It's November, and clearly beyond time for another post. Gratitude is something we reflect on each year at this time, but in 2020, it seems a little more challenging.
This year has come with many struggles, loss of lives, loss of jobs, loss of sanity... We've adapted and moved on, we've learned how to use more technology than ever before! Our brains are tired, our bodies are sick of being behind a screen, and our lives are simply different now than in 2019.
I want to give thanks for some of the silver linings we have had in 2020. I want to first thank my amazing vocal studio students for adapting to an online format in March and then not only learning to live with this new situation, but to thrive, improve in singing, and even deliver some awesome recitals and digital content! Music makes our souls happy, and I am so proud of the gift that you singers have delivered to the world through your recitals and videos. I look forward to seeing how you create and adapt your next projects.
As this pandemic really dragged on, I grieved the loss of my dream job. I was hired for the 2020 season by San Francisco Opera, which is one of the world's major opera houses, to participate in the inaugural show for their first woman music director (and the first female music director for ANY A-Level Opera House). It was a monumental step for my career and a shattering of the glass ceiling for opera houses all over the world.
Having that show canceled broke my heart. I was extremely lucky, however, to still receive partial compensation for the show. The union that manages the opera chorus took incredibly good care of us. I was able to use that time and financial assistance to complete a yoga teacher training! For someone who loves to practice yoga and find stillness (and help others find stillness and mindfulness) I am not very good at sitting still for long. So, here we are. Welcome to Body Heart Voice. Not being able to perform left me a little empty. I had to figure out what my Voice and Heart really wanted. Creating this studio to help singers grow and support them in creating meaningful music has brightened my whole world. I could not be more proud of the amazing people with whom I work.
So THANK YOU studio --- I give thanks for your amazing attitudes, your willingness to experiment and try new things, to have patience with my teaching online(!), and for your continued support of each other through this wild year. I am grateful for each and every one of you.
This is my biggest life lesson: I am an A-type personality by nature, I don't like sitting still. I like to have big goals and I will work tirelessly to achieve them. I enjoy professional networking and events! Sometimes, however, it seems that we are all working towards nothing - an endless rat race around the hamster wheel.
My newest fascination has been with Yin Yoga: slowing down, finding the balance of health and relaxation, taking time to notice how my body feels.
With being trapped inside during the California wildfires, then another heatwave, and again, MORE wildfires, I found that I just don't have the energy to go through any kind of vigorous practice like the vinyasas I love. The constant fear and stress makes it hard to concentrate in the long-holds that are required in Yin practice. And boy, oh, boy... how about the Election? (Dare I say it?) Yeah. So I feel this urge to look at people's thoughts online, and look at the news all the time, and watch the chaos unfold, however – I know this is bad for me. I've been taking a good, long break from being active on Facebook and other interactive social media (it sucks because I feel like I need to market my classes and I want to see what my friends are up to) but I really couldn't take it anymore. The contentiousness, the arguments, the constant barrage of hatred on any kind of opinion from any person who has an internet profile.... anyway.... I'm letting go of the drama at least until after election day, then we'll see.
My time, my well-being, and my sanity are worth giving it up. What have you had to let go of to find your peace?
There's a reason people think yoga is hard. It requires balance and concentration.
Balance isn't easy.
If there's one thing that I've learned while having to adjust to working from home, it's that we all need to learn for ourselves what balance actually is. When my work is all out in front of me, I have a really hard time letting go and stopping my work in order to regain peace of mind. I think that's why I wanted to join a Yoga Teacher Training, in fact. I'm a pretty active person, but I've found that the more I want to dive into my work online, the more couch-potato-y I become! Not great for any of my goals, really.
What do you do to find balance in your life?
For me, I know if I get out into nature I can re-calibrate my brain a little bit. It's been scientifically proven and there are different words for this connection to nature in many cultures. If I can be in the mountains or on a beach by the ocean, I am in my happy place.
Recently, I've been reading a career book, which touts growing your skills and building up your career portfolio so that you can eventually live the life you want to live. Nowhere does he talk about the fact that you need to have quietness, breaks, or mental vacations. Unfortunately, our hustle culture permeated all walks of life before CoVID shut everything down. I think Hustle Culture is being cancelled now, finally. If you don't pause to smell the wildflowers, you will see your whole life disappear into work. It IS important to work hard, build your education and work towards career goals, but those are not the ONLY parts of life that matter. You need to find your center of gravity. You need to balance your fears and your passions. You need to balance work and play. It might be hard, but you can find a place that is comfortable and steady.
