I had heard about yoga, I had read an intro book about yoga, I had even practiced yoga now and then with my mom on a towel in the grass or on our hard wooden floor.
But it wasn’t until I moved to London to pursue a music degree at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama that I realized yoga was a part of my path.
I was using the gym at a YMCA in London, and I decided to try their yoga class in the all-purpose room. I remember my teacher well. She was from Stockholm and had cropped blond hair, bright cobalt eyes, graceful limbs, a kind smile, and a gentle soothing voice.
After the class, I had an overwhelming sense of calm and ease with the world. I began to exchange gym time with yoga classes, and soon after noticed a shift in my body, my breath and in my mind.
The shift in my physical body allowed me to walk taller and with more grace and confidence—I also began to embrace my curves and femininity and started dressing in more fitted clothing.
I remember a family friend commenting that I had lost my baby fat! This new sense of poise worked itself into every aspect of my life, but particularly into performance. I have always loved to perform, but I began seeking out opportunities to perform solo in clubs and bars—and I began to write more music, not for choirs or for string ensembles, but for myself to perform in various London venues.
Yes, yoga helped steer me from my classical learned music roots, toward my own voice as a singer songwriter.
My life in London was music. Every day I would go to my classes, compose, practice and teach music in schools. I remember at breaks in the college some of my classmates and I would do sun salutations to get the circulation pumping, hoping to increase the flow of inspiration. I am not sure if it worked, but it was definitely more invigorating than lounging by the snack and drink machines.
I also began branching out to other yoga classes in the city—I found Ashtanga yoga, bought David Swenson’s practice guide book and began taking classes with Russell Crowe’s stunt double!
I liked the physical challenge of this practice—I definitely do not have the genetics for gymnastics or circus, so yoga never came easily to me. Even the simplest of flows and poses was a war with my tight hamstrings and fear of inversions. But some fire inside me continued on.
This same fire fueled my solo music career, and through bad gigs and criticism, I persevered. I am sure an Ayurvedic doctor would say that the Ashtanga yoga helped unleash some dormant Pitta energy.
The shift in my breath and mind happened in tandem. I remember one of my yoga teachers saying, “Lengthen the breath. As you lengthen your inhale and exhale, the mind chatter begins to slow.”
I am always astonished by how effective this simple piece of advice is, and I see the same profound meditation-effect when singing and fiddle playing. I am sure there are countless mysterious reasons for this and I do like to leave room for magic but predominantly because when singing or playing the violin, my breath, again, is the guide.
Like in yoga, when my mind and body link in with the breath, the extra static and chatter slow way down, creating space for me to step into the essence of the music more deeply.
On a physical level, the practice of extending the breath increased my lung capacity, and in turn expanded my ability to powerfully sustain a melodic line. This is undoubtedly one of my greatest strengths and pleasures in singing.
Thank you yoga!
Beyond the breath, yoga also helped me create a sense of consciousness in the body and mind that has had a tremendous impact on my life, and again, on my vocal capabilities.
One of my favorite vocal coaches, Lorraine Nubar, has a very physical and yogic approach to teaching voice. Once she had me bend my knees and try to lift a piano to engage my thighs and enable me to sing a high C!
A full resonance must take root in the whole self, and Lorraine helps the singer create a bridge between the voice and the physical body.
After a few more years of yoga practice and getting my yoga teacher certification, my body, mind, breath connection became infinitely stronger. Creating the pathways in the brain to access the muhla bandha (pelvic floor lock), or ground the femur bones, or stand with the four corners of the feet rooting into the mat, enabled me to tap into this body awareness, on a much more subtle level.
As with most love affairs however, yoga began to overshadow my life, namely, my passion for music. I began to teach yoga, to take workshops, to follow juice cleanses, to study natural health and eastern medicine.
All of a sudden, the yogic path was taking center stage. Instead of practicing scales and writing music, I was on my mat, or researching how to get my reiki certification.
Of course, this process fed me as a person, and nourished my creativity, but it took a few years of rebalancing, having a child, pursuing a masters of divinity and other various spiritual tangents before I was able to see that I had deviated a bit too far from my path of music.
The poetry of this realization is that it happened on my yoga mat.
I was practicing at Studio Breathe in Montreal, with one of my best friends, and favorite yoginis, Kimiko Fujimoto. The theme of her class was: unveil your true path. She encouraged us to listen to the small essential voice inside and to find the courage to allow that voice to live out loud.
About half way through the class, I broke down in tears.
The next month I was in the studio recording again.
Thank you yoga; once again you helped me rebalance back onto my path and I couldn’t be happier.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise