Meditation 101: Visualization

Visualization is a powerful way to propel us toward our goals. Envisioning a positive outcome keeps us from getting caught up in the fears and what ifs that can abound when one is making an offering from the heart. When we acknowledge our desire to make something and to succeed we help to cement our intention. You may want to have your journal nearby to write down any ideas that come up that contribute to your finished project.

If you have a performance coming up, set aside time at least 2 weeks in advance to imagine yourself going through your performance perfectly. You will learn so much, from memorization to your level of nerves to things you might need to communicate to other people on stage about the desired experience.

Try this:

Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position. If sitting on the floor is uncomfortable, you can raise your hips on a folded towel or pillow, or, you can sit in a chair with your feet planted firmly on the ground, your back supported.

Let your spine rise out of your hips. The crown of your head reaches toward the ceiling, allowing your chin to drop slightly.

Let your eyes fall closed bring your awareness to the third eye (the space between your eyebrows). Take 3 breaths to center yourself.

From the space of your third eye, bring your upcoming performance to mind.

Let the performance come to life in full color. Be specific with yourself, seeing in your mind’s eye the space you will perform in, you in your performance attire, the hall filled with adoring fans. Watch yourself walk out on stage, take your place and sing through your entire set. Observe your breath and your body  and how they change throughout the performance. Can you feel yoru rbeathing change or your body tighten in response to areas where you are less comfortable? In time you can remedy those in your practice and then re-visualize and experience a drop in your nerves. Observe how you feel to witness your completed project. Envision others receiving it positively as well.

Feel confident in the idea that because you feel called to create it, your performance is needed by the world. You are offering your gift to the world each time you create and you build a connection to others by sharing your artistry.

To end the visualization, take 3 complete breaths and open your eyes.

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Going to the Source: Using Yoga to Calm Performance Anxiety

In part one of this series we learned about the origins of performance anxiety and what the yogic perspective is on that state of mind. We now know the role the brain plays in putting us into the fight or flight stress mode and how if we stay there too long we will wire our brains to worry. In this post we’ll look at specific yogic practices and how, when in engaged in on a regular basis, they can help alleviate nerves felt around performing.

Yoga teaches us to practice awareness of our body, our breath and our mind. When we become mindful of these elements in our yoga practice, we can be mindful off the mat as well and apply them to our practice and performance. I define mindfulness as the act of maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. It also involves acceptance, meaning we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. Yoga also encourages us to connect; with ourselves, our audience and our fellow performers. If you are a spiritual person you can also work to build a connection to God or the greater Universe. Remember that we all fundamentally want the same things in life and very likely we are more alike than we are different. It can also be useful to remind yourself that people attend concerts to see you succeed, no one goes to watch you fail!

The first step in dealing with performance anxiety is becoming aware of it. Perhaps you’ve known for a while that you get nervous when you have to perform but you’ve never sat down and really looked at when those nerves hit or where you feel them in your body when they are happening. If you have a performance coming up commit to being mindful in that experience. Just observe yourself without judgement. Try saying to yourself ‘how interesting I’m _____’ (fill in the blank with whatever you notice yourself doing or feeling around that event). (N.B. This is a practice you can use anywhere – in teaching, working etc. I use it frequently when I get frustrated with my children as a way of becoming more mindful of what sets me off and how I can spend less time annoyed with them!)

This is a step that may come easily to you or it may take you a while. I believe we can not effect change until we fully understand the behavior we are engaging in. Become friends with yourself and really delve into what is going on. You may find it helpful to document the feelings in writing and keep a journal.

Assuming you master this phase and you know what is going on and what triggers you have, you can engage in breathing, meditation and physical practices to help modify your stress reaction.

Breathing: It might seem sort of strange to tell a singer they need to pay attention to their breath as it is easy to presume you already know more about the breath than the average person, but I would challenge that there is still more everyone can learn and the way yoga encourages you to look at your breathing is very different than how a voice teacher might teach breathing. Often there is an emphasis in singing lessons on inhaling, or the intake, of breath. How we exhale is equally as important!

The way to begin is to determine your breath ratio and figure out how you breathe on a regular basis. You can read a description of how to explore your breath ratio here.

Another practice for a pranayama beginner is that of the Complete Yoga Breath. You can read a description of how to do it here.

Asana Practice:
Specific poses are also beneficial for reducing anxiety. While regular asana practice will help you long term, you can also identify what your energy levels are like the day of a performance and tailor your practice. If you are low energy, you can do a practice that will raise your energy to help you. If you have a lot of nervous energy and practice that burns some of that off to help you focus will be beneficial. When you engage in your asana practice, try to use the complete yoga breath as your guide. When your breathing strays from being easily full, you are working too hard in a pose and should back off.

Poses that help alleviate anxiety by helping to calm the mind and open the heart center include:

Standing Forward Bend

Cat/Cow

Puppy Stretch

Triangle

Bridge

Head to Knee Pose

Staff Pose

Seated Forward Bend

Easy Pose

Meditation: Meditation is another useful tool for singers to alleviate anxiety. By training the mind to be present, we can be more open to our performances. To sing our truth we need to be sure that our hearts and our heads are in agreement. In the weeks leading up to a performance, you can commit time daily to visualizing your performance going well. When you do this, you set yourself up for success. Read on for suggestions of how to visualize your way to killing it on stage!

