Six Tips for Mindful Practicing
In my last post, I talked about how the slower and less urgent pace of life during this time of social distancing has enabled me to practice more mindfully.
But what does it mean to be mindful, really? And how do we singers practice mindfully?
"Mindfulness" is quite the buzzword in holistic health these days. It can have different shades of meaning depending on who you ask, but I like to define it as being aware of yourself in the present moment. How are you feeling right now - physically, mentally, emotionally? What sensations are you aware of in yourself and your surroundings? How are you responding to stimuli right now?
You do not have to be meditating, practicing yoga, or be in some other blank-minded, detached state of total relaxation to practice mindfulness. You can, and should, practice it anywhere, at any time.
Similarly, mindful singing means being fully aware of and responding to the workings of your instrument. Virtually every singer agrees that your body is your instrument, but many, I think, do not stop to consider all the implications of what this means. There are many obvious (and not-so-obvious) physical implications, of course; but remember - we humans are not just bodies. We also have minds and souls. And because our minds and bodies are inextricably linked, we should consider how the states of each will affect our singing.
That's why it's important to prepare your mind before you practice, as well as your body. Here are some things you can do to make your practicing more mindful:
1. Curate your space. Set up what you need ahead of time, and get rid of all distractions. Make sure your space is a comfortable temperature and has good lighting. I like to diffuse energizing or uplifting essential oils to help me focus.
2. Commit yourself fully to your practicing. Don't try to multi-task. Finish or set aside any projects you were working on before, and dedicate this block of time exclusively to singing.
3. Prepare yourself mentally. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish during your practice session. Write it down and keep it visible, if it helps. Avoid negative self-talk or making negative pre-judgments about your practice session. Instead, adopt an attitude of curiosity and discovery. Rather than think of all the problems you have to fix or music you have to learn, think, "I wonder what I can learn about myself and my voice today."
4. Prepare yourself physically. Stretch your muscles to circulate blood and oxygen throughout your body. Assess your breathing. Are you breathing deeply, able to use your whole torso? Or are you breathing high and in short gasps? If necessary, take a few moments to relax your breath, and release the parts of your body where you're holding tension.
5. Respond to your voice's needs for that day. We all have days where it feels like certain things just aren't working. If that's the case, start with what is working, and go from there. We should not shy away from difficulty, of course, but there is a difference between something being difficult and being truly uncomfortable or counter-productive. If a certain exercise or piece is having an adverse effect on your voice, put it aside and work on something else for a while.
6. Be flexible with your goals. Maybe you're having a less good vocal day than you'd thought, and the goal you originally set for yourself isn't gonna happen. That's fine. Don't give up - just choose a new objective and change course, if necessary.
Of course, regular lessons with a qualified voice teacher are an essential component of any singer's vocal journey. If you are looking for a teacher, and especially one who will tailor the lessons to your needs and goals, I would love to help you! You can read more about my studio here, and register for lessons here.