May 10, 2010

Yoga: breathing & singing

One might think that the application of yogic principles to singing is a new phenomena, right? Not so. I came across the following ad dated 1904 in the course of research at the New York Public Library. 


AHUMADA, THE HINDOO MYSTIC
9 West Twenty-eight Street.

Instruction in Physiological Psychology, which is an abstract of
the philosophy of the Vedas, embraces the art of PROPER BREATHING, CONCENTRATION, self control, and generates a highly magnetic personality, and is of SPECIAL BENEFIT TO SINGERS. Instruction in class and individually. Hours, 10 to 6.  Also Tuesday and Friday evenings. Course by correspondence. 







I found myself in a yoga class after injuring my left knee as a result of running across the front of the stage in Carmen as per the director's request. It was the stopping short in the wings that got me. Bam! Bam! Bam! Funny how these things go. There were 12 performances, and I injured myself on the last one.  Oh the pain. I couldn't walk up steps, much less move around very easily. 

A few days after I realized that the pain wasn't going to go away, I went to my doctor who diagnosed a torn cruciate ligament. He said I could have it operated on, but that I could also try doing yoga. After all, I would have scar tissue from the operation that would need to be worked out, and yoga- though it would take longer- would eventually tighten the knee back up.

My late dear colleague and close friend David McCarver happened to be certified in therapeutic yoga and sent me to his teacher. I learned to do all kinds of poses that opened and strengthened the knee and hip joints. At first, I could hardly get into most of them. But I persisted, and after three months, things got easier, and the pain started to subside. After another three months I could walk quickly down the street - even jog. One thing led to another, and I started practicing Ashtanga, a very active form of yoga which utilizes a special breath technique called Ujjayi. And this is where things got really interesting. Ujjayi breathing changed my voice, which became more resonant- which I wasn't exactly expecting. How and why did it change? To put matters simply, the practice of Ujjayi taught me a lot about breathing. The 'highly magnetic personality'? Still working on that.  


'Chi sa respirare sa cantar'


(He who knows how to breathe knows how to sing). 

Anna Maria Celoni Pellegrini (ca. 1878-1835)

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