Musings: The unsung note

I had the great pleasure of returning to the stage this Thursday past.  Yes, dear yogis, in my spare time I am a singer-songwriter.

I began this odyssey years ago. In fact, I could say that I have always been a musician.  As  child I played the oboe, and the recorder.  I used to sit there with my tape recorder, registering a harmony to then play the melody on top.  Too bad I only had one track!  I gave up classical music, as most teens do, only to then buy a red Yamaha bass at the age of 18.  I played in a band, and enjoyed mild local success, before shyness and nerves forced me off the stage.  Life continued apace.  I began writing more and more, diaries, poetry, laments, and soon, songs.  It took me 10 years to buy a guitar  and another four before I could tune by ear and play with some fluency. At this point, I bought my lovely Taylor 414CE cutaway and began composing the songs that I still play today.

How does this relate to yoga?

Vishuddah chakra and overcoming fear.

Singing is related to the throat (vishuddha) chakra.  Mine was most definitely blocked.  I used to speak in  a whisper and was plagued by the sensation of something in my throat.  (In TCM, this is called plum-pit throat and is related to the Liver Qi).  I bought a couple of books (Finding Your Voice, Zen Guitar), took a workshop (The Healing Voice with Jill Purce), but, mostly, I just sang.  Over and over, through smiles and tears.  Overcoming my incredible fear, I took to stage in open mic nights and small gigs in and around London.  It was terrifying but I knew it did me good.  Still, the fear was being pushed down, not truly overcome.  But, I think that in yoga we have to push past our fear, be brave and have great faith, in order to grow.  So, that was one phase of my growth.

Control of the diaphragm

Another phase of my work was taking control of my diaphragm muscle.  The diaphragm is fundamental to the singer.  My yoga teacher gave me a short personalized practice in which I did krama in the exhale.  This means, the exhale was broken up into two or more parts, and then the breath retained with the lungs empty.  For the first time in my life, I could actually locate my own diaphragm.  My colleague Santi, a fantastic osteopath, adjusted my diaphragm and pericardium, loosening the tendons and leaving my breath much freer.

Control of the perineum 

By now, my voice was vibrating nicely in my chest and abdomen.   It was mellower and sweeter and easier to control.  But, still, on the high notes, something was missing.  In my ongoing reading – I am voracious, and practically only read on theme – I came across a few lines in The Anatomy of Hatha Yoga by H. David Coulter. 

  A famous conductor…once shouted…”No! No! Squeeze it in – push it up!”  He may not have known it, but he was telling them to seal off and control the anatomical perineum – the base of the pelvis -and thereby cultivate what we have been calling abdominopelvic energy.  All trained singers have learned that the purest and richest sound originates from this region.  In the language of singers, the base of the body “supports” the voice.

Wa-hey!  that’s the secret.  On the high notes, all that perineum work I’d been doing in yoga would pay in by holding my voice up in a clean, sweet note.  Hallelujah!

Believing in myself

Yoga teaches us that within each and every human being there is a tiny spark of Divinity.  We don’t need any mediators when we talk to God because God is within.  When we first learn, then internalize this, our faith in ourselves grows and grows and we begin to value ourselves for who we are instead of what we do.  Through yoga, I realized that my music, my words, my beliefs and my message are not only valid but beautiful and even Divine.  And having that behind me, I take the stage with courage and honesty, and never try to emulate the music or sound of anyone else.  This is freedom.  And now, the fear is not being suppressed. It is no longer there.  I offer it all to God with the simple mantra, Ishvara Pranidanah.

There is karmic cleansing here.  My grandfather went down to London in the 1920’s and played his clarinet in the earliest SoHo jazz clubs.  From my limited research, there was only a handful of jazz clubs in the UK at that time, so both he and my grandmother – they met on the jazz scene – were well ahead of their time.  They married, and moved up to Yorkshire where dreams of jazz music were replaced by granite houses and the family woolens mill.  A frustrated musician to the end of his days, Grandsir, as well called him, would get drunk on G&Ts and pull out the clarinet at Christmas, even as his dentures popped from his gums.  My mum sang.  In the choir, in Gilbert and Sullivan productions, in the singalong Messiah every Ottawa Christmas.  My father was the greatest music fan.  He wept and danced and collected music.  His LP collection filled the basement of a huge Saskatchewan house by the time he died.  I come by it in honestly.  Music is in my blood.  But yoga helped – and helps – me realise it in a sane and safe way.

When our karma (work) and our dharma (lifepath) unite, we find liberation (Kaivalya).  Let yoga guide you towards Self-realization.  And don’t think for a moment that Self-realization means isolation in an ashram.  For some, maybe, but not for everyone.  Sri Aurobindo’s contribution to modern yogic thought was the idea that liberation can be found here and now, in daily life, not only when the soul leaves the body.  Be happy here and now. Bless y’all.

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