Visualization Meditation –

Nearly every performer gets nervous before going on stage. As performers we want to turn this nervous energy into positive energy that propels our performance to be even better. One way to do this is to practice visualization. In yogic thought, anxiety stems from a sense of being disconnected and having a limited vision of ourselves. If you create a ‘me vs. them’ situation with your audience, you are disconnected from them. But, if you can believe that you are all a part of the same world, want the same things and they are there to receive the gifts you offer through your singing, you build a sense of connection.

If you have a concert coming up, I recommend starting two weeks before the date of performance (if you are someone with a very high level of anxiety, add more time, perhaps start four weeks in advance). Set aside time every day to visualize going through the concert flawlessly.

Find a comfortable seated position – can be in a chair, on the floor or the couch.

Orient your mind towards your performance and take 3 breaths to center yourself.

Envision yourself backstage where you will perform – be specific about what you will wear, who is there with you etc.

Imagine yourself walking on stage to stand wherever you will begin your performance. You fill the room with your presence, knowing the audience has come to see you succeed. Through your singing, you will connect with them, sharing your artistry.

Imagine yourself taking whatever position you will take and bowing your head to prepare to perform. Pick your head up and imagine yourself singing through your program flawlessly.

This has ended up being a long post, but I hope you’ve made it this far!

Once you try some of these practices on the mat, there are some off the mat exercises you can do too.

1. Think of three times during your day that you can be mindful. When you reach those moments in your day, stop and observe your thoughts and what you are feeling.

2. When you listen to someone else perform, think first of three things you liked about their performance.
3. When you practice, focus on only one element at a time – rhythm, text, sound quality etc.
4. Try re-framing an experience you perceive as negative to cast it in a positive light.
5. Build time into your day to do nothing – turn the tv off, put away your smart phone and just sit in silence.

Good luck! If you would like to have some help talking through the elements of performance that cause you anxiety and develop a strategy for how to shift your anxiety into positive energy to propel your performance, please contact me.

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Stilling the Lake of the Mind

One of the yoga teachers who has most profoundly influenced my own yogic path is Rod Stryker. It was through his workshops that I finally found a way of meditating that worked for me (i.e. I actually did it AND got something out of it!).

In one of them he talks about ‘stilling the lake of the mind’. That image of my mind as a body of water that is often full of thoughts causing rough waves clicked for me. The many thoughts prevent me from really seeing or hearing my inner, authentic voice which is powerful, but quiet, as opposed to my fear voice which hollers at the top of its lungs and makes all the waves to begin with.

What I learned from my meditation practice is not only that difference, but also that when my mind is quiet I can see and hear my true self. My quiet, inner voice fearlessly speaks what is true in my heart and the ability to express what is in one’s heart lies at the center of creativity.

I took the above picture at a family vacation home in Maine. As I looked out over the lake early one morning, I was struck that the stillness of the morning water, before any boats have driven by or the winds have picked up, is exactly what my quiet mind is like. Just as I can see the entire tree reflected in the water, rather than the distorted version later in the day, I see myself clearly when my mind is still and quiet. A still mind allows me to open to creativity and discern what I want to express with my art.

How still is the lake of your mind? It takes practice, but over time a meditation practice is invaluable to hearing your authentic voice.

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Why Meditate?

Let’s face it, our brains are cluttered, busy, extraordinary places. At any given moment we might be thinking about what happened yesterday, where we need to be tomorrow, wondering what to eat for lunch, wishing our space was quiet, all at once AND all while “working”. I put the word working in quotes, because, really, are you working if your mind is busy with 9,000 other things at the same time?

Do you think your mind is quiet? If your work is singing, try this: the next time you practice, stop yourself and speak aloud every thought that comes into your head while you are singing. If your work is writing, you can try the same thing, but stop typing and speak aloud every thought that enters your mind that isn’t the text of what you are working on. Ditto for photography, painting, quilting…or just making dinner.

When you think of meditation, do you think of someone who can just sit down and completely empty their brain of any thoughts and dwell in peace and serenity? Well, that’s a nice thought! But, does that thought also make you think, no way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks can I do that?

If you do feel that way, you aren’t alone. While the goal of meditation is a quiet mind, there is still SO MUCH benefit that comes from meditating even if your brain is still active. Meditation can go on even while you are thinking. Whaaaa?

Yup, you don’t have to be able to stop thinking about yesterday-tomorrow-thatexwhowrongedme-thechildwhowasupinthenight-whatamIgoingtohavefordinner-andwhataboutmybutt to get something out of meditation.

You see our brains are mold-able like silly putty. We can create new neural pathways and we can learn new ways of being. Studies have shown that 20 minutes a day over 8 weeks creates growth in the hippocampus a part of the brain that is associated with self awareness and compassion. The same study showed a reduction in the amygdala, that part of the brain that makes you think a lion is constantly chasing you. I don’t think anyone in that study would report that their brain was totally quiet for all the time they were meditating.

Beyond the brain effects, there are a host of physical and mental benefits as well. This is a great graphic from a Huffpost article about what Meditation can do for you.

MEDITATION1

If you are in a creative field, meditation can fuel your practice. When your mind is quiet your intuition speaks and you tap into the flow of creativity that is innate in all of us. Meditation gives you room to believe in yourself and your talents. And, through creativity we are able to unlock our sacred path and how to travel on it.

As a practice, meditation is just like anything you want to learn. You have to do it regularly to get better. With time and practice you are able to quiet your mind faster and more completely. You may never find that blissful, silent void of enlightenment, but as I mentioned earlier, you don’t need it to find benefit!

So, hop off the fence and start meditating!

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