Intuition 2: Grounding. The Woo-Woo & The Practical

on . Posted in Singing

mysterious-cardboard-box-thIn esoteric, "woo-woo" practices there are two common concepts:  grounding and shielding. The opposites are "ungrounded" and "unshielded," or "too open." Because not all of us are real woo-woo, but practical, here is a very practical definition for these concepts, we could call grounding the process of being calm and centered in your body and in your life. And shielding we could call the process of being self-protective and assertive. These are really two ways of being aware of what's going on in you (grounding) and what's going on around you (shielding). Today we're talking about grounding. (Shielding is the next installment.)

Grounding is essential to honing your instincts. If you are calm and centered, you will be able to listen to your gut instincts more clearly. So here's to getting clear and grounded.

Grounding & Being (Un-)Grounded

Ungrounded musicians, singers, and other artists, ungrounded people seem to almost float from place to place, they aren't too organized, they are chaotic. They are uncentered. And let's be honest--this happens to all of us from time to time! We forget our score before rehearsal, we forget to send in a contract, whatever. (Remember not to be hard on yourself, but to see this as a reminder that you need to create a course correction. You've got some business to attend to, so attend to it.)

And you'll also see there are a lot of grounded musicians & singers, artists. They are pretty well organized, their ducks are in a row, and their thoughts and wishes are clear. This also happens to all of us from time to time! When you notice things are flowing like this for you, take note of what you're doing and how you feel. You can correct your course to get back on track during times of ungroundedness.

Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. Stressful times can lead to feeling scattered or ungrounded, just as having our ducks in a row fuels further proactiveness. We go back and forth.

So without any further ado, here's a run-down of feeling ungrounded/scattered is in woo-woo and in practical terms. See if you identify with any of these. Try not to judge yourself if you feel inclined, but do notice what ideas pop into your head that give you help in course-correcting towards calm and centered (below).

"Ungrounded" - The Woo-Woo "Uncentered" - The Practical

 *  feeling like you're completely up in your head

*  others tell you you're spacey

*  your qi isn't flowing well

*  when you walk, you're not sure what's under your feet

*  your energy is "stuck" or blocked

*  you think everything will just work out...

 *  you haven't noticed much of a connection with your body today

*  regular tasks aren't getting done, like the dishes, garbage, mail

*  bills? those have a due date? Well, shucks...

*  you're forgetful and miss appointments

*  you're not known for follow-through or for taking care of the details

*  you get stuck on one activity for way too long (also a form of perfectionism)


Now let's take a look at being well grounded:

"Well Grounded" - The Woo-Woo "Calm & Centered" - The Practical

 *  your qi is flowing well

*  you have no major energy blocks

*  you know you can't wait for everything to happen, you must be a co-creator

*  you feel the earth beneath your feet as you walk and feel well connected to your earth energy

*  your being grounded is having a grounding effect on other people

 *  your regular tasks are accomplished in a reasonable time frame. Dishes washed, mail sorted, etc.

*  you pay your bills on time and your email inbox has only a few emails in it.

*  you're on-time for appointments

*  you're thinking more pro-actively and because of this, your work is flowing more smoothly.

*  you feel connected to your body and notice when you need a break or to change activities

3 Steps to Grounding/Centering

Being grounded/centered is a habit. If you notice you're off-center quite a bit, try one or all of these steps to be more centered & grounded in your body and in your life:

1. Walk.

Walking is good for the soul and for the body. Walking can clear your mind and your body, so walk regularly.

Have you seen these articles making the rounds lately about literary and scientific geniuses of the past centuries who walked regularly? Yes, it's good for you. It worked for them, so let it work for you, too.

2. Give Yourself Some Structure:  Develop Adaptable Routines & Use Check Lists/Mind Maps

The stress, deadlines, and scheduling that musicians go through is like that of almost no other career I've ever seen. Strict routines don't always work for us, however adaptable routines can give us structure while allowing the flexibility we need to have for our careers. So, apart from hygiene, sleeping, and eating rituals, view your schedule as a collection of lego blocks that can be taken apart and rearranged as needed.

checklist-gray-mdUse check lists for repetitive tasks, even the most banal of tasks that must be done. (This can actually speed up the process of getting it done.!) If you're easily distracted or have a lot going on, giving yourself the structure of your routines can be very centering. Most people use a list when they go grocery shopping--because it helps keep them focused on what they want (not what the store wants them to buy).

If you don't use autopay, what about a monthly checklist of each bill you need to pay and what day it's due? Or, if you share household chores with a partner or roommate and they're not getting done, how about a simple checklist of chores that need to be done during the week (or a month) and which cleaning supplies are used for each chore? If time is an issue, include the time it should take. The next time you have a no-show lesson, grab your list and see what you could get done in that time.

See? There's a certain amount of structure, but flexibility inherent in each of them.

3. Clear the Clutter and Get Your Stuff Together

Nothing will distract you more than clutter. OK, maybe relationship stress, but clutter is just one of the worst things you can do to yourself.

Because unfortunately, catalogs and other paper clutter do not grow legs and walk away on their own.

So, one pile at a time, clear the clutter. Touch each paper or item only once. You must take care of the first item before the second, and so on. (This idea comes from Benjamin Franklin as well as the book How to Simplify Your Life .) So you have 3 choices:  1) Take care of the item, 2) make a special place for it to live (be it in a file for taxes, a binder for future reference, or in your scores, which you may have organized last month during Perspective), or 3) trash/recycle/donate it.

Create routines for dealing with mail, like open everything and get recycle the envelopes right away. Use a simple filing system (using a 3-sectioned hanger like the one on the right) for 1) Deal with This Week, 2) Deal with Next Week 3) Some other Time.

Simplicity and clarity is often the key to success. So keep it simple, keep it clear, and clear out what you don't need or truly want.

What routines help you stay centered in the midst of a creative career? Share your thoughts below!


Stay tuned for the next article in this Intuition series--Shielding & Being Assertive!


Intuition 1: Your Instincts

on . Posted in Singing

11949854421936090706farfalla contorno archit 01.svg.hiSome people claim they are not intuitive.

I disagree.

If you have ever had a gut feeling, you have intuition. And since pretty much everyone has had a gut feeling, pretty much everyone is intuitive.

Musicians are particularly intuitive. Think of how we communicate with our bodies and our facial expression in rehearsal and performing. It's not so convenient to talk while you're rehearsing, however you can move your body slightly or change the way your breath is moving to create a dramatic tone which your musical partner responds to with elan. Some of it is seen, some of it is heard, and some of it is pure sense. Think of chamber musicians sensing their group members' guidance through the slightest raise of an eyebrow. Or purely through feeling.

Hold on it's gonna get a little woo-woo up in here.

Feeling is the focus today. Musicians feel so much and we feel it so deeply. Many of us are also introverts and we are fueled by time alone--by a need to clear our minds and rejuvenate in order to be ok around other people. We are sensitive people in terms of how our feelings feel to us and we can so frequently tune in to other people in such a way that we know if something is going on with them even if they hadn't said a word.

This is called clairsentience:  clear-feeling.

It's related to the commonly known term clairvoyance or clear-seeing. There are 4 main types of claires, the other two being clairaudience or clear-hearing and claircognizance or clear-knowing. Two other types of clairs are fairly rare, clairalience orclear-smelling, and clairgustance or clear-tasting.

* There is an article about an oboist or clarinettist in Germany who tastes the notes she plays--I can't find it, but if you know where it is, please comment below or send me the link via 'contact' (above). *

Well that all sounds really woo-woo. What does this mean for every-day living?

Really this means that musicians have a special sensitivity to feeling other people's feelings. We are open to these feelings and we sometimes take them on either emotionally and we carry it around with us, or we get too involved in it when it's not necessarily our place.

If you find yourself carried away on someone else's "stuff" or that tense moment in rehearsal is still with you hours later, you might have taken it on. Or perhaps you learned growing up to ignore your instincts and later you regret having ignored them.

Our job as people is to hone our instincts and to take care of our own feelings. To put it in woo-woo terms, it's our job to take care of our own energy and to leave other people's energy to themselves. And also to protect ourselves when we need to protect our own energies.

Your best intuitive guide is you. Rule #1:  Listen to your gut. Rule #2:  If in doubt, refer to rule #1.

So Hone Your Instincts

The best way to hone your instincts is to listen to your gut--even if it doesn't make too much sense. Don't fall into the trap of feeling something in your gut and then excusing it with "Oh, no, that would never happen."

Be cautious of random energy modalities developed by someone trying to sell you something. It may be the 21st century, however snake oil is still a hot item. And for women especially--we are taught by our culture not to listen to our instincts, that we are supposed to abide by something someone else says.


So first give yourself a couple of months to hone your instincts and really challenge yourself to listen to your gut and follow it. It is really that simple and that difficult. 

I reached a point a few years ago where there was a project I just couldn't deal with any more--I tried to make changes and all the while my gut instinct was speaking louder and louder--be done with this! This is not going to get any better! You already know all you need to know! Although it was not a popular choice for me, and it didn't make any sense to anyone else, I knew the best thing for me would be to jump ship.

I did and I haven't looked back. Other fantastic projects came along and I feel good that I trusted my gut.

If after a couple of months you find you keep running into barriers, or you're already there, or you just want to learn more about deep instincts, give this book a whirl:

Women Who Run With the Wolves changed my perception of my intuition in deep, meaningful ways. I've recommended it to friends and every single person who has read it has said that it held great meaning and value for them.



Yoga for Singers 3: 4 Yogic Wisdoms for Singers

on . Posted in Singing

What My Yoga Practice Has Taught Me (Besides to Stand on my Head)

We all have a common desire:  to feel good about ourselves and what we are up to in the world.  Many musicians choose to go into this field because they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else.  Anyone brave enough to say a wholehearted “yes” to make their true passion their living knows there are ups and downs along the way.   I know that I am living my yoga when I’m able to gracefully receive a rejection email and say to myself “I’ll try this again next year,” or being able to honestly cheer on a colleague that was accepted for a gig that I wasn’t.  Yoga is so much more than standing on your head or doing the splits, it’s a way of life.

Here are a few gems that I’ve learned along the way:

1.    “Practice and all is coming.”  -Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (founder of Ashtanga Yoga)

11970905601565623445Gerald G Yoga Poses stylized.svg.hiIn yoga and in singing, you must show up.  Getting to your mat or the practice room is really half the battle.  The other half is what you do with the time you have.  Are you focusing on a certain piece of music or yoga pose?  Break it apart into small pieces, so that each vocal passage or warm-up yoga pose is preparing you for where you’re aiming.  Know where you’re going, and keep practicing.

2.    Check your ego.

One of my favorite accompanists always reassured me when I was nervous to “perform to express, not to impress.”  With that as my mantra, I sing because I love it, am prepared, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else versus singing with the fear of judgment from others.

In a yoga class, taking childs pose in a room full of people doing a headstand is sometimes the harder (but stronger) choice because you’re doing what feels good for YOU right now instead of the person next to you.  Music can be insanely competitive.  By dropping my ego on the mat, I’ve noticed it softens in the performance hall, too.

3.     Be Kind.

Be kind to yourself first.  This is not always easy when your expectations for yourself do not meet the reality of the situation at hand, but relax.  The fact that you are putting yourself out there to be seen and heard by so many people is an act of bravery and courage.  When you speak nicely to yourself, it shows.  Affirm your talents and unique qualities every day.  The kindness that you cultivate for yourself by showing up on your mat and practicing yoga can inspire your kind words to colleagues in your midst as well.  You want to be the person that gets the call for the last minute gig not only because of your talent, but because you were a kind and generous person to work with on and off the stage.

4.    You are enough.

When working on a challenging pose, I encourage my students to just “be” in the yoga pose instead of forcing their way into it.  This allows them to experience exactly where they are in this moment.  Physically and emotionally, we are all built differently, and come with different sets of experiences and stories that shape us into the artists we are.  Validate the good and the bad experiences in your life, be grateful for both, and use them as fuel to create a little more each and every day.

Embodying these things isn’t easy, but that’s why we practice:  we return again and again to that inner pull of creating, performing, moving, breathing, expressing, and doing the very best we can.

Breathe well, my friends.

Yoga for Singers 2: Beginning Yoga for Singers

on . Posted in Singing

Beginner's Yoga Sequence for Singers

Let’s be real.  Starting to practice yoga can be intimidating.  Perhaps this is because of its inherent connection with having to be flexible (which you don’t) or needing to twist yourself into a pretzel (which you don’t).   A very wise yoga teacher once told me that yoga is a breathing practice, and the physical postures are there to facilitate a deeper connection to your breath.  One of my favorite singing teachers told me instead of thinking of singing well, think of breathing well.  It all comes back to the breathing!

Here’s a beginners yoga sequence that I created just for singers.   Try it out before your next voice lesson or audition.

1.     Mountain Pose (Tadasana) > Chest Expansion Forward Fold

Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides.  Really root down through the feet and engage through the legs.  On an inhale, sweep your arms above your head, look up, and lean back – opening through the chest.  As you exhale, interlace all ten fingers behind your low back.  Inhaling, draw your knuckles down towards the floor, and shoulders away from the ears.  As you exhale,  bend your knees very deeply, fold forward from the hips, and lift your knuckles up towards the ceiling to expand your chest.

Mountain pose is a spine-lengthening and grounding posture that can help you stabilize your singing stance. As you find the chest expansion forward fold, try to focus on a wide, horizontal rib cage breath.

YogaSequence1  YogaSequence2  YogaSequence3 

2.     Crouch and Curl

From your forward fold, release your fingers down towards the mat, bend your knees deeply, lifting heels gently off the mat.  Round your spine, tucking chin to chest, your forehead towards your knees.  Take 5 deep breaths.

With the spine rounded in this crouching position, you can really focus on breathing into the entire space of the back.  For me, this pose has calmed a few pre-performance jitters!  


3.     Crocodile Pose (Makarasana)

From your tiny ball, lift your hips and straighten the legs just slightly.  Plant your palms on the mat and step your legs back.  Lower your knees to the mat, and come to lie on your belly on the mat.  Untuck the toes and relax the legs.  Stack your forearms on top of one other to create a pillow for your forearms.  Tuck the chin into the chest. Take 5 deep breaths.

This pose draws awareness to a diaphraghmatic and low belly breath.  With the whole front of the body is in contact with the mat, you notice the belly pressing against the mat with each inhale when belly expands.  This pose is also a calming, restorative posture, which is beautiful for calming nerves.


4.     Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) > Low Lunge > Twist

Position your palms on the mat just under your shoulders.  Curl your toes under, and lift your hips towards the ceiling to create an upside down “v” – or downward facing dog.  Lift your right leg off the mat, and sweep it through your hands for a low lunge.  Plant left hand on the mat and lift the right finger tips toward the ceiling for a twist.  Expand through the chest and find length from left hand to right fingertip.   Return right hand to mat and step back to downward facing dog and repeat on the second side.  

Downward facing dog is a powerful grounding posture, as well as spine-lengthening.  By finding the twist, you expand through the chest, creating openness across the front space of the body as you prepare to perform.  

YogaSequence6  YogaSequence7   YogaSequence8


Nicole adds:  Be smart about your yoga practice. Know your body--what it can do, and what it can't. Talk to your doctor or take a yoga class with Krista or another yoga teacher near you to be sure you're on the right track.

Yoga for Singers 1: Confessions of a Singing Yogini

on . Posted in Singing

Confessions of a Singing Yogini

One frigid January evening when I was not even 20, I stumbled into a hot yoga studio and took my first yoga class.

I hadn’t the slightest clue about body alignment in postures, no grasp of Sanskrit and its place in in the yoga class, and definitely no concept of just how much water I would have to drink afterward to rehydrate.

11949846861384616885stylized yoga person ger 06.svg.hiHere’s what I did know for sure:  I was hooked.  Something about the dance-like nature of the yoga postures, the focus and stamina that came from slowing down the breath, how I felt so much taller, lighter, and open upon leaving the studio.   

This is exactly what my singing teachers and coaches at school encourage every single day.  

Expand your rib cage.  Breathe slower, and all the way into the back.  Stand tall, rooting down through the feet and reaching with crown of head.  Allow your body to be relaxed, but also active.  Express yourself.

The themes were so interchangeable, I had to smile at this beautiful connection.

The next day, I was rehearsing Brahms’ Zigeunerlieder with my voice coach in preparation for an upcoming recital.  We began the first movement together, she at the piano and me singing.  Half way through the first movement, she completely stopped playing.  

“This is the first time you’ve made it through that long phrase without having to take a cheat breath in the middle!”

Wow.  She was right.  

“What did you do differently that time?” she asked.  

“Hmm, not sure.  I did take my first yoga class ever last night, and I learned a breathing exercise at class.  Maybe that helped!”

That first class swept me into my second, third, and so many more after that.  Yoga has been my constant companion and complement to music making.  Right away, here are the best things I learned and was able to apply immediately to my vocal technique:

1.     Release of tension

The emphasis on noticing where you are holding tension in your body and actively working to release it catapulted my vocal technique from moderate at best to rock solid.  Jaw tension?  Take your tongue away from the roof of your mouth, gently part your lips, and begin to breathe softly through the nose.  Neck and shoulder tension?  Tuck your chin in just slightly to your chest and let your shoulders drop away from your ears.  Awareness is the key:  check in with yourself every few breaths to ensure you are relaxed, but still active in the body.  

2.    Strength

As I got into grad school and was either in practice or performance mode, developing endurance and physical strength for performing was a priority.  The stronger I became physically, the more magnetic I felt as a performer.  I continue to cultivate the strength

3.    Breath

As I illustrated above, the breath is the best gift that yoga gave to my singing.  Training the body to breathe  deeper and wider gave me the confidence to allow my phrases to really soar.  Long phrases begin to come naturally instead of having to be thought out and calculated so much in advance.  So much freedom and flexibility is yours with a full breath.

Come along with me and release tension, strengthen, and breathe deeply in the next segment:  a beginners yoga sequence for singers I created just for you!

Yoga for Singers Starts Tomorrow!

on . Posted in Singing

Yoga is becoming more and more popular and singers are no exception. 1194984685992851260stylized yoga person ger 05.svg.hiWe must be aligned in our bodies and in tune with what our bodies are telling us to really create incredible music and yoga is a fantastic tool to help us do just that.

Mezzo and Yogini Krista Costin has written several articles about her journey as a singer who discovered yoga and received some incredible gifts along the way.

So join us tomorrow through Saturday for Yoga for Singers, right here on Open Intervals!