Yoga For Vocalists

VOCAL TRAINING: POSITION EXPOSITION 

 

As a singer and a yogi, I think a lot about posture and positioning. I often consider how to support the body to be more effective and efficient through the means of awareness and alignment. And whether you’ve studied voice or not, you’ve probably been hipped to the phrase “proper singing posture”. But what exactly IS that? And how often do we have the availability to execute it in performance? With the addition of movement, instruments, and other factors/restrictions, most performance doesn’t naturally lend itself to good posture. So, how can we retain the fundamentals of it and still be free to “do our thang”? The key is to create a healthy default in practice that can follow you into performance when environment and positioning are not exactly ideal. 

 

“THE PROPER POSTURE” 

One of the biggest challenges of singing is our natural emphasis and investigation of the throat area. Because this is home base for the vocal cords, our attention naturally centers there. However, in doing this, we create an excess of unnecessary analysis and tension that restricts our voices. By bringing awareness and emphasis to other areas of the physical body, we balance out the tension to relaxation ratio. 

 

• Begin in a standing position with the feet hips’ width apart, parallel, and facing forward. Feel the grounded nature of your feet, as if they have roots attaching you to the ground beneath you. 

• Keep a slight bend in your knees and trace your attention up the length of the body. 

• Let your belly be soft, but engaged, chest open, arms hanging down at sides, shoulders down away from the ears and slightly back. 

• Allow your head to sit comfortably atop your neck with support, but without a lot of hubbub. Let your chin be parallel to the floor, eyes on the horizon. 

• Imagine an invisible puppet string coming out of the crown of your head. Envision someone gently pulling the string and easing your spine upward. Once you find that lift, immediately come back to the rooting of the feet and feel the dichotomy of being grounded and elevated simultaneously. 

• Keeping that alignment, bring one hand to the mid-to-lower abdomen. WITHOUT PUSHING OR FORCING, on an INHALE, allow the belly to expand and fill your hand (Like a buddha belly). Hold for one count. As you EXHALE (again WITHOUT FORCING!), allow the belly to release back toward your spine (Like a prep for a sit up). Hold for another count. Repeat for several rounds. This can take some time and consistency to understand, so keep practicing! 

• Try to keep the weight balanced, but if necessary lean slightly forward. 

• Begin with a simple “MMMMMMMM” out the mouth without pitch. 

• Add pitch to the MMMMM 

• Begin to slide the pitches of your MMMM up and down a comfortable scale. The whole time repeating the alignment steps. Once we incorporate vocals, things start to shift, so keep coming back to the consciousness and components of your set-up. 

 

“THE RESONANT RAG DOLL” 

One of the biggest follies for keeping posture/alignment in check during performance is the fact that many of us sing while simultaneously playing an instrument. This is a great exercise for people with a lot of neck/shoulder tension or asymmetry in their upper bodies (like myself). This is also a good one to further your breath control, as you are dealing with a more constricted abdominal configuration. Can you keep the above breathing principals intact while dealing with less accessibility? 

 

• Begin in an upright seated position using a supportive, comfortable chair (ideally with no arms) Find your “proper posture” alignment here in the seated position. 

• Open your legs to a wide “V” position with the knees over the ankles at 90 degrees 

• With a swift (yet gentle) release, allow your torso, arms, and head to fall between your open legs. In the forward bend, glide your head from left to right, then front to back. Come back to upright position slowly, stacking the vertebrae one at a time. 

• Do it once or twice more to understand the movement. Feel the release of the muscles around your neck, and shoulders. Feel the support of your abdominal muscles WITHOUT squeezing them. Imagine a rag doll collapsing. 

• On the next round, Inhale through the nose, then accompany the movement with a long sigh out the mouth, “AAAAHHHHHHH” 

• On the next round, add pitch to the sigh on any comfortable note. Hold the pitch for the full length of your breath when you are in the folded position. 

• On the final round, play with volume and pitches or even add a melody once you are in the full folded position. 

 

“THE SLEEPY SERENADE” 

Lying down while vocalizing can seem counter-intuitive, but it actually provides many benefits. When we are in a reclined position, it encourages the nervous system to calm itself, which promotes focus and helps to soothe jitters. Because we are utilizing a piece of furniture to support our head, neck, and shoulders, they too can relax and alleviate tension around the muscles of the vocal cords. 

 

• Using a reclining chair, a chair or bed (with pillows slightly propping up your head), find your “proper posture” components but apply them to lying down. Feel energy radiating outward from your feet and the crown of your head, stretching in opposite directions. 

• Place your hands on your belly and feel the rise on the inhale and release on the exhale. 

• Inhale through the nose and blow out softly through the mouth as if you’re keeping an invisible feather in the air above your face. Repeat several times. 

• Inhale through the nose, and without pitch, speak out the words “HUM YUM YUM YUM YUM…” for the full length of the exhale. Repeat several times. 

• Repeat exercise adding pitches but keeping the vocalization soft energetically. Let it be restorative and relaxing. 

 

“THE CARDIO CROON” 

Think about the last time you saw a big Broadway musical or a high octane rock show. These artist are doing a full cardio workout as they vocalize. There is dancing, running, headbanging, gesticulating, you name it. Vocalists with proper training are able to do all this extraneous movement and still uphold their alignment and execute their singing with precision and non-injury. “Cardio crooning” is a great way to build up this skill in your own practice. Try to sing, (staying mindful of your alignment) the next time you are running, jump-roping, trampolining, racing to the train, or other preferred methods of heart-racing! 

