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15 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises for Singers 500x300

15 Yoga Poses With Powerful Benefits for Singers

15 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises for Singers

You know how important breath support is for great singing — but are you regularly incorporating breathing exercises for singing into your warm-ups? Read on as voice teacher Shannen R. shares 15 yoga poses to try out, designed to help with various elements of your singing… 

 

Get ready to free your vocal cords of strain, increase your breath capacity, and get the strength you need for powerful belts and the control for soft tones. Going beyond simple breathing exercises for singing, the following yoga poses free your neck, shoulders, and spinal muscles of tension. Your breath and sound will move freely, and your core muscles will grow stronger so you can manipulate your voice.

15 Yoga Poses and Breathing Exercises to Try

1. Three Part Breath
Benefit: Strengthens your breath support for belting and long notes

People tend to breathe shallow and in one favorite cavity of the body. Learning to use all cavities of the body will give you enough breath for belting and for long, held notes. Start either lying flat on your back or propped up with two yoga blocks, one block at the highest level and the second block at the medium height.

2. Seated Breath
Benefit: Guides you to use your full breath capacity

While the Three-Part Breath teaches you how to breathe into all your front body cavities, now we’re going to explore our back body cavities to use your ultimate breath capacity. Start seated with your legs crossed and your feet flexed.

3. Eagle Arms
Benefit: Another breathing exercise for singing, this enhances your ability to hold belts

The hardest area of the body to breathe into is the upper back. To find breath here, we will practice eagle arms. This will also give you the ability to hold belts and soft, unwavering tones.

4. Kapalabhati Breath
Benefit: Activates your core and clears your sinuses 

In yoga we practice breathing techniques called pranayama. Kapalabhati breath, translated from Sanskrit to “breath of fire,” will activate your core and clear your sinuses to give you beautiful, open notes instead of nasal and strained notes. Repeat this for 5-15 continuous rounds.

5. Ujjayi Breath
Benefit: Supports evenness of breath

To hold long notes and maintain the correct pitch with an unwavering tone, your breath must be even. Ujjayi breath, another pranayama technique in yoga, is the practice of finding evenness of breath. Repeat for 5-15 rounds.

6. Neck and Back Twist
Benefit: Relaxes your muscles to reduce vocal strain

A lot of times when your voice strains to reach a note, your vocal cords are being pulled by tight muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back. To release these muscles, practice this easy restorative twist on a yoga bolster, a few stacked pillows, or stiff folded blankets. You may hold this twist for up to five minutes.

7. Seated Neck Stretches
Benefit: Relaxes the neck muscles to reduce strain.

Another way to stretch out the muscles in your neck is with seated neck stretches. These stretches will target the back and the sides of the neck, and can be practiced multiple times throughout a day.

8. Self Massage: Neck Massage Tool
Benefit: Another relaxation exercise for neck muscles 

One of my favorite neck massage tools is from Daiso, the most adorable Japanese store you’ll ever find. For this exercise you’ll need a towel and the neck massage tool, which can be purchased here or at your local Daiso store.

9. Self Massage: Neck Massage With Tennis Balls
Benefit: Another exercise for relaxing neck muscles

If you don’t want to buy the Daiso neck massager, you can use tennis balls to relax your neck, which will help you avoid strain and increase your vocal range.

10. Self Massage: Back Massage
Benefit: Relaxes the muscles in your spine 

If your spine is tense, EVERYTHING goes wrong. This is because your spine is connected to your brain and is in charge of relaying messages to your body. If there is any tension in the spine, it can cause blocks in the message pathways, and result in excess anxiety and other mental obstacles. Spinal tension can also cause postural problems, which limit your breathing and create muscle tension.

In the video below you’ll learn how to massage your whole spine with two tennis balls. Don’t be alarmed if it feels very tender the first time. Give light pressure and do not practice it for too long. The more you maintain a self-massage practice, the more comfort you will find.

11. Self Massage: Shoulder Massage
Benefit: Relaxes your shoulders, which can affect your neck, throat, and vocal cords

The shoulders can be a tough place to get! Nail those shoulder knots that are pulling on your neck, throat, and vocal cords with this massage.

12. Spinal Twist
Benefit: Relaxes your spine, creates better breath capacity 

Roll up a big fluffy towel and get ready for the cheapest and best spinal reliever of your life! Space in the spine will create more space for your breath to travel, giving you more breath capacity when singing.

