Yoga is known to have numerous benefits—stronger immunity, stress reduction, better sleep quality, to name a few. Who would have guessed that better singing might be one of them?
I’ve always loved singing. Growing up, I regularly sang kirtan—Sikh spiritual hymns—at Sikh temples. I also participated in musical theater at high school.
However, I had never had any formal training in singing.
Nonetheless, I still always sang in public whenever I got a chance, be it at karaoke parties or just while watching music videos with friends.
Several people told me that I tried to sing too high and that some of the higher notes were way out of my range. This was especially the case when I tried to sing Bollywood songs in which female singers are expected to reach notoriously high notes.
This was all before I started practicing yoga.
One of the eight limbs of yoga is pranayama. Literally translated as “the life force,” pranayama generally refers to controlled breathing.
Yoga is just as much, if not more, about paying attention to our breath, as it is about the various poses. Concentrating on our breath helps clear the mind, reduce stress, and cultivate full-body awareness. My yoga practice has helped me become more conscious of my breath even when I’m off the mat.
Fast-forward two years. I work at an awesome startup called Konversai—a personal knowledge-sharing platform that enables one-on-one video conversations between anyone anywhere in the world about any topic imaginable. Currently, one of the most popular categories is performing arts. So I figured, why not finally learn to sing formally.
Before I started my lessons, I explained to my teachers that I’ve had no formal training in singing and that I’m probably an alto (low female singer) since I have trouble reaching high notes. Then the lessons began.
The first couple of classes focused almost entirely on breathing exercises. “Good singing is all about breathing,” said one of my teachers.
We practiced diaphragmatic breathing, in which the belly expands and contracts during inhalation and exhalation, respectively. Diaphragmatic breathing, also known as abdominal breathing or belly breathing, is how babies instinctively breathe. As we grow up, we somehow lose our innate method of breathing and begin breathing only through our chests. However, chest breathing is shallow and deprives our internal organs of necessary levels of oxygen.
Many adults struggle to re-learn diaphragmatic breathing because they’ve become so accustomed to chest breathing. By the time I had my first singing lesson, I was already very comfortable with diaphragmatic breathing from my two years of yoga practice. The breathing exercises, therefore, came naturally to me.
After several minutes of deep breathing, we began practicing scales. My teachers had me go up the scales and try singing progressively higher notes. And a crazy thing happened—I was able to reach those high notes I hadn’t been able to reach before!
As it turns out, I hadn’t been able to reach those high notes before because I had only been breathing through my chest. My vocal cords were not getting sufficient oxygen to be able to exercise their full potential. I learned that the higher or lower outside of your typical range you intend to sing, the deeper you need to breathe in order to make that happen.
I still have a long way to go before I’ll ever have a chance at American Idol , Broadway, or Lincoln Center, but in a short time I’ve made significant strides in my singing skills. I am well on my way to mastering opera arias.
And, I owe it to my breath.
Author: Pavita Singh
Image: Matthew Kane/Unsplash
Editor: Lieselle Davidson