You just never know. Every now and then, life gives you a much-needed boost from an unexpected source. This recently happened to me. Around the holidays, a generous soul gave me a pass to 8 Limbs Yoga, a beautiful studio here in Seattle. Thusly, I’ve spent the past few months rediscovering the joys and benefits of yoga. I used to practice a long time ago in a past life. However, I don’t recall feeling the same zeal for it then that I am feeling now. I’m completely hooked. I’ve been going to as many as four classes a week sometimes. Even in just a few short months, the impact on my life has been profound. This is especially so in my singing and jazz experience in general. You could say it boils down to two things: breath and flow.
As a vocalist, my body is my instrument, and breath is everything. In yoga, breath is the focal point. I was already familiar with three-part breathing: The practice of inhaling through the nose and utilizing the diaphragm to fill the abdomen, rib cage and lungs with air. We typically begin classes with this particular exercise. It serves to calm the mind and bring focus on the body. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg for yogic breathwork. I have also been learning about “Ujjayi,” which is the practice of slightly constricting the back of the throat to create a very light “ah” sound on the exhalation. (Like fogging a mirror.) Ujjayi is quite useful when moving through the asanas or yoga postures. Another technique that I’ve learned at 8 Limbs is counting the breath; this basically involves counting to four on the inhalation and then elongating the breath by counting to six on the exhalation. All of these practices serve to purify the body and to infuse it with life energy or “Prana.” They are accessible anytime and anywhere, not just in the yoga studio. Since integrating these techniques, I have been delighted to discover a significant increase in my capacity and control. Obviously this has been very beneficial on the singing front. I have more power when I need it. I can also sustain notes longer and have more flexibility all around, particularly in my head voice. Overall, I believe the increased capacity has given me more endurance on gigs.
The type of yoga that I practice is called “Vinyasa” or “Flow.” In flow, breath is used to facilitate and support movement through the asanas, which occur in a fluid sequence. Flow involves using the breath to connect to the innate rhythm that exists in each of us. As we align with this rhythm, we discover a natural ease of mind and body. As I tap into flow, I find a certain grace in the asanas, even the challenging ones. And I am discovering that the deeper I come to know flow in my practice, the deeper I experience a sense of flow in life. This is directly applicable to music. In essence, jazz is flow. It is immediate. It is fluid. It requires us to stay completely present in the moment and to respond to whatever the music ultimately presents to us. If we are awake, we are not only attuned to the literal rhythm of the music but also to our internal rhythm as players, as well as the larger rhythm of the collective. This manifests as synergy, which I believe is the most exhilarating aspect of jazz music.
Yoga and yogic breathing are now part of my daily routine right alongside writing, meditation and vocal practice. Quite frankly, I feel as if I am on a grand adventure, discovering new things every time I roll out the yoga mat. The same is true every time I step onto the bandstand. It’s all about openness, receptivity and curiosity. In both yoga and jazz, it’s ultimately all about flow.