13. Tadasana
Benefit: Relaxes your muscles to reduce vocal strain

The key to singing is good posture — I’m sure you’ve heard this a billion times. Tadasana, or mountain pose, teaches you how to stand correctly and builds the muscles needed to avoid hunching the shoulders forward or arching the back so the ribs puff out. Correct posture will help you avoid straining your voice, and encourages evenness of breath to create controlled sound and power for belts.

14. Puppy Dog Pose
Benefit: Lengthens the spine and leads to greater power and control when singing

A variation of the ever-so-famous downward facing dog, this pose will lengthen your spine, creating space in between each vertebrae, and is another great way to open up the shoulders. Space in the spine equals space for breath, which leads to more power and control when singing.

15. Back Release and Shoulder Opener
Benefit: Relaxes your spine, shoulders, and neck, and leads to a fuller vocal range

This forward fold and shoulder opener combo will have your spine, shoulders, and neck melting with relief! This pose will relax all of your throat muscles and vocal cords so you can access a full vocal range.

If you have any questions or if any of these stretching and breathing exercises hurt, make sure to check with a qualified teacher. Feel free to contact me through TakeLessons for additional help!

 

Post Author: Shannen R.
Shannen Roberts is a yoga instructor, singer, pianist and keyboardist, singer and songwriter, and founder of self-help site The Strange is Beautiful. She teaches in Valencia, CA, as well as online. Learn more about Shannen here! 

 

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Diaphragm Singing for Added Support and Even Tone

Diaphragm singingWhen you’re beginning singing lessons, you’ll most likely start off by learning all about proper breathing and how it relates to your diaphragm.  It might even seem silly to practice your breathing, something you’ve been doing unconsciously for your entire life.  But when it comes to taking control of your instrument – the vocal cords, in your case – correct breathing is of utmost importance.

If you don’t master the art of proper breathing, it will haunt you throughout all of your lessons, practice sessions and performances.  This is one skill that you can’t fake!

The most important step is learning which muscle movements are associated with singing.  Your voice teacher can show you how to monitor yourself and recognize the difference between shallow and deep breathing.  Outside of your lessons, here are 3 steps to remember for correct diaphragm singing:

1 – Breathing exercises. Even as you practice singing every day, you must practice breathing for at least ten minutes. Sit on a rug on the floor with legs folded, your hands resting lightly on your knees. Inhale slowly until you feel the air reaching your stomach expanding it . Hold the breath as you count to ten in your mind. Then exhale as slowly as you inhaled. This exercise is a must for any aspiring singer.

2 – Check breathing while singing. Keep your palm on your solar plexus (abdomen) when you start singing simple scales. If you are breathing properly then you will feel your palm being propelled outward with your stomach movement. This can help you get control over your voice and improve your singing technique.

3 –  Sing with an open mouth. Just as we realize the need to take deep breaths, we should also allow air to flow out freely while singing. So it is important to sing with your mouth open and your throat muscles relaxed. This helps with proper diction, voice throwing and volume control.

For additional tips and information, we recommend this SingingLikePros.com article. Looking for music lessons? Search for a voice teacher near you and learn more about the TakeLessons program!

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Singers: Do You Make These 4 Common Errors?

The long-hyped premiere of NBC’s new show Smash aired on Monday night, and 11.5 million viewers reportedly tuned in.  Critics have been giving it mostly positive reviews, despite a few flaws (The Atlantic called it “messy, cheesy and a bit of a letdown”).  Readers, what do you think?  Will the show be the next “smashing” hit?  At the very least, we can’t wait to hear more of Katharine McPhee’s powerful voice.

For the uninitiated, singing may look easy – you either can sing on pitch, or you can’t, right?  Not so fast.  Without proper training, it’s common for beginners to make simple errors, and if those turn into habits, they may make or break your future as a singer.

Here are a few common singing mistakes, as written by Teresa Radomski, an operatic soloist and professor at Wake Forest University:

1.  Poor posture
The efficient alignment of the body is of primary importance to voice production.  Problems in posture range from the collapse of the chest and rib cage with corresponding downward fall of the head and neck, to the hyper-extended, stiff posture of some singers that results in tension throughout the entire body.

2. Poor breathing and inappropriate breath support
Some beginning voice students gasp for air and exhibit clavicular (shoulder) or shallow breathing patterns.  Trained singers, on the other hand, use primarily diaphragmatic breath support.  The muscles of the lower back and abdomen are engaged, in conjunction with lowering the diaphragm.  As the breath stream is utilized for phonation, there should be little tension in the larynx itself.

