April 16 was world voice day! As a professional singer, voice day is everyday! I would like to share with you some practical yogic exercises for vocal health.
In the previous article - The alchemy of the hands, part 1 - I explored how the use of the hands within certain movements can aid in some technical aspects of singing. Today I would like to jump back to ancient yogic tradition and the use of Mudras.
Mudras are hand seals that help redirect energy. The hands are servants of the brain and are actually mapped in it! In a nut shell, each finger is connected to a planet, an element and to certain organs: the Thumb corresponds to Mars/Earth/Brain and Lungs, the Index to Jupiter/Water/Large intestine, the middle finger to Saturn/Fire/Pericardium, the ring finger to Sun/Air/Triple burner (throat to anus) and the pinkie to Mercury/Ether/Small intestine; the blade of the hand corresponds to the heart.
By the use of certain positions we can increase, decrease or balance the energy in each finger, hence affecting the whole body.
Usually Mudras are used in conjunction with Pranayama. Prana means life force and Yama means to restrain/control/regulate, so pranayama is the regulation of the life force. Prana is the primal source of life, source of vitality. Have you ever heard of the tree huggers (I often engage in hugging trees in the park, myself)? This practice exists because in these ancient traditions it is believed that trees are full of Prana – condensed life force.
And what is the importance of mastering the breath? When we master our breath, we master our mind and we become less reactive. We activate our parasympathetic nervous system and become more relaxed and calm.
By combining breath work (the air contains prana) and mudras, we are awakening and re-energizing the whole body through its meridians.
In what concerns the voice itself there are several mudras and breath work combinations that can help unlock it, especially if we also combine it with mantra work (sacred chant).
Here are 3 quick examples/combinations I have learned from my Naam Yoga Practice and applied in different occasions in my singing practice. I find them to be extremely beneficial for the vocal apparatus and I hope they can also help you. You do not have to be a professional singer, or a singer at all to do these. Any of these exercises helps any person at many levels. For more information on Naam Yoga Practice and these exercises feel free to visit www.rootlight.com where you can find books and Cds by Dr. Levry.
1. Sitali Pranayam One of the most basic things in singing is to keep the larynx relaxed and not elevated. The simplest and most fundamental way of doing this is to have a low/deep breath, since when we breathe deep the trachea lowers after the diaphragm and the larynx follows. On a daily basis and especially if you live in a metropolitan/busy area, tension and stress is a constant. Engaging in a practice of SITALI pranayam, for example, can help at a lot of levels: It cools anger, readjusts the jaw, and works the tongue. How to do it: Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back and lifted sternum. If you can, curl the tongue and start sipping air slowly through the mouth (if not, just sip air through a small opening between your lips). You will see how this slows and deepens your breath and well as cools your stomach (good for digestive issues, by the way, like re-flux which is common in singers). The exhale is normal, through the nose. Combine this breath with a simple mudra - gyan mudra – bring thumb and index finger together, extending the rest of the fingers and resting the back of the hands on your thighs or knees depending on how you are sitting. Gyan mudra connects you to your own teacher.
2. Golden Triangle mudra helps to heal the throat chakra. The golden triangle mudra is used to direct healing power to a location in our own body and it has the power of manifestation. How to use it for the voice: Sit in a comfortable position, keep the spine straight and take three long deep breaths. Bring the thumb, index and middle finger tips together and extend the remaining fingers. Place the mudra on the throat right where the Adams apple is (not as pronounced in women). Take a deep breath and hold the breath in for a comfortable amount of time, after which you remove it from your throat before exhaling. Repeat for a total of 3 times.
3. Beautiful voice mudra. This mudra is combined with an ancient chant and it helps to heal the voice and make it more beautiful. How to do it: a) The right hand wraps around the left middle finger, b) the right thumb tip touches the left middle finger tip and 3) the left hand is placed vertical in front of the solar plexus, palm facing right. Chant “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa Ta Na Ma Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung” – Listen to the following recording:
All of these exercises should be done with consciousness and love. Seat and concentrate before doing them and keep your eyes closed and still for a minute after you do them.
Enjoy and have a wonderful alchemic voice day!