 

“THE MISDIRECTED MELODY” 

It’s true what they say, “Opposites attract.” 

 

• Try utilizing this in your vocal practice. Use downward motions, movements, and postures when singing ascending lines or high pitches. 

• Use upward movements when vocalizing descending lines or low pitches. 

• Check out my article “QUESTION YOUR DIRECTION” where I explore this concept in further detail. 

 

 

THE PLIGHT OF STAGE FRIGHT 


The cold sweat that won’t quit. 
Those flutterflies in your tummy pit. 
The dry mouth and the quivering breath. 
A heart that races towards its death. 

IT’S HORRIFYING! 

IT’S TERRORIZING!! 

IT’S STAGE FRIGHT!!!




Most everyone has experienced some degree of performance anxiety in their lifetime. The pressures of performance, whether singing, acting, dancing, athletic competition, leading a meeting/class, giving a speech, talking to strangers, or for some, even the simple act of placing phone calls can be fear-inducing experiences. Our doubts manifest in less than desirable forms. Some struggle with crippling fear that can be so powerful, it forces them stop performing altogether.  Others may experience it in milder doses, while some internalize performance stress without even consciously realizing it.

Whether extreme, moderate or lurking below the surface, this type of anxiety can wreak havoc on our bodies, minds, emotions and craft.



THE LONG HAUL

Overcoming the anxiety associated with performance takes time and persistence. Learning to become conscious of habits, tendencies and tension is the first step. Awareness is the precursor for change.

Stage anxiety invokes our sympathetic nervous system.  You may have heard about this bodily response by its more common description: “Fight or Flight”.  This process releases adrenaline into our system, giving us the tools to save ourselves from impending doom.  Your body may not actively know the difference between the peril of taking the stage to that of an impending shark attack!  It responds to the fear of performing as if your life is at stake.  This repeated pattern will not only soil your stage savvy, but the long-term effects can cause serious damage to your health.   

I have included a series of exercises below which help atone this process by summoning the parasympathetic nervous system.  This system encourages the body to “rest and digest” which will restore functionality internally. This aids recovery and helps to prevent future frenzy.  The more you practice these exercises in daily life when NOT provoked by panic, the easier it will be to access them when ol’ “Anxious Annie” rears her ugly head.  Try to devote a few minutes a day to this series.  On performance days, allow more time, as nerves will be intensified.


CONCENTRATION:

-Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed.  Keep cellphones, computers, and other distractions out of this area.  Let your spouse, partner, family member, or roommate know that you can’t be interrupted (with the exception of emergency, of course).  

-Sit in a comfortable, upright position. I tend to choose armless chairs that have backs and aren’t too squishy or a yoga mat.

-Find a gazing point either on the floor just ahead of your feet or straight ahead.  Allow your direct sight to get a bit fuzzy and let your peripheral vision become sharper.  Once you have settled yourself, allow the eyes to close.


RESPIRATION:

Begin taking long, slow inhales and exhales through the nose.  Focus on making the breath identical in both directions.  Let the inhales and exhales be the same in length and intensity.  Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest to connect with yourself and rhythm.  Become aware of your natural tendencies and patterns when it comes to breath.  Work towards evenness and symmetry.

*There are a plethora of effective breathing techniques.  Feel free to contact me at: abbyahmad@gmail.com to help find the methods that work best for you.

 

MEDITATION:

Meditation isn’t thinking about nothing.  It is the process of allowing thoughts to run their course and actively be released.  As you ride the wave of your breath, begin to notice what thoughts arise.  Surrender them on the exhales.  Repeat this pattern as new thoughts arise.  This applies to both negative and positive thoughts.  This is the time for clearing and cleansing, not consideration.  Don’t let yourself get distracted or discouraged by what comes up.  Return to the breath, and bring mindfulness and compassion to the process of letting go.
 

VISUALIZATION:

Begin to actively consider a situation that gives you unease.  In this case, it will be performance.  Using your imagination, actively create a scene in your head that involves an upcoming performance.  Become super detail-oriented when envisioning the situation.  Involve all your senses in the creation of the scenario.  Then begin to imagine the scene with its most ideal outcome.  Hear the clapping and roar of the crowd.  See the smiles on the faces of your audience members.  Feel yourself being cool, calm and collected and giving the performance of a lifetime.   Then embody this positive emotion that you create in your mind into your body through conscious breath and active positioning.  
 

AFFIRMATION:

Journaling is a great way to practice affirmation. Writing down feelings of positivity, reassurance and confidence will manifest into our performance.  You can also, practice saying them out loud, but I find journaling to be the best introduction.  Fill the pages with quotes, sayings and general encouraging thoughts.  

 

Check out my article on "Mindfulness for Vocalists" HERE! 


MAN IN THE MIRROR

I often suggest that my students practice regularly in front of a mirror. Having an external perspective to witness ourselves can be intimidating, but after the initial awkwardness subsides, there are a wealth of benefits.