3. Limited pitch range, and difficulty in register transition
All singing voices exhibit an optimal pitch range.  The term “register” is used to describe a series of tones that are produced by similar mechanical gestures of vocal fold vibration, glottal and pharyngeal shape, and related air pressure.  Some common designations of registers are the “head” register, “chest” register, “falsetto,” etc.  Singing requires transitions from one register to another.  Lack of coordination of the laryngeal musculature with the breath support may result in register break, or obvious shift from one tone quality to another.  Regardless of the style of singing, a blend, or smooth transition between registers, is desirable.

4. Poor articulation
Pronunciation with excessive tension in the jaw, lips, palate, etc., adversely affects the tonal production of the voice. The longer duration of vowel sounds in singing necessitates modification of pronunciation.  Retroflex and velar consonants (such as American “r” and “i”) need careful modification to allow sufficient pharyngeal opening for the best resonance, and the over-anticipation of nasal consonants (“m,” “n,” “ng”) may result in a stiff soft palate and unpleasant tone.

Of course, the best way to fix these errors is to work with a professional – relying on YouTube videos alone will give you some tips, but won’t give you the one-on-one feedback necessary to really improve.  We’re here to help – find a music teacher near you, and start working toward your goals!

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Can Yoga Help You Sing Better?

yoga and singingFor months now, the Billboard chart has looked pretty similar each week, with Adele perched at the #1 spot with her hit album 21. Adele has maintained that spot for 18 weeks now,  needing only 3 more weeks to pass previous records made by the Bodyguard soundtrack and Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii. With an accomplishment like this, we don’t see her leaving the spotlight for some time.

As a singer, you’ve no doubt heard about the importance of proper breathing.  In fact, deep breathing can help all musicians, as it helps to relieve tension, enhance focus, and even alleviate stage fright.  It doesn’t surprise us, then, when musicians sing the praises of practicing yoga to improve vocal skills.  Can yoga really help you sing better?  It certainly won’t hurt.  But consider it your warm-up – and with any warm-up, there are both effective and ineffective strategies.  Here, speech pathologist Joanna Cazden shares some important guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to yoga and singing, as published on SingerUniverse.com.

Inside your voice box, or larynx, your vocal cords function as a valve in the airway, and they are exquisitely sensitive to airflow. They can get dry, tired, or irritated if the airflow is too forceful. If it’s too weak, the cords tend to tighten and squeeze, rubbing against each other and thickening over time. So while hatha yoga postures (asanas) are generally good for singers, the way you use your breath during those postures is even more important. Advanced breathing exercises (pranayama) should be approached with extra care.

First, the singing breath does not use the balanced, equal-in-and-out rhythm common to most yoga teaching. Voice production requires a very swift inhalation followed by a long, slow exhalation. You do this automatically when you talk, but it takes practice to quickly inhale enough to sing and then exhale very gradually. Try occasional cycles of breathing in fast and out slow during your asanas, with a relaxed throat, to reinforce this asymmetrical rhythm.

Second, some yoga teachers train a particular sequence of inhalation, such as drawing air into the belly first, then the waist, then the upper chest. These techniques are not harmful, but when singing, you don’t have time to inhale in stages—the whole breath system must open simultaneously. Again, just being aware of the difference can help you switch gears from yoga practice to vocal rehearsal.

Third, the vocal cords are vulnerable to dryness and fatigue when vigorous forms of audible breathing, sometimes called ujaya, are focused in the throat. The louder the breath sounds and the longer such practice, the greater the risk of vocal cord irritation. If you do this type of pranayama, place the friction higher, near the soft palate, and allow at least half an hour of rest before vocalizing.

In general, politely avoid any teacher who always wants to hear you breathe. Effective breathing for most styles of yoga can be totally silent, and experienced teachers can check on you by sight rather than sound. Vocalists need this extra safety to avoid drying the cords.

Keep these guidelines in mind when you reach for your yoga mat – and if you’re not currently a yoga fan, why not give it a try?  As long as it’s done correctly, any breathing exercise can benefit musicians of all types and levels.  Have you seen improvements with the help of yoga?  Leave a comment and join the discussion!

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Yoga for the Voice – an introduction!

Here is a very interesting article written by our singing teacher gfire, hailing from Austin, Texas, about how practicing yoga techniques can improve overall singing capability:

When I first began my professional
singing career, still in my teens, I Gfire was extremely dissatisfied with the
explanations I had been given for how and why the singing voice works. I just
couldn't make my voice do the things I wanted it to. Admittedly, I had pretty
high expectations.


