“Our intention creates our reality.”
We sit or get grounded in a comfortable position. We begin to breathe. We acknowledge our busy minds, without judging or criticizing, and let the breath do its magic. Creating space for good with the inhale, letting go of what we no longer need with the exhale. A few more times. We begin to sense the transition to this room, this hour. Then we set an intention for practice.
Setting an intention is a regular part of a yoga class. The teacher provides an opportunity in the opening sequence to set your intention, or they may suggest one, for those whose busy minds or academic brains (“is there a right answer to this question?!”) won’t allow them to see one right now.
“Balancing without use of the wall” is not an intention. “Getting a good stretch in my hamstrings” is not an intention. These are goals, observable actions, and important parts of the practice. But intention is larger, richer, and usually, simpler. It is an awareness you want to cultivate that encourages the oneness of your experience on the mat but extends benefits outward to other areas of your life, as well.
Clarity. Ease. Connection. Inspiration. Wonder. Grounding. Direction. Assurance. Equanimity.
As we experience clarity in physical alignment we reveal clarity in a vexing concert programming choice. As we move with less effort through a flow sequence, letting the breath carry us rather than our ego, we transfer ease to the task list in our rehearsal plan and experience a lightness we rarely feel. As we connect our body, mind, and spirit on the mat we discover a synchronicity, as though for the first time, among sounds and words and movement in our choral performance.
Throughout the practice, we come back to our intention as a check-in, a unifier that prevents (at least, to a degree) the intrusion of the active, often negative, mind and offers instead a positive sense of purpose, longer lasting than the action of the moment or the end goal of the class.
Even if you don’t have a regular yoga practice (though you know me, I always encourage yoga for conductors and singers), intention-setting can be a part of your personal preparation as you envision the next best step for your ensemble.
Only from a point of clarity in our own mind can we teach with clarity, shaping our time and actions by selecting from myriad choices in the score. Only as we develop ease in the pace of our busy lives can we conduct without undue effort, no longer telegraphing tension which leads to constricted voices and stilted phrasing. Only by cultivating equanimity when faced with challenges and surprises can we construct an experience for singers that is equal parts musical accomplishment and flow. And only when we are inspired by so much around us – nature, powerful texts, the very singers we teach – can we inspire others.
You may be skeptical, thinking intention is just a re-packaging of an educational objective or performance goal. But a goal has more to do with what we demand from others, while an intention starts with what we must realize first in ourselves. Make that rehearsal plan with all the musical goals you need to accomplish and a smart instructional sequence. But put your intention at the top of your list and frame it in language that affirms you already experience it. “I have clarity.” “I know ease.” “I am grounded.” “I am connected.” What is it today that you need to pull from yourself before you can encourage it in those you lead?
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) and a certified Brain Longevity® Specialist, a research-based certification on yoga and integrative medicine for brain health and healthy aging. Reach her at: or ramonawis.com.
Check out: Try a version of the first paragraph of this post as the start of your next rehearsal. Let it help you guide the process in a more intuitive way and see what impact it may have on your ensemble.