December 20, 2012

The Yoga of Singing




The ear of the body is reflected in the attitude of the spine. Do we think of it in this way? Usually not. We don't typically think of how we move through space, much less how the ear is involved in singing, unless we experience a problem like Ménière's diseasewhich lays one flat on the floor, the world spinning around. Otherwise, we seem to take the whole matter for granted. And this begs the question, if not a full paragraph of tangent.

Did you know that hearing loss is only detected when thirty percent of the cells in any part of the ear are toast? Yep. You heard right. You can be at a very loud concert, having the time of your life, and your hearing will be worn away little by little, but you won't know it until thirty percent is gone. That's when the loss becomes measurable. Think about that the next you go to a club and can't hear yourself talk. Oh. No matter, you say. I'm bound to lose it anyway. If you smashed your hand with a hammer over and over again, you would feel it right? So why smash your ears with loud noise and think it's not going to hurt? But you think, since you can't exactly feel it, that it doesn't matter? What a foolish thought. And I haven't even gotten to the ringing (tinnitus) that can ensue in such a situation. Want to risk that and the consequences? Not a pretty picture, believe me. But let's get back to this matter of the muscles of the ear. That's what concerns us here.

Dr. Alred A. Tomatis had a very curious theory about how the two muscles of the ear integrate with  the muscles of the body, which I have written about a few times already. One muscle is located behind the eardrum, while the other is buried in the inner ear and attached to a tiny bone called the stirrup. This muscle is called the Stapedius and is neurologically connected with the face. So, you ask. What does this have to do with singing? Well. Hear's the deal. According to Tomatis, the muscle next to the eardrum—the tensor tympanum—is neurologically connected to the muscles of the body which experience flexion. The Stapedius in the inner ear, on the other hand, is neurologically connected to the muscles of the body which experience extension. 

Think about it. What happens when a person is observed to be feeling happy, joyous and full of life? Do they look at the floor? Do they look slumped? Nope. Not on you life. In fact, they look quite vertical— noble even; head level, face open, and the eyes sparkling. Extension dominates flexion, which, if it dominates, pulls one into a fetal position.





Think about it. Go look at really fine solo singers standing in front of an average chorus. What do you see? The solo singers have much better posture, while the chorus looks like their heads are disconnected from their bodies. And so is the vocal tone. The truth is: really good singers have better than average audio-vocal control. Their spines experience greater extension. (Hyper-extension? That is something else. In that case, the singer is braced for impact, the higher frequencies being dampened in awareness, which can result in a loss of resonance and depth.)

The Yoga of Singing is about getting the two muscles of the ear to function at their optimum capacity. This training opens the envelope of the ear,  keeping it open throughout the entire range. This isn't hard to do if you have a teacher who can teach you how to listen yourself—to feel yourself—in a particular way. What is the dominant physical sensation? One of extension—a lifting that is felt throughout the body. What is the dominant auditory sensation? The /i/ - like buzz of bone conduction that results in stereophonic clarity of tone - air conduction. It is heard in the head, the facial mask, throat and upper chest, and as though surrounding the body. 

The yoga practitioner trains in the same way as the singer, playing his own asanas. With adequate and repeated practice, his body becomes supple and extends greatly, the muscles of flexion balancing the muscles of extension, resulting in ease. In fact, the muscles of extension, when fully engaged, enable the muscles of flexion to act more strongly. This is how true power and strength are achieved. The singer experiences the same thing singing his scales, extending his range and beauty of tone, and in doing so, finding his voice. Both singer and yogi work the two little muscles of the ear, the latter dealing with auditory phenomena in the surrounding space, while the former creates beauty within actual space. Both experience a high level of extension—a reaching towards heaven and a lifting of the heart. 

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