For your listening pleasure: Opera singers do Yoga, too
by Ko Im
I’m not sure why I was so surprised and delighted when Rebecca Ringle Kamarei, a friend and mezzo-soprano for The Metropolitan Opera, said she does yoga to help with her profession, which demands all kinds of breath cycles. As a former community symphony violinist turned yoga teacher, I started to draw some mental notes. Of course it made sense to tune in!
Rebecca further explained to me: “Opera singing is almost like its own yoga. It’s amazing how the way you do one thing is the way you do everything. The magical pause and calm one can find in yoga is perfect for the combination of relaxation and self-possession we need to sing well.”
And, complimenting the practice of breathwork with singing is not not a new thing, just new to me. In 1959, Prima Donna Madame Amelita Galli-Curci wrote the forward to Indian meditation and yoga teacher Paramahansa Yogananda’s Whispers from Eternity. She describes the book of universal prayers which is, “enabling the truth seeker to choose daily the thought most helpful to his particular need” and encourages the reader to go slowly towards the truth of self-realization.
Deanna Breiwick, who also performed as Marnie for The Met with Rebecca, first discovered yoga as a music student in New York City. She also suffered from the classic New York City “busy body and busy mind,” and tasted the sweetness of stillness in Savasana. Since then, her daily Ashtanga practice has helped her to get to know herself, her body and her breath more fully.
“Yoga has worked wonders for my singing!” Deanna said. “I’ve tried different forms of movement and fitness through the years, but I keep coming back to yoga as an essential partner to my singing. Yoga keeps my body open, my spine healthy, my breath very present and moving and my mind calm. Warming up the singing voice is not just about addressing the chords in your throat—it’s a full body experience. Even if your chords are ready to go, unnecessary holding in the body can cause you to be blocked or fatigued as you vocalize.”
Of course, we want to be open and present, even if life or our jobs demand us to be in certain bodily structures and what seems like confined environments. With the help of yoga, Deanna believes she can channel her professional tool, the superpower breath, in a sustainable way. And I realized opera singing is physically more demanding than appears to the eye. It’s not just belting out naturally on stage, you practice towards perfect scenes, sometimes with very active presence.
So, some opera singers, like Marie Masters Webb, want to understand their inner voice, cultivate a stronger voice, and tie the two more meaningfully to her singing performance. The soprano attended Intermission Retreat last summer, specifically designed for musicians to do yoga, play together and get some free time before a busy fall season. Away and upstate, Marie not only had a good getaway, but received spiritual benefits from her growing meditation practice.
She says: “I hear so many opinions as a singer from my voice teacher, coaches, conductors, and directors — and through the lessons of the retreat, I’m learning to take in those opinions and appreciate them in a collaborative sense, while listening to myself equally and being brave enough to share my true self and my heart as an artist with others. I had an important audition last year, traveled to that audition directly from a stressful work event, and everything seemed to go wrong with my travel. I was afraid that the late night of travel, dry air of the plane, and my exhaustion might show in my voice.”
A fellow musician helped her develop a constant mantra in her meditation: “I trust my body.” Marie focused on her inner strength. She had a wonderful audition. Intermission instructor Giulia Pline, one of the violinist-yoga instructors, learns from the musicians as well. “The way they listen to themselves, their music, and the cues during the yoga classes is truly amazing,” Pline reflected. “They are so receptive and open and willing to learn and grow and explore and experience.”
Don’t be surprised if an opera singer is practicing next to you in your next yoga class, and when you see them on stage, remember all that mind-body integration that’s assisting their beautiful singing.
Photos: Ken Howard / Met Opera
Two Yoga Postures: All Musicians Should Practice Daily
Supine Spinal Twist
With the amount of time musicians spend each day playing their instruments, either on their feet, or slumped in a chair, it’s no wonder that many of us suffer from back pain. A supine (reclined) spinal twist is a delicious way to relax, loosen the lower back — which bears the weight of our hard-at-work arms, lungs, and our busy, creative brains — and bring awareness into the body from head to toe with gentleness and self-compassion. You can even do this posture in bed, either to coax yourself awake in the morning or to give yourself a little self-love before you close your eyes for the night.
While it may seem too simple to qualify as yoga, standing with proper alignment and engagement is actually one of the most fundamental postures of any yoga practice. Tadasana, or “mountain pose,” has very specific form, and incorporating elements of the posture into sitting and standing with one’s instrument works wonders for alleviating chronic aches and pains, feeling balanced both physically and mentally, and even managing nerves onstage. Practicing good basic alignment comes in handy for just about any activity, and allows for the space within you to feel uncluttered, expansive and free. You can modify this posture to a seated version (certain sets of joints will stack at 90 degrees), or to account for the addition of a musical instrument.
Elena Urioste, Intermission Retreat co-leader