Find your Resonance

camelvariation

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? …Your playing small doesn’t serve the world… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -Marianne Williamson

When we sing, we are challenged to find our true resonance within. Every voice is unique, so imitating another’s voice is seldom helpful. So, how do we find our way when we are playing an instrument with no clear buttons or valves to press? Where is the instruction manual? In this article, I will offer some simple tips to get you started on your journey to find your resonance.

The yoga of voice begins when we surrender to the process of exploring our own unique instrument, and when our own inner teacher is our primary guide. An external teacher is important, too, especially in the beginning, to shine the light when it feels like we are groping in dark rooms inside ourselves. But ultimately, one of my primary goals as a teacher is to help you build not only muscle memory that supports healthy vocalization, but also the power of curiosity and discernment within yourself as you get to know your voice. I also provide sincere encouragement once your true voice starts to emerge, so that your self-doubt does not dampen your resonance or stop your breath. For it is often so jarring at first to hear your own free voice – many of my students say things like, “Is that really me?” or “Whose voice is that?” when their full resonance emerges. I can identify with them – when my voice first blossomed, I recall feeling extreme surprise coupled with fear that my voice was too big or too harsh. But eventually I got more used to the idea of “taking up more space” and letting my voice shine. There are still times when I’m plagued with self-doubt, but I don’t let that stop me – I thank the nagging voices for sharing, then re-focus on that teacher within. I let that teacher guide me toward my true resonance once again, and in that way I am practicing self-assertion and letting my voice be heard! I feel so honored to guide my students in this process; to help them build their own inner teacher, and to empower them to discover and share their unique, beautiful voice!

The first step is to focus on the sensations in your body – how it feels when you sing – rather than what it sounds like to your own ears. We are never getting a good read of how our own voice sounds! So pay attention to how it feels, and then ask yourself these questions:

Where do I feel my resonance (a buzzy vibration)? Some possible locations could be – your chest, your throat, the front of your mouth, your palette, your cheekbones, your “third eye” (forehead), or even the crown of your head or the back of your neck. It’s all fair game, as long as you don’t feel a strain in the throat. Pay special attention to sensations in the “resonator” of your head – the lifted soft palette, and the area behind the eyes and nose. If you’re having trouble finding any buzz, try humming on an m, n, or ‘ng,’ then try and keep that buzz going as you open to a vowel like “ah.” I also encourage my students to feel an “inner smile” or “smize” (a smile through your eyes!). Different cues work for different people, so it is helpful to have a teacher’s feedback in this process – be sure and communicate with them what works for you and what doesn’t. Observe the sensations as you explore your voice; stay in the present moment, and stay curious!

Is my breath making it up to my resonator? It’s hard to separate these paired concepts of breath and resonance – their dance is what fuels the magic of vocal production. Try focusing on two separate points in the body, such as your lower abdomen and your cheekbones, or your ribs and your palette, in order to facilitate “healthy communication” between your breath production and resonance.

How can this be easier? Oftentimes, there are muscle groups that want to “help” or protect when we are engaging in this activity that is so vulnerable. Common culprits are your jaw, tongue, and muscles in the neck and upper shoulders. When you notice these muscles trying to “help,” thank them, and invite them to soften. Then, re-focus on those areas in your body that are the true helpers, like your ribs and soft palette.

How can I more fully embrace my true resonance? Let your breath and the sensations in your body lead you back to the present moment. Remember, your free voice will most likely be bigger than you expected, and most definitely different that you imagined. Let go of expectations and embrace curiosity as you explore, guided by your own inner teacher. Then, take your discoveries into your daily life and let your voice be heard!

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Be Courageous!

Bakasana, or crow pose
Bakasana, or crow pose

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” – Maya Angelou

We all need courage in order to undertake voice and/or yoga training. When we commit to the process of freeing our voice and body, we are taking a leap of faith and letting ourselves believe that it is possible to overcome obstacles that may have been there so long that we have gotten very used to them! Maybe we aim to release our hamstrings that have been tight for years, or find freedom and ease through that break in our voice that seems like it’s always been there. It takes courage even to believe it is possible to change, let alone take the first steps.

So often I speak with friends or new students who tell me what is “wrong” with their voices, as if that’s just how it is and there’s nothing they can do to change that. This seems to happen more often with singing than with our physical challenges – with the popularity of yoga and fitness in general, people understand that over time with regular practice, they can enact change in their body. Whether it’s losing weight, building strength, or gaining flexibility, there is (usually) a basic understanding that change is possible – but that doesn’t make it easier! It still takes courage to take that first step towards your fitness goals. But it is perhaps even harder for those beginning voice students who are not “natural singers” to take their first steps towards their vocal goals, because vocal training is not as pervasive and accessible in our culture as fitness and yoga instruction. It is still a very new idea that anyone can find freedom in their voice and sing beautifully once they’ve received guidance from an experienced teacher, coupled with consistent, mindful practice.

Of course, just as you couldn’t train a slim, petite woman to lift over 250 lbs, one couldn’t make a light lyric voice into a dramatic one, or vice-versa. There are certain unique, inherent qualities in everyone’s voice, but those are best discovered once the basic principles of healthy vocal technique have been imparted and internalized. Until then, I recommend remaining curious about the qualities of your voice while staying out of evaluation, and especially staying out of judgment and criticism. Have the courage to trust in the unknown mysteries of your voice; trust that anything you hear in your voice that is less than beautiful is just a symptom of tension, or techniques not yet embodied. Basically, certain muscles need strengthening, and others need to release – and this type of training simply takes time (and courage!)

As you grow in awareness of your own instrument, your belief of what you can do will expand. But then you will need courage all over again for those more difficult songs, arias, roles. Just as yogis need courage to attempt more difficult poses such as arm balances and inversions, more advanced voice students need a fresh dose of courage to experience the full breadth and power of their voice.

But the most courage is needed at the start of the journey, to take that leap of faith by taking the first step and believing change is possible. Once you take that step in earnest, this new-found courage will seep into your life and the blessings of many other virtues will come your way!

For more about Becca, visit www.northwestvocalyoga.com