I only want the best for you. I want 2012 to be full of decisions to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. We already discussed how to spruce up your singing materials and making a strong commitment to practicing, putting yourself out there, and going for it. We also talked finances last week. So, that leaves us the healthy part. Today we focus on how similar classical singing is to athleticism. You must be healthy to truly perform in the operatic arena. With that in mind, the day 20 challenge is to dedicate yourself to exercise.
Classical singing requires poise, coordination, and fine motor skills on the stage. Singers learn how to give energized performances while being calm and collected inside. We also learn the importance of staying healthy when something like a cold can ruin a month’s paycheck. Physical exercise helps in all of these areas. Devoting yourself to a regular exercise schedule will do wonders for your breath control and your training mindset.
I will not simply advocate that you jump on a treadmill this minute and just work out for the sake of working out. Physical activity can improve alignment, stamina, and lucidity. If you are easily swayed, do it for the endorphins alone. There is such a strong sense of accomplishment that comes from completing a strenuous workout that most people become hooked on those feel-good sensations. What I will advocate is that you find some sort of exercise that excites you and feels productive for your singing self as well as your overall self.
Many singers turn to yoga and running for physical well-being. Both of these workouts involve main tenets of singing: alignment and breath control. Sarah Whitten wrote about singing and yoga for Boston Singers’ Resource:
Ashtanga Yoga: This kind of yoga was developed by K Pattabhi Jois. In this practice poses get progressively harder and students will try to synchronize their breathing with the flow of postures. You won’t linger long in poses to tweak your alignment. The fast pace of flowing from one pose to another raises the heart rate and creates a lot of sweat that helps to detoxify your system.
Bikram Yoga: Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this yoga is taught in a heated room (usually between 95-105) to help purge toxins from the body and increase flexibility.
Hatha Yoga: Hatha yoga is the basis of many yoga styles taught in the United States. Usually hatha yoga involves breathwork, poses (held for a while or done in a flowing sequence) and meditation. A general hatha yoga class can be a great place to begin your yogic exploration
Iyengar Yoga: BKS Iyengar developed this style of yoga almost 70 years ago. There is a strong emphasis in Iyengar yoga on the alignment of the body within poses. To find proper alignment students will move slowly into a pose, hold it for a length of time and then repeat. It is common to use props (blankets, straps, chairs and blocks) in an Iyengar class. The props help to make it accessible to people who are less flexible or have an injury.
Kripalu Yoga: Perhaps most associated with the Kripalu center in the Berkshires, this style of yoga was developed in the 1970s. It is a gentle form of yoga with three stages. In stage one the practitioner learns the postures. In stage two postures are held to develop a tolerance and deeper sense of concentration. In stage three the practitioner engages in a moving meditation, passing unconsciously from one pose to another.
Kundalini Yoga: This style of yoga came to the States in the late 1960s. It has its roots in the trantric traditions and involves postures with specific breathing techniques. Practitioners work on awakening energy at the base of the spine and work to bring it upward. Classes often involve chanting and meditation as well.
Power Yoga: Bender Birch created power yoga out of Ashtanga yoga as something Americans could relate to. It is a vigorous workout, moving more quickly than other styles of yoga from pose to pose. The workout develops muscle strength and flexibility while providing a cardiovascular workout.
Below are profiles of three singers who also practice yoga.
If you are interested in reading more check out Michelle Latour’s Classical Singer article: How Bikram Can Better Your Singing.
Maybe yoga or running are boring you? Try branching out to other types of workouts. You could try these outdoor workouts like hiking, surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, and many more. Perhaps you work better in a class setting? Reveal your innerCarmen sexiness with some Zumba classes. “Zumba eliminates the “work” from “working out” by combining amazing, irresistible Latin and international music with dynamic, yet simple exercise moves, using their unique intermittent training format.” Or, go all Lance Armstrong in a spin class. If you are a price-savvy sweater, keep an eye on sites like Groupon and Living Social for steals on work out classes or memberships. Buying a deal might be the perfect way to shake up your routine, if you have been suffering from some winter idleness.
Healthy and strong is the new skinny when it comes to working out. Do not be afraid when the stage director tells you that you’ll be wearing a belly dancing costume for your next production. Smile because you have been working on your own Beyoncé-rivaling abs. Singers know better than most people how important the “core” is to effective and good singing. “The core encompasses all the muscles that coordinate the joints of the lower spine, pelvis and hips and stabilize the lower torso, and most of these muscles also assist with respiration. Therefore, training the muscles involved in diaphragmatic or “low” breathing will also help singers maintain stability in the breathing mechanism during stage movement.”¹ This strength and flexibility that you will gain from balanced workouts will help you develop better singing posture and confidence. Take stock of your physical abilities using this list from CrossFit.
1.Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance. The ability of the body systems to gather, process, deliver oxygen.
2. Stamina. The ability of the body systems to process, deliver, store and utilize energy.
3. Strength. The ability of the muscular units or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
4. Flexibility. The ability to maximize range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power. The ability of the muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed. The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination. The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility. The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance. The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its base of support.
10. Accuracy. The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity
These are all skills and abilities that you will be asked to demonstrate on stage. Where are your weaknesses? Can you develop a workout program or schedule that addresses those needs?
Building skill in movement is ever important for the stage. Developing our physical capacity as singers is also necessary. Day 20’s challenge is not about looking good in a little black dress (although that might be a by-product.) I am not exhorting you to become the skinnier version of you. I am compelling you to become more healthy overall. Dedicating yourself to regular physical exercise will not only make you a better singer but will help you feel better about yourself.
I have already divulged that the Sybaritic Singer is a marathon fan, even if I still hate Mile 11. But, I also love a good spin class and taking hikes in the Appalachians. Please share your favorite workouts and how they relate to singing in the comments below. Have you found any time-saving tips? How do you stay healthy when you are on the road for gigs? Tell me, tell me, tell me all…