At the beginning of my yoga teacher training in Bali last summer one of our two amazing teachers presented our group with three simple rules to live by as we embarked upon our yoga journey: Be Kind. Be Honest. Be Awesome. These concepts can be traced to the yamas and niyamas, two of the limbs of the eight-fold path of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali (more on the Yamas and Niyamsa coming in future posts!). Our teacher referenced these rules often throughout the training, encouraging us to put them into practice at all times. They came in handy especially during the particularly challenging moments like when we were facing our fears about going upside down into an inversion like handstand or as we grew frustrated in the middle of a particularly sweaty vinyasa flow. The invocation of these rules became a sort of mantra for me during my month in Bali, a source of comfort and strength during moments of difficulty, self-discovery, and growth.
In the months that have passed since I was first presented with these rules I have reflected upon them a lot in my personal yoga practice and have come to realize that they apply not only to the study of yoga but also to the study of singing. I want to share these thoughts in the hopes that they can be of help to my fellow yogis and singers as you traverse your own unique journeys.
BE KIND. Be kind to yourself and others. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Being respectful and kind to your colleagues will help you build lasting relationships that will serve you throughout your career. This is a no-brainer. The first part of this rule is more tricky: be kind to yourself. This means treating yourself the way you would treat your best friend. I find that this can be difficult at times because if you are anything like me you probably hold yourself to a pretty high standard a lot of the time. As singers we are often our own worst critics. The discipline and hard work required to succeed as a performer can be wonderful (and essential) attributes, but can also lead us down a path of dissatisfaction with ourselves if we are not careful. It is easy to hold ourselves to not just high, but impossible standards, and to end up being very hard on ourselves when these standards are not met.
There is a lot of discussion in yoga philosophy texts about calming the inner chatter that is present in our mind most of our waking hours. This chatter often manifests as the voice in our head that constantly compare us to our friends and acquaintances who always seem to be doing more exciting, interesting things than we are. Why aren’t you as successful as X Singer who you were in music school with? You must not be as talented or as hard working or as dedicated as Y Singer. You will never be as good of a performer so you might as well give up today. These inner voices are never satisfied no matter how much we succeed and are NOT helpful. Being kind means doing our best to treat ourselves with the kindness and respect we would give to a loved one. Because after all, we are all loved ones! Self-love is an essential quality and something we need to strive for, especially as artistic people who put our art out into the world day after day. Loving ourselves helps give us the confidence and resilience that allow us to continue pursuing our individual paths as artists.
BE HONEST. Be honest with yourself and others. Being an honest person keeps us out of trouble in life. The music business can be a tricky one to navigate at times but being honest is a failsafe way to hold onto your integrity. In a world of “fake news” where it seems like people are lying and gossiping constantly all around us, holding ourselves to the standard of honesty is becoming more and more important. In addition to being honest with others, we also need to be truthful with ourselves about our bodies and our voices by really listening to what they want and need. In yoga, this rule has extremely practical implications because not listening to our bodies can lead to injury. If we try to stretch our body further than it wants to in order to impress the cute yogi on the mat next to us we can find ourselves with a pulled hamstring. Similarly, listening to our body when it is telling us that it needs to move and honoring that desire with a long hike or run to get the cobwebs out of our legs will help keep our muscles strong and supple for years to come. The same is true for our vocal health. As singers we must tune into the needs of our voices and unfortunately this is not always fun. It means staying home the night before an audition to get that full night of sleep that we know will ensure success the next day even though all our friends are going out to our favorite noisy bar or restaurant. It means noticing when our voice is beginning to get tired and stopping our practice session early so we won’t become hoarse. It means noticing if we are over-committing ourselves in life to the point of exhaustion and learning to say no to things we cannot take on without compromising our health. Your body is your temple, treat it with respect! Be honest with it and give it the proper sustenance, sleep, and care that it requires and it will serve you well. The same goes for your voice, as it is a part of your miraculous body. Only you can tell how your voice is feeling and you have to be brutally honest with yourself about the way in which you care for it because vocal exhaustion and injury are no fun.
BE AWESOME. You are unique. You are interesting. You are different from every other person on the planet and no one else has the exact same set of talents and gifts to share as you, so be your awesome self! There is no use trying to be the next Joyce DiDonato or Kristen Chenowith because those two people already exist and they are doing an awesome job being their awesome selves. It is up to each of us to discover what makes us unique and develop our gifts so that we can share them with the world. The hard part is that no one can do this for you. However, the great part is that you get to do it for yourself! By being kind and honest with ourselves we can delve deep, figure out what it is that makes us unique, and begin to embrace it. As the saying goes, comparison is the thief of joy. As one of the 29 million sopranos out there I can tell you this is 110% true. It is so easy to get caught in the trap of comparing ourselves to others. Unfortunately, living in the age of Facebook and Instagram has only made this a whole lot harder. It is easy to go down the path of comparison and come out the other side feeling like everyone else is living a more glamorous, exciting, successful life than you. This is when we have to have the self-awareness to remember to treat ourselves with kindness and respect by telling that nasty mind chatter to take a hike! Studies show that people only share their happy news on social media, keeping the hard, not-so-glamorous side of life hidden in the shadows. Everyone struggles, even the person with the shiny perfect Instagram feed, and everyone triumphs, including you. By focusing more on figuring out how we can best spread our light with others than on how many likes that other singer’s post got we are using our energy more wisely and will ultimately live up more fully to our artistic potential. Get out there and work hard to develop your talents so the world can benefit from them. Celebrate what makes you YOU because there will never be another person like you again!