Fortunately, I went to my public
library and happened on a copy of "Science and Singing" by the late,
great Ernest George White of London, England. After decades of scientific research,
White discovered how the voice and vocal tone actually originate in the four
sets of sinus cavities in the head, not in the throat/vocal cords, as was
previously believed. White taught people to speak who had had their vocal cords
surgically removed – just by training them in controlling the air in their
sinus cavities.

 

He explains in his book that the air
vibrating in an enclosed space (the head) acts as a musical instrument, similar
to a flute or a recorder or even air moving through a keyhole and producing
sound. He felt that the vocal cords, or vocal folds as he preferred to call
them, merely aided in regulating the flow of breath from the lungs up to the
head, where the sound was actually produced.

 

Unfortunately for me, White had
already passed away in 1940, so I began my own attempts at playing with the air
in my sinus cavities. After many months of study, pretty much by trial and
error, I found that I was actually a first soprano, not a second soprano, as I
had thought. I found that it took much less air – and a lot of control – to
maintain my high notes, but that I now HAD control. And I really began to
develop my own unique singing voice, after years of trying to sound like
everyone else that I admired. Wow – even my high expectations had been reached.

 

When I moved to Austin a few years
later, I began teaching singing (and piano) as my day job. I taught all kinds
of people how to sing and speak, from age 8 to age 72. Many of my students
found great success with playing with the air in their sinuses – remarking
that, although they hadn't had success with traditional exercises, they could
now make their voices sound clearer and they could control the voice. There is
a lot of joy in learning that what was once a mystery can be placed under control
in a fun and musical way.Gfirepiano

 

But what actually ended up putting the
true icing on the cake for what I now call "Yoga For the Voice"
technique was my study of kundalini yoga, and subsequent training as a
kundalini yoga instructor. I found that by incorporating yogic breathing and
exercises, and sometimes even chanting yoga mantras, my students and I were
able to make even more progress in controlling our vocal instruments. Not to
mention the improvements in health, speaking voice, keeping the sinuses free and
clear, and gains in personal confidence.

 

Some of the benefits we discovered:

 

* You learn exactly what your vocal
range is and why – your vocal range is determined by the shape, number and
quality of the sinus cavities in your head.

 

* You discover how to create the very
best tone your voice is capable of making – when you can keep as many muscles
as possible out of the way of creating a pure tone in the head, you have the
basis of beautiful, unencumbered musical sound

 

* You feel the difference in your own
body – singing feels healthy, beautiful and under your control. If it feels
right, it actually is right. The reverse is true as well – if it feels wrong,
then there is some work to be done, usually in releasing some tension and
muscular effort that is getting in the way of the tone.

 

* A side benefit includes keeping the
sinuses free and clear – it actually helps your overall health in addition to
your vocal health. Ernest G. White's sinus exercises have been used solely for
the purpose of keeping the head cavities clear, and can be helpful for people
with Sinus Breathing allergies and other problems which create mucus in the sinuses.

 

* White's exercises can be used to
improve your speaking voice and your vocal projection – they are excellent for
actors, teachers and public speakers as well as for singers. In general, if one
is just using the exercises for speaking purposes, the vocal range is more
limited and focused on the actual speaking voice than in singing training.

 

* For children, I tend to break it
down to very basic, easy-to-understand exercises. I think the sinus concepts
are too difficult for most children to grasp, so I try to give them exercises
they can easily understand and have fun with.

 

In the beginning stages of vocal
training, a typical "Yoga For the Voice" lesson will consist of three
parts. First I teach the student two different kundalini breathing techniques
that have proven useful to the singing student. We next begin the sinus
exercises from Ernest George White's teachings, starting to find what I like to
term the "musical architecture" inside the voice student's head, i.e.
her/his particular set of sinus cavities. The last part consists of integrating
what we have learned into "full body" exercises, which enable the
student to start to experience her/his full vocal instrument, from the solar
plexus to the top of the head. I sometimes use traditional vocal exercises for
this step or, depending on the student, chanting exercises.

 

If you are interested in exploring
"Yoga For the Voice" further, my voice lessons are available
privately at my music studio in Austin, Texas. In addition, I offer lessons
over the phone and over the Internet as well (using Skype), making myself
available to you wherever you are in the world.

 

ABOUT gfireGfirepink

 

gfire is a professional
singer-songwriter, DJ, voice and piano teacher and Kundalini yoga instructor
based in Austin, Texas. She has taught literally hundreds of students how to
use their voices more effectively. For more information, please visit
http://gfiremusic.com.