In yoga, I was taught to "let the breath be the teacher" - if your life has become such that you have no breathing room, it's time to re-evaluate what you are trying to do. If you try to over-reach through a yoga pose, or over-sing through a piece of music, you will make yourself sore, tired, and you will no longer be capable of expressing yourself fully. I feel like life has made me learn this lesson over and over again.
Listen to your breath and your body. Learn what your heart needs and find your balance.
Speaking our truth to ourselves is just as important to being truthful in our society. Honestly, I speak my truth too much sometimes, to the point where it gets me in trouble! Being truthful may not mean being perfect, but it means we own our mistakes and we learn and grow from them.
Too often I am seeing online interactions where people are misinformed or under-informed and trying to share "truth" - but what is truth? From the perspective of science around the coronavirus, the truth is always changing because we are learning more and discovering how things work. People who may be less literate are seeing the changes in scientific theories and saying "they're lying. Science is lying" but think about how we grow and evolve as adults: When I'm six years old I may say, "I hate broccoli. I'm NEVER going to eat broccoli" but as a 32 year old woman, I love to roast broccoli and squeeze a little lemon on top. Does that make me a liar because something has changed? I've learned more about cooking broccoli and the health benefits of broccoli because I know that's what's good for me. Now I enjoy it.
Truths DO change, facts will evolve, but it's our job as reasonable adults to understand our biases and be realistic.
Speaking the truth to ourselves, however, is difficult. Sometimes we are interrupted by our own egos. Part of truthfulness is embracing where you are in any particular moment. When it comes to learning a new song, a new skill, or developing your vocal technique, you must recognize and accept that you must approach things from a learner's perspective. You are constantly learning, growing and evolving. Sometimes you must tell yourself the truth that you're not yet ready to sing a certain role, maybe your ankles aren't strong enough for pointe shoes, maybe your body is not ready to pop up into a wheel pose. Understand your truth and where you are, so that you can take the steps you need to prepare for what you want. I've taken many steps before I was ready, but I've also held myself back thinking I was not ready yet. It's a careful balancing act, and the only way to make it through is to understand your own truth.
You don't need to be a yoga expert or professional performer to know that for some people, stage fright is VERY real and very scary. As singers, we have to be able to do our best work in front of large audiences and in front of our peers and company leaders in the case of auditions. Without overcoming stage fright and performance anxiety, we lessen our chances of success. Performance anxiety doesn't just happen to performers - it can be any task where we are expected to lead or speak, including yoga teaching, or maybe even attending a yoga class for the first time!
Science tells us that yoga is good for anxiety, but what what parts of yoga are going to help us lose our sense of fear when we have to perform in front of people?
First, a little about Anxiety:
Anxiety’s Effect on the Body
From Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, by Robert M. Sapolsky:
How do we STOP being stressed?
As singers, Dr. Christopher Arneson has some overall great tactics for preparing for performances and auditions. When we can prepare for a performance or audition well in advance, we have more control. When we feel in control, we often experience a much better outcome when we sing/perform/speak.
Performance Anxiety Reduction Techniques
from Dr. Christopher Arneson, DMA - Read the full article in the NATS Journal of Singing
Notice when you DO begin to feel anxious about upcoming events...
You may not be nervous until the day before. It may be a month of anxiety. Notice your fear, acknowledge it, write it down or talk it out with a friend and remind yourself that positive thinking will improve the outcome. Try to end your day on a positive note, word or thought.
Decrease Negative Self-Talk & Begin Positive Visualization
Other activities to try out:
Types of Relaxation - Make Health Happen by Erik Pepper
Where does Yoga fit into this concept? How will yoga help singers?
The answer to this lies far beyond practicing yoga poses at the gym.
Yoga's origins state that a yogi should live by 10 main principles - yes, it's a little like the 10 Commandments. If you live your life according to these "Dos" and "Don'ts" you will be on a path to contentment.
The Yamas and Niyamas teach us that we have to take care of ourselves while also finding ways to be positive influences on our environment and community in order to reach a Blissful state of living. As singers, we can be informed by these philosophies to improve our singing life and be better members of our singing community.
Taking all of these principles into account, where do you think you could grow more? Where do the Yamas and Niyamas align with preparing for a performance as Dr. Arneson's rules lay out? Do you think you could allow yourself to let go of some control and find joy in the process rather than the product?