Often, performance jitters stem from a fear of how we will be perceived by others. Practicing in a mirror enables a safe place to test out body positioning and gives us a tool to create awareness of where and when we hold tension.

In this age of technology, using devices to capture audio/video of  ourselves vocalizing or performing is infinitely helpful, as well.  It’s gives us a degree of objectivity concerning ourselves which is essential in navigating our patterns.  

Remember, practice makes progress. We must willingly examine both our strengths and weaknesses without judgement in order to move forward.


PRE- PERFORMANCE PREP

-Moderate your caffeine and sugar intake during the day of a performance. Steer clear of these and other stimulants just prior to taking the stage.


-Resist the urge to check your cellphone prior to a performance. Not only does looking at emails/social media send your psyche spiraling, but receiving last-minute cancellation texts from well-meaning pals can turn tranquility into a train wreck.

-Exercise is always useful on performance days.  It allows release of the body/mind and subsequently prepares us for what’s to come.  Try something not too vigorous, like walking, yoga, or light cardio.  



LIGHTS UP

Ok, you’re prepped and primped and ready to hit the stage.  Here are a few things to remember during showtime:


Don’t Avoid Eye Contact

While this can seem like a horrifying proposition, I find that making eye contact with an audience encourages union instead of division.  The point of performance is to connect with other humans.  By engaging in eye contact, we create a comfortable atmosphere for our audience which enables us to relax, as well.  

If this concept seems too intense, begin by flirting with the idea of eye contact.  Instead of keeping your eyes closed the whole performance, take a few moments to look beyond the audience.  Find a gazing point just above their heads.  This will create the air of connection without the intensity of eye to eye action.

Don’t Over Think

Don’t plan too much before hand.   If we script out too specifically what we want to happen, we’ll get easily frustrated if something or someone truncates the plan. Pre-orchestration can be also perceived as boring or trite by an audience.  

Trust your natural inclinations on stage.  Do not over-analyze. Do not over-anticipate. Leave rehearsal in the past and live within the present moment.  

Do Not Call Attention To Mistakes

Too often, I see people on stage attempt to recover from a hiccup by pointing it out or apologizing. This is a major no-no! An audience is there to be transported. 9 times out of 10 they will barely notice if you go up on lyrics or licks, but by shining a spotlight on it, you are dimming their experience AND dumbing yourself down.

If you do falter, attempt to regain your footing on the next phrase. If this fails, take a moment to fully inhale and exhale. This will assist you in regaining your composure and keeping your listeners engaged. In other words, “Chickety-check yo self before you wreck yo self!”

Keep in mind that our mistakes teach us more than perfect execution might. Take the opportunity to learn and improve. Instead of beating yourself up, panicking or throwing in the towel, test your recovery skills. You’ll be surprised how much they assist in everyday life, as well.

Part With the Prospect of Perfection

Audiences attend live performances to be part of an experience in real time.  Flaws are unavoidable and ultimately exciting and stimulating.  Go with the flow and expect with certainty that things may go awry.  If we accept mistakes as an inevitability, we won’t spend so much time fearing their potential arrival.  

Presence, Persistence, and Poise = Power. 


For more info about private vocal, yoga, or meditation sessions, contact me at: abbyahmad@gmail.com

AHIMSA: AN EXERCISE IN NON-VIOLENCE 

 

In the current state of the world, it is hard not to consider the reality of violence on a daily basis. We are infiltrated with experiences, stories, news, and images of war, terrorism, gun violence, and cruelty. While the magnitude of these greater issues has become something we are accustomed to discussing with frequency, less often is there conversation or even consideration of the smaller everyday violences that we inflict upon ourselves and others. 

AHIMSA is a Sanskrit word meaning non-violence. In many sects of Eastern philosophy, Ahimsa is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. This is true of our actions, words, and thoughts. Anger, aggression, criticism, judgement, gossip, and disrespect link back to pain in our own body and spirit with as much injury as it inflicts upon those to who it was directed. Additionally, pain done unto us by others can calcify in our systems, which can perpetuate the cycle of these mini-violences. 

As artists, harsh criticism of both ourselves and others can be extremely constricting to our emotional and technical growth. For vocalists, this pain shows up more obviously and can cause major issues with expression. These judgements can be ancient or brand new. Learning to recognize their presence and create a practice that neutralizes and releases them will allow you to reach new levels of connectivity and freedom which are truly the heart of any successful creative endeavor. 

 

Do you experience jealousy and/or resentment of others in your field (or, in general)? 

Are you quick to judge, comment, or critique yourself/others? 

Do you find yourself easily frustrated in the progress of your creativity or career? 

Do you often compare yourself and path to others? 

 

Remember, we are human beings, which means we are innately fallible. Our judgement and bias is bound to be activated from time to time. However, employing a non-violence practice sets a foundation for catching ourselves in moments of cruelty or harshness, and to remind us that we do indeed have the ability to soften. We can also learn to transform our anger from its stagnant toxic state into a creative tool. The exploration of these emotions serves to be both therapeutic and creatively viable. 

 

GUIDED MEDITATION

I have included a guided meditation centered around the 3rd Chakra - The Manipura (Navel/Solar Plexus) Chakra. This chakra holds the residue of pain and tension that we have caused unto others. Clearance of this chakra can promote awareness and release of guilt, shame, and unworthiness. 

AUDIO: AHIMSA GUIDED MEDITATION for 3rd Chakra

 

CHANTS FOR NON-VIOLENCE

ANAHATA CHAKRA (Heart) 

Bring your attention to the 4th Chakra - The Anhata (Heart) Chakra. The heart chakra is a powerful center. A wellspring of love, compassion, and vitality. However, it is also a very vulnerable place and susceptible to injury from pain that we have experienced as the result of others' inconsideration or cruelty. Activating clearance in this area will allow you the freedom of forgiveness and the power of both passion and compassion. 

Each chakra is assigned a one-syllable mantra that allows you to activate your energy with the powerful resonance of that particular part. The sound YAM (yaaaaaahm) is associated with the heart chakra. 

Place your hands at the center of your chest, either in prayer position or pledge of allegiance style (one or both palms flat against chest at heart point). Inhale slowly through the nose and exhale slowly through the nose. The next round, inhale slowly through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Repeat. 

Now, inhale through the nose and vocalize the sound YAM for the duration of your exhale. Repeat for several rounds.

AUDIO EXAMPLE 1 - "YAM"

 

VISHUDDHA CHAKRA (Throat) 

The 5th Chakra - or Vishuddha (Throat) Chakra is responsible for our expression and communication. Check out my detailed article about balancing this Chakra. Purifying this place is essential for vocalists, as it is the hub of how we receive and express information and emotions.

Place the hands as if you were cradling your chin (80s portrait pose!) then slip the hands downs they cover the width of the throat. Inhale slowly through the nose and exhale as if you are fogging up a mirror. Repeat twice. 

Next, inhale through the nose and vocalize the sound HAM (haaaaahm) associated with the throat chakra. Repeat for several rounds. 

AUDIO EXAMPLE 2 - "HAM" 

 

LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu is a Sanskrit mantra which means: 

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

Repetition of this chant evokes both inner and outer peace, solidifies gratitude, presence, and compassion all in one. You can chant three times through, as in the example. Or, set a timer for 1-2 minutes and chant for the duration. Sit in silence following the chant and saturate yourself with presence and oneness. 

AUDIO EXAMPLE 3 - "LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU"

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT LESSONS WITH ABBY, visit: 

http://www.abbyahmad.com/vocal-coaching

 

 

REHEATING YOUR VOCAL WARM-UP ROUTINE 

 

So, you’ve established a warm-up regimen that has served you well over the years. Maybe it’s the one you learned from your beloved vocal teacher or coach. Perhaps it’s an amalgamation of acquired exercises, theatre games, and tongue twisters. Maybe you’re a beginner looking for suggestions and tricks, or a veteran vocalist who never solidified a real preparatory routine. Allow me to add a little fuel to you’re fire and offer some tips that can refresh a stale routine or inspire a brand new one! 

The purpose of warm-ups is not solely to provide lubrication for your vocal cords prior to practice or performance. More importantly, they provide an opportunity to connect to your physical, mental, and emotional selves which operate the mechanics that allow your voice express itself safely and authentically. Warm-ups are also a great assistant in creating more awareness, stamina, flexibility, and control in both speaking and singing. Sound yummy? Let’s get cookin’. 

 

MIND GAMES 

Begin with a meditative element. The foundation of any effective practice is a focused mind. Whether your meditation involves stillness/silence, writing, walking, gratitude work, or conscious breath, choose a method that helps you to establish presence. Vary your meditation practice to best suit your availability and environmental parameters. If you have the privacy and time, make a ritual of it. Light candles, lay out blankets, or sit on a meditation cushion. If you are limited with time and/or out and about (on tour, at a venue before a gig, etc.) do a shorter and more specific meditation, mantra, or affirmation.  

 

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE 

Building on the natural breath attention yielded through meditation, begin to explore your breath in varied forms:  

• In through the nose, out through the mouth 

• In through mouth, out through nose 

• In through nose, out through mouth like you’re blowing out a candle 

• In through nose, out through mouth like you’re fogging up a mirror 

• In through nose, hissing out through the teeth 

• In through nose, hissing out in short successive spurts 

• In through the nose, fluttering out the lips 

• Kapalabhati - panting w/aggressive exhale, passive inhale 

• Experiment and create your own interesting breath patterns!  

 

LET’S GET PHYSICAL 

Physical components are an essential addition to any warm-up routine.  

• Engage in self-massage, encompassing the muscles of the face, jaw, neck (gently), chest, and shoulders.  

• Make circles with the wrists and ankles 

• Engage in a short spurt of cardio - jumping jacks, walking/jogging in place 

• If you have the time/physical ability, do your workout routine (yoga, walking/light jogging, swimming, etc.) BEFORE your vocal warm ups. Choose activities which decrease tension and increase awareness of your physicality and breath support. Avoid exercise that may exacerbate tension (sprinting, extreme weight lifting…) 

• Also, try being physical DURING your warm-ups! Let your knees bend and arms swing during scale work. Or throw an invisible ball against the wall or floor when attempting to hit challenging notes.  

 

I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR 

Utilize a mirror, video yourself, or ask a friend to watch/film you during warm-ups. It’s hard to have objectivity without actually seeing ourselves. Be aware of excess tension in face, shoulders, limbs, neck, and throat. When you spot tension, repeat an exercise or line and adjust the placement until the tightness wanes. Use an analog/digital notebook to document exercises where tension arises and document your progress releasing it.

 

GO, SHORTY…  

Create a condensed version of your warm-up routine. On days when you don’t have a lot of time, do your shortened version to help prep you before a gig or rehearsal. On leisurely days, do the condensed routine IN ADDITION to your full regimen. Notice how it feels at different times of the day. Try incorporating your warm-ups into spare moments you have. Flutter your lips as you wait for the train, massage your facial muscles while watching TV. Allow the fundamentals to soak into your everyday life so you are fueling them with consistency.   

 

STRONG ENOUGH 

The voice is unlike any other instrument as it is deeply influenced by everything that effects us as human beings. Environment, emotions, lack of sleep, sickness, allergies, and so forth influence the quality, range, and stamina of our voices. Learning to vary your warm-up routine based on the condition of your voice on a given day is key.  

• On “good voice” days, attempt to do more challenging exercises a bit earlier in the routine. Start with subtle exercises, then build quickly into more ambitious ones.  

• On neutral or “bad voice” days, pamper vocals by going incrementally from extremely basic to slightly more challenging exercises. If you’re really struggling, do your warm-ups over longer period of time. Take breaks and utilize a personal steam inhaler/drink warm water in between.  

 

HOUND DOG 

Don’t hound problem areas to death. When something isn’t working or provoking tension/tightness, TAKE A BREAK.  Often, it is our frustration that is the initial culprit for a note feeling forced or misaligned. Added frustration will exacerbate tension and could provoke injury. Take a breather from that particular exercise/note/melody and return to singing something that is more easeful. Think of it as the sorbet between courses. After a taste of something light and refreshing, you’ll be able to chew on something richer and make it more digestible.  

 

OPPOSITES ATTRACT 

On a “good voice” day, after you’ve sufficiently warmed up, try mixing up your practice by singing songs or chunks of songs in styles they weren’t meant for. Sing a lullaby in your best Ethel Merman or Aretha Franklin impression. Try singing a belt tune like it’s a sensitive ballad. Give rock songs a country twang, or put some soul into a classical piece. Doing so allows the brain to release expectations. Sometimes, when we insist that our voices sound a certain way it encourages tension in the muscles surrounding the shoulders, throat, and vocal cords. Being playful and experimental initiates liberation in the mind, body, and emotions. This leads to those coveted vocal “ah-ha!” moments.  

 

WARM UPS: UNPLUGGED 

Do not multi-task during your routine. I have my exercises recorded on my phone and it is incredibly tempting to catch up on emails or surf social media while warming-up. Place your device away from you so you can be fully immersed in the task at hand. Keep devices out of the periphery and on silent so you’re not lured by the notification light or “ding!”.  Utilize self-control and give your self the gift of focused study. Untether yourself and reap the benefits!  

 


Utilizing any or all of these suggestions will help to counter monotony. Keep things interesting for yourself. A sense of nuance encourages consistency of practice. Be regimented, but don’t take it too seriously and you’ll see things will really start to heat up! 

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT LESSONS WITH ABBY, visit: 

http://www.abbyahmad.com/vocal-coaching

HABITUAL RITUAL: 6 Simple Habits to Improve Your Voice in 2018 

 

 

Our voices are unique to any other instrument, in that we carry them with us all day, every day. It is as much affected by study and practice as it is by the spectrum of the human experience. Emotions, environment, health, sleep (or lack thereof), focus, and so forth, all factor into the condition of our voices on a daily basis. Progression within the voice is not always linear. There are peaks and valleys which mirror the overall condition of our bodies, mentality, and spirit.  

We often think that in order to achieve improvement we need to devote grand amounts of time to the endeavor. But when it comes to self-practice and positive habit formation, it’s more about consistency rather than quantity of time.  

One of the biggest concerns from all my students, beginner to advanced is,  “How do I fit healthy vocal habits into my hectic schedule? 

If you can devote the amount of time it takes to brush your teeth to engage in self-practice daily, you will see your awareness, focus, and skill dramatically improve.  At the start of a new year, we typically set lofty goals for ourselves and abandon ship at the sign of the first slip. I encourage you to let the outlook be more causal: 

Try ONE of the below exercises at a time. Then try a few in combination. Try building up to doing all in a daily practice. Then take a break and come back.  Don’t judge yourself if you fall off course. Just pick up and begin and begin and begin again… 

 

AWAKE AND SPEAK! 

Most of us go from the silence of sleep right into full talking (or screaming) mode. It is important to transition the voice out of its quiet mindfully.  

 • BEFORE leaving bed, looking at your devices, or engaging with another person, take a few moments upon waking to silently express awareness and gratitude.  

 • As you proceed in your typical morning routine, incorporate light humming, hissing, buzzing, or lip trills to being the process of sound-making.  

 • Do a series of light sighs moving throughout the vowels: A E I O U  

  “Aaaaaayyy… Eeeeeeeee….Iiiiiiiiiiii…Oooooooooh….Uuuuuuuuuu…” 

 • Increase the volume slightly, add an “H” to the sighs:

  “Haaaaaayy….Heeeeeee….Hiiiiiiiiii…Hoooooooo…..Huuuuuu…” 

 • Try quietly reading aloud a small portion of a book, poem, article, or affirmation you are currently interested in. Repeat it again at a slightly louder volume. 

 • When engaging with your roommate, partner, or children in the morning, have consciousness regarding your volume, stress, sensations, and emotions. See if you can be more mindful of your voice in different spoken situations.  

 

BREATHE, CHILD 

PRANAYAMA (Conscious Breath Practice)  

There are so many wonderful exercises to engage/enhance your conscious breath practice. YOGA JOURNAL has a great resource HERE

But for the start of a new year, it’s nice to have a meat ’n taters, no-frills, go-to method that you can practice whenever/wherever. Here’s one to try:  

 

INHALE on a 5 count 

HOLD BREATH for 1 count 

EXHALE on a 5 count 

 

Repeat and increase the length of the HELD breath +1 each round until you reach five  

Then repeat and decrease the HELD breath from 5 until you reach 1 again  

(There will be 10 rounds of breath total) 

 

LISTEN UP 

 • Begin to compile awareness and dissect the sound of human voices around you, both spoken and sung. Pay attention to volume, accent, pitch, tonality, and what part of their voice is being utilized (chest voice, head voice, mix). 

 • Listen to the voices of loved ones, friends, colleagues, and strangers.  

 • Listen and observe other artists practicing or performing their craft:  speaking voices, voiceover, animation/character, singers etc. Do so with objectivity, not with preference to only pleasing sounds and voices.  

 • Play with exploration and mimicry in your own voice. Without strain, play with sound-making as more recreational that practical. Have fun with mirroring sounds and voices. It may seem paradoxical, but when done experimentally (not in performance), this exercise can actually help one’s true vocal identity to emerge or solidify.  

 

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF 

Learning to sing quietly helps prevent the push of over vocalization and teaches you about specificity and placement. Make sure to be aware of breath control, relaxation in the throat and neck, otherwise it becomes difficult to make the tones sound.  

 • Sing softly to yourself in public or private places where you don’t want to be actively heard by others. Study the control-relaxation ratio it takes to sustain tone, pitch, and emotional connection while singing at your lowest volume (stay ABOVE a whisper!)  

 

SING OUT, LOUISE!  

• WITHOUT STRAIN, TENSION, OR PUSHING, increase your singing volume in places where you are comfortable and have privacy: home alone, in the shower, on a lone hike, in the car… 

 • Try letting your physical body mirror the freedom of your volume. Use bigger gestures, swing the arms, let the direction of your body navigate the sound of your voice (Let’s NOT try this one in the car, mmkay?)  

 • Now, try letting your physical body do the opposite of what the voice is doing.  When you are hitting high notes, bend knees, point downward. When you are hitting low notes, feel light airy, point upward. 

 • Observe and document what worked and what was challenging.   

 

GOODNITE, SWEETHEART, GOODNITE 

Preparation for and quality of sleep is of utmost importance to a vocalist. Make the bedroom a sanctuary. Try not to do anything work related or stress-inducing in the bedroom. Create an environment that is restorative and healing so you can prepare your self and soul upon waking the next day.  

 • Buy a cool-air humidifier or oil-diffuser 

The humidifier keeps your throat and cords hydrated and essential oils are amazing for relaxation and respiratory health.   

 • If noise is an issue, try a sound machine or app: 

This app was a saving grace for me while dealing with everlasting construction outside my apartment building:  

SIMPLY NOISE:  (I use the “brown noise” setting for sleep.) 

   

GRATITUDE:

End the day the same way you begin it, with active gratitude for all things you hold dear.  

 

MEDITATION:

Again, many options here, but a great everyday meditation is to do a full scan of the breath (noticing rhythms, patterns, emphasis), the physical body (addressing tension, then actively releasing it), mentality (letting thoughts arise, then actively releasing them), and spirituality (letting emotions emerge, then letting them settle).  

There are also several wonderful meditation websites/apps, if you’d prefer something assisted. 

 

For more information on lessons, meditation, voice, or yoga, contact me at abbyahmad@gmail.com

 

REHEARSAL ANXIETY REVERSAL 

 

This one comes by special request. Many of my singer/musician peers have voiced distress regarding the rehearsal process. The communing of creative people for the sake of art-making is a matter of chemistry. Differing personalities, experiences, musical schools of thought, and work styles can converge into the perfect match OR the match that triggers an explosion. I offer the below suggestions (through personal trial and much error) to help buffer the suffer of rehearsal woes.  

 

TAKE CARE AND PREPARE 

 

MORNING GLORY 

Regardless of the time of day you’ve booked your rehearsal, start your morning off right. It may be the only opportunity you have to settle your brain and body. Before you get out of bed and before you bury yourself in devices, emails, social media, etc., engage in a brief meditation.  Start with gratitude, beginning with easy stuff. “I am grateful for my bed, my pillow, my breakfast…” Move on to more rooted matters. “I am thankful for my relationships, my talent, my opportunities to practice my craft.” Then, stay in that state and breathe in meditation for 5 minutes, noticing thoughts and sensations as they arise.  

 

WARM IT UP 

Engage in light vocal warm ups. Begin with speaking-based and sound-making exercises, rather than diving right into scale work. Especially if you’re warming up in the morning, it is important to let the voice acclimate from all your silence during sleep. And remember that most rehearsals typically last 2-3 hours, THAT’S A WHOLE LOTTA SINGING! Allow the warm ups to be the appetizer and the rehearsal itself be the entree.  

 

PACK IT UP 

Make lists in advance of everything you need for rehearsal. Assemble all your musical gear: sheet music, lyrics, iPad, paper, writing utensils, strings, capos, picks, etc. Make a Snack Attack Pack containing a refillable water bottle, non-caffeinated tea, fruit, and protein bar (low sugar to prevent crash). Be aware of any food allergies or food preferences of your band mates/colleagues. You don’t want to bring something into a contained room that makes someone sick or uncomfortable. If you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you up the water intake to keep yourself hydrated and stave off the edginess.  

 

CULT OF PUNCTUALITY  

This one has been and continues to be my Achilles’ heel. You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you’re on time, you’re late.” There is deep truth in this. Delays, hiccups, and travel snafus are a given (especially for us New Yorkers). However, if you prepare with enough time, or dare I say it, IN ADVANCE, you can prevent the awkwardness and stress of a late arrival. There is nothing more taxing on the voice than active stress. For the sake of your sanity and your serenade, allow enough time to arrive a bit early.  

 

 

IT’S MY PARTY (REHEARSING YOUR MUSIC WITH OTHERS) 

 

KNOW THY SELF 

Know your songs inside and out! Whether rehearsing original or cover songs, new or revived relics, you must familiarize yourself with them BEFORE rehearsal. Stumbling through song structures at your own rehearsal is a major time suck and energy deflater. Alleviate tension by arriving prepared.  

 

TIME IS ON MY SIDE 

Budgeting time is extremely important in rehearsal settings. You cannot expect to get 20 songs fully arranged and rehearsed in a two-hour window of time. Set realistic goals based on your finances, gig length, and musician availability. Getting music to bandmates in advance is ALWAYS useful. Try to deliver the files altogether, instead of linking to 10 separate youtube vids. Organization yields efficiency.  

 

BALANCING ACT 

When it comes to arrangements and parts, find balance between being overly causal and extremely rigid. Getting too specific with parts/ideas before playing may prevent something organic and exciting from happening. Have musical ideas established, but be flexible and trust the nature and instincts of the musicians you’ve hired. Musical collaboration is indeed symbiosis. Over-specification kills morale and energy. Under-specification causes delays and frustration. Be open to suggestions and deviations, but stay true to yourself when it’s an idea you firmly believe in.  

 

 

WELCOME TO THE PARTY (REHEARSING OTHER PEOPLE’S MUSIC) 

 

TEST THE WATER 

You may have a great suggestion or amendment for an arrangement to offer. Express your opinion once as a barometer for the environment. You will quickly be able to assess the mindset of the artist you’re working with. They will either be open to the suggestion or make it clear that they’re not interested in collaboration. Whichever the case, act respectfully. Not everyone’s process is the same. And there are great benefits in learning to accommodate your professionalism in a variety of situations.  

 

EBB & FLOW 

Be aware of your listening to speaking ratio in a rehearsal. Take time to process what a bandleader is expressing and then take a breath before responding. Reactivity can spark misunderstanding. Use your ears and words thoughtfully.  

 

 

PARTY RULES!

 

ME, MYSELF, AND I  

  • No outward self-deprecation
  • Don't point out your own mistakes
  • Don’t spiral into self-criticism. Allow compassion to be a shock absorber to your artistic challenges. 

 

MIND YOUR MANNERS  

  • Curb excess riffing or noodling between songs or when others are figuring out parts
  • No extraneous cell phone usage 
  • Prevent overt displays of frustration - BREATHE! 

 

PERFECT IS POINTLESS 

Strive for progression, not perfection. Even if you have a flawless rehearsal it does not necessarily mean it will translate to performance. Manage your expectations by aiming for collaboration, exploration, and discovery. It’s much more fun that way! 

 

 

FALLING ON DEAF EARS 

Not being able to hear yourself/others is a common complaint in rehearsal environments. Pack a pair of foam earplugs and use both (or alternate one ear at a time) in the event that the monitor situation is bad. This will prevent overuse and strain of the voice as you can more clearly hear your internally resonating vocals this way.  

A lack of privacy can also cause stress. Try to book rehearsals in a space where you feel free to create without constraint, complaint, or judgement from outsiders.  

Find balance between over-singing and under-singing. Your collaborators want to hear the songs as they were meant to be performed: with emotion and purpose. Don’t mumble through or change vocal melodies. However, be wary not to over-emote and push the vocals. Find the middle ground where there is evocation without aggravation.  

 

 

GIMME A BREAK 

Breaks are crucial in a rehearsal setting. Our brains get overloaded with the spewing of non-stop information. Taking short respites allow the songs and parts to sink in and personal relationships to blossom. This is a win-win. The bond becomes tauter and and the band becomes tighter. Just make sure to regulate the length of break time clearly so there isn’t too much lingering and loitering. I’ve lost minutes into hours of precious rehearsal time while joyously chatting it up.  

 

 

THE RE-HASH CRASH 

I find that the time anxiety strikes most unforgivingly is in the AFTERMATH of a rehearsal. The brain floods with instant replays, dissecting every discussion, suggestion, criticism, debate, and moment of awkwardness. Remember, art-making is a communal and intimate experience. In the effort behind the creation of music, there will be moments of strangeness, vulnerability, and balance of ego. As long as respect and boundaries remain intact, artistic discomfort can often yield musical breakthrough. Allow yourself to be challenged and to challenge. But do it with courtesy.   

 

PREVENTING THE POST-JAM SLUMP

  • Start a rehearsal log/journal documenting (and dating) a list of things that were successful and a separate list of things that need improvement. Do this first with general comments/observations and then again on a song-by-song basis. 

 

  • Try compassion affirmations. Starting with the self and then spreading to your bandmates/colleagues. 

 

“I have compassion for myself, my uniqueness, tendencies, judgements, and communication.” 

“I have compassion for ___ , his/her uniqueness, tendencies, judgements, and communication.” 

 

  • Do a short, seated, mediation. Allow the thoughts and sensations around your discomfort to arise. Notice where the tension shows up in your physical body. Allow your breath to fill those spaces and then release away from them. Silently speak the words, “I am” on the inhale and “letting go” on the exhale.

SONIC SELFIE: DOCUMENTING THE VOICE 

 

For those of us old enough to remember the age of the answering machine, we also remember the awkward horror of hearing our own recorded speaking voice on the outgoing message. It was a cringeworthy sonic mirror revealing the “true” nature of our “annoying” “raspy” “high-pitched” “mumbled” or “nasal” voices. “DO I REALLY SOUND LIKE THAT?!!” 

Our recorded voice sounds distinctly different than our own voice that we hear when we speak or sing. This is due to the fact that we hear our own voices two different ways simultaneously. The first is the same way we hear other people’s voices: vibrating sound waves hitting the eardrum. The second, is the vibration resonating inside our own skull that is triggered by our vocal chords which adds additional vibrations that hit the eardrum. This often adds a false sense of bass, which is why on a recording, our voices sound higher-pitched.  

Once we can traverse the initial discomfort of hearing back our recorded voices, we realize that documentation is an important component in our progression as vocalists. While we look to vocal teachers/coaches, producers, directors, songwriting partners, etc. to give us input and helpful critique regarding our voices, our own self-assessment is vital. It is important to have that proverbial mirror we can hold up to ourselves to discover and play with both the negative and positive attributes of our voice. How can we curb a bad habit without even realizing that it exists? It is hard to have objectivity with our own voice while we’re using it. We call upon technique, focus, and emotion in performance and practice. There is not space or time for analysis. Analysis is actually kryptonite to a connected performance! However, listening back to a performance or practice session after its completion can be a truly ear-opening experience.  

 

VOICE MEMOS 

While most modern phones now come equipped with a Voice Memo app, it is helpful to dig a little deeper and see if there is one better suited for your needs. I’ve found that I have so many different vocal projects I’m documenting (songs, vocal exercises, theatre pieces, songwriting co-writes, commercial songwriting, etc.) it helps to have an app that has individual folders to keep things organized and the ability to make comments or bookmark sections on the recording. I recommend the RecApp for the iPhone. Or if you want to use your phone’s default recorder, just make sure that you backup often on a computer and sort/organize there for easy reference. Have a journal or digital method to take notes upon listening back to the recordings.  

 

PRACTICE MAKES PROGRESS 

Documenting practice sessions, rehearsals, and lessons is extremely useful. Solo practice sessions give us introspection as to how our voices sound without anyone around to influence or induce nerves. Sound amazing in the shower? Record it! (Just keep your device out of water/steam range.) Or set up your phone at a slight distance when you’re noodling around with a new riff or song idea, accompanied or acapella. Listening back will not only give you insight in terms of vocals and expression, but it may help you steer the creative concept of your song.  

Band rehearsals are important to document because it provides perspective into how our voices handle non-ideal set-ups (which in my experience, most rehearsals include). How do you sound when you are struggling to hear yourself or other instruments? Or when performing a new song?  A harmony vocal? Does your comfort level (or lack there of) exacerbate certain habits/defaults in the voice? 

If you are currently taking vocal lessons, ask your teacher/coach if they would be comfortable with you recording the lesson or portion of it. This creates an archive of tools and suggestions from your teacher that you can access without relying on memory.   

 

ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE 

At a gig, recital, meeting, or conference, set up a device to record your performance. Make sure you suss out the room and find the best placement for well-balanced sound. Notice how adrenaline affects your voice. Does it make you thrive or swan dive? Notice what happens when a mistake occurs. Do you call attention to it or keep going? Does your control/confidence peak at the beginning, middle, or end of the performance? Does it vary? Write down both positive and negative aspects upon listening and reflecting. Ask yourself what attributes move you in successful performances by others. Notate them and make goals to work on them solo or with your teacher.  

 

CAN WE TALK?  

The next time you’re out with a friend, ask permission to record a conversation with them. Then start doing the same with other friends and family members until you’ve assembled a collection of conversations with different subjects and environments. Notice the timbre of your voice, your pacing, your pitches/range, the dynamics in contrasting conversations. All these differing attributes will give you knowledge of how you adopt your vocality in diverse situations. And it will also showcase that certain pitