjoy learning them and they provide direction for further study. We will close by considering how we can positively influence mental wellness by recognizing our personal significance, our unique inner light. Although you don’t need to be a yogi to incorporate these ideas, I encourage you to experience a well-guided yoga practice and see where it takes you, your creativity, and ultimately, your singers.
Breath teaches Awareness. Mindful breathwork (Pranayama or “breath regulation”) teaches us to tune out the mental chatter, come inward, and let go of judgment (perceived or real) from the pressures of social media or the expectations of family, school, work, or society. Yoga’s primary goal, “stilling the fluctuations (or disturbances) of the mind,” is accomplished when we learn to recognize that this chatter is not who we are, when we can distinguish disturbances as a part of life but not self-defining or permanent. This is an important first step toward mental wellness.
Breath develops the ability to “recognize, express and modulate one’s emotions.” As we scan our body and watch the breath, we learn that life is constant change (Parinamavada), that what we feel today might be very different from what we felt yesterday and that is absolutely human (we are not alone). Non-judgment is an important lesson for honoring oneself and for honoring others.
Breath, a “direct pathway to the autonomic nervous system,” teaches Self-Regulation. Breathwork provides tools to strengthen our sense of personal agency, of control in a world that often feels out of our control. We learn to manage our emotional state by deciding how to pace our inhales and exhales, determining for ourselves what we need. This self-regulation skill “can be a very useful thing to know when you need to either calm yourself down, prepare yourself for sleep, or increase your energy if you need to focus.”
As you guide breathwork, leave time for singers to have their experience. Speaking too much creates stress as singers strive to keep up, “get it right,” and please the director. Allow them to simply “be in the moment” and come to know and trust themselves. Try humming or sighing on exhale to connect breath to sound and feel the energetic effects of the vibrations throughout the body, while calming the mind. Once you are centered, find a similar length for the inhale and exhale (Sama Vrtti, “equal fluctuation”), which has a balancing effect on the nervous system.
A Breath Practice
Here is a suggested script for a practice with your singers.
Take a tall seat, grounding into your sit bones. Place one hand behind your head and gently press your skull into your hand. Then move that hand just above your crown and lengthen up. Release both feet evenly to the floor. Unclench your jaw, separate your teeth, and relax the eyes; close them or just soften your gaze. Find the start of a small smile around your lips.
Come into this space, this time. Let everything else fall away while we are here, together.
Begin to notice your breathing, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the nose or mouth. Just become aware, without judging or feeling the need to change anything.
Is your breath smooth and quiet, or are there rough patches? Is your inhale or exhale longer, or are they about the same?
If you are feeling anxious or distracted, extend the length of your exhale.
If you are feeling sluggish or depressed, see what happens with a deeper, fuller inhale.
If you are feeling in balance, stay with your breath and notice how it moves or where you feel expansion.
As thoughts travel across your mind, just observe them and let them pass. They are not you; they are just thoughts you observe. Come back to your breathing.
On your next inhale, gently open your eyes and adjust to the light. Scan your body for any changes in awareness.
Read the full article in the October 2021 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal