I’m a huge fan of the Olympics, which means I was in hog heaven back in February, tuning in each night to see the latest from the Winter Games in South Korea. As I watched legendary snowboard champion Shaun White pull off a comeback to get the gold, it got me thinking about parallels to singing. It occurred to me that training more like an Olympic athlete can help you improve your singing technique.
Singing is an artistic endeavor, but it’s also an athletic endeavor.
It involves training your body to do the same thing over and over for a desired outcome just as any athlete does. Physically, it is no different then Shaun White training his body to do the mechanics of his snowboard tricks so that when he gets into the competition, he achieves a peak performance that appears effortless.
Just like any athlete, a singer’s body cannot do what her brain is sabotaging.
While Olympians and pro athletes figured out a long time ago that in order to achieve success, training their mental game is just as important as training their physical game, most singers and those who train them have been very slow to adopt these techniques. But you don’t have to be like most singers!
Learning how the mind-body connection plays into in your singing technique makes all the difference between being a good singer and being a career-sustaining, effortless, powerfully great singer.
What do I mean when I speak of the mind-body connection as it relates to singing? Let’s first remember that sound is a form of energy associated with the vibrations of matter. Let’s also remember that your whole body is your instrument as a singer, not merely your vocal folds. When you sing, sound energy (in the form of vibrations) moves through your body. If certain parts of your body are locked, tense, held, grabbed etc., the energy and vibrations cannot flow freely and the sound is negatively affected.
Now consider that most of us, without being aware of it, physicalize our thoughts, emotions, and feelings. We hold them in our body. It’s just part of being human. For example, when we’re scared, we brace ourselves in an effort to protect from whatever we fear is about to happen, holding that tension somewhere in the body. And it’s not just the big feelings we physicalize; more subtle emotions are embodied when we react to things like expectations, perfectionism, or negative self-talk. Whatever the cause and whatever the feeling, it lives in the body, and if you’re a singer, it also lives in and effects your instrument.
Keeping your instrument in tip-top shape means clearing the tension and the best way to do so is to address the part your mind plays in creating it.
Find a class or course that teaches the practice of mindfulness, of present moment mind/body awareness. I am very lucky to live in Los Angeles where there’s an ever-growing community devoted to mindfulness practices of all sorts. Here are some classes and teachers to investigate. Even if you don’t live in L.A., many offer online guided courses and intensive retreats across the world as a place to start:
The Den Meditation Studio: From mindfulness meditation to workshops, they offer guided meditation classes for every lifestyle, every day of the week. Whether you want to learn how to meditate or find a home for your meditation practice, this is a great place to go. My favorite teachers at The Den are Chandresh Bhardwaj and Heather Prete.
UCLA Mindfulness Institute: They bring the ancient art of mindful awareness to a renowned mental health research institution in a scientifically supported and rigorous form. They offer guided meditation classes, meditation podcasts, and workshops.
Unplug Meditation Studio: They offer a wide variety of simple and eclectic meditation and mindfulness classes. They make it easy for everyone from busy skeptics to modern soul-seekers.
Change your thinking, change your singing. Just imagine what could be possible for your singing once you understand and utilize the mind/body connection. It’s a lesson we can learn from Shaun White and the rest of the Olympians living their dream right now.