If you are truly experiencing anxiety beyond stage fright and home treatments such as improving sleep, practicing yoga & meditation, and regular exercise are NOT working, find professional help with a psychologist ot medical doctor. There is no shame in taking care of your mental well-being.
“Performance Anxiety: A 21st Century Perspective” in the NATS Journal of Singing by Dr. Christopher Arneson, DMA (2010).
Make Health Happen by Erik Peper, Katherine H. Gibney, & Catherine F. Holt (2002).
Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson (2009).
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky (2004).
The Practicing Mind by Thomas M. Sterner (2012).
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America
Yamas and Niyamas
Purity. Cleanliness. Clearness.
Does this mean we have to use EVEN MORE hand sanitizer? Gosh... my skin is already so dry from months of using it probably too frequently. Covid-19 has turned us all into extreme cleaners - using bleach and peroxide and 70%-plus alcohol on every one of our belongings and throughout our houses. But have we cleaned up our own lives?
Can purity be a real thing? Of course cleanliness and tidying is a real part of our lives. But can a person be purely pure? I have some trouble with this concept. No matter what we do, we affect other parts of the world, our lives. But in yoga, we always strive to be better than we are. Are we taking care of ourselves and our spaces in which we live?
What parts of your life do you feel you could tidy up or clean? Maybe your closet is full of unworn clothes: maybe some could go to a women's shelter or non-profit trying to help people find work? Is your garden full of weeds because your life is too busy to do the outdoor work? Maybe you need to find time for yourself AND your garden.
What about your calendar? How cluttered is that?
Before Covid-19 shut everything down, my calendar was always full with very little room for myself. I realized self-care is part of ahimsa - non-violence, not harming myself. But is our daily thinking overly full? How can we tidy up our lives in order to give ourselves space to think, to clear our head-space?
Saucha is not just purity of body. It's not all about eating nothing but kale and shaving our head... it's about clearing the cobwebs in our lives so we can think pure thoughts. It's about making sure we are organized in a way that allows us to better serve others. It helps us stay connected to our inner well-being in order to live a more emotionally full life and finding contentment, the ultimate goal of our yoga practice.
How Tidying Up can improve our Mental Health
Ways Cleaning Can Alleviate Stress
Emily Ley (creator of Simplified Planners) Grace Not Perfection
Non-Violence, or Non-Harming is a foundational principle in the yogic life.
This concept is the beginning of the 8-Limbed Path to a Yogic Life. The Yamas & Niyamas, or principles by which one lives, are meant to help us make good decisions and live a healthy life, a life of kindness, and give back to the communities in which we live. Ahimsa, meaning non-harming, is the first branch and arguably the most important of the 5 Yamas. Ahimsa is not thinking violent thoughts, commit harming actions, or do damaging things. Ahimsa can influence more than just the way we treat others when face to face, but can be the way we are influenced to make purchases, what foods we eat, and ultimately, the way we contribute to society as a whole.
There is so much hurt and violence in the world, without more people living a kinder, less-violent way of life we will not have a future. I personally believe ahimsa can mean how we treat the earth: whatever you do has a consequence. It can mean how we support (or NOT support) social justice or racial equality. It can mean how we take care of ourselves & our future selves like saving for retirement or getting preventative medical care.
Naturally, it is hard to live in the modern world and absolutely not harm anything. Everything we eat, watch, do has an impact on the world. And we mustn't forget that acting with compassion and non-harming will also apply to ourselves. Taking care of your own heart, mind, and body is one of the ways you can show up for yourself and give yourself the energy and the mental clarity to help larger global issues. You can't help anyone if you are ill.
Some of the areas in which we can live more deeply into ahimsa are:
Check out the various sources below to learn about Social Justice & Yoga, Food Education, and Sustainable Fashion. While these are not the only areas where we can improve, they are simple changes to make with a large impact on our global life and improving your life, and will help to "Become the Change you with to see in the World." - Gandhi
Article: How Howard Thurman met Gandhi
Article: Yoga, Equality, and Social Justice by Dianne Bondy
Quiz: NY Times – How Does Your Diet Contribute to Global Warming
Read some Food Education Books by Michael Pollan
Fashion Footprint Calculator from ThredUp
Find your Local Goodwill Store
Visit an Out of the Closet Thrift Store and help fund HIV/AIDS testing & housing in your community.