July 10, 2013

Yogic Breath: Ujjayi

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Recently, a reader found my post on Ujjayi breathing (which you can find here) and sent me a message, quite concerned that  it would restrict his throat. Should he do it? Would it hurt his voice? That's what he wanted to know. 

This blog is intended to give the reader information with a historical and - at times- personal perspective. What I can't do is tell the reader what should be done with that information since I am not- strictly speaking- the reader's voice teacher. That said, I remember my own teacher encouraging me to listen to other singers, and 'try on' what I heard, the idea being to judge for myself the usefulness of a concept or idea. The implication, of course, was that I had to know what I was doing. 

Once, I experimented with holding my ribs out. The result? I was slightly hoarse. Did I repeat the experiment? Nope. "Freezing" my ribs open taught me that I should never do that. It prevented the muscles of my ribcage from doing their job, the result being air was forced between my vocal folds which resulted in said hoarseness. Was it stupid on my part? Not really. I learned something. What would have been stupid is if I had kept at it day after day, ignoring the consequences of my actions. 

Back to Ujjayi breathing and the reader's concern. It is performed while practicing Ashtanga yoga, is accompanied with a slight smile which 'rounds' the vocal tract, and is designed to concentrate energy and breath within the body. I did not find that it made me hoarse, not did it close my throat. Why? I was not singing when I practiced it! Yoga and singing aren't the same thing, even if the former informs the latter. Speaking of which: the Old Italian School taught that there should be no sound whatsoever in the throat while inhaling. None! One was taught to keep the glottis wide open. The moment before singing? The vocal folds come together, an action which, for most people, remains below conscious awareness.

Are the two teachings opposed? On the face of it one might say yes, but as always, the devil is in the details. Every tool has two edges, one of which will cut if used without skill. The reader must develop that skill,  use common sense, and judge for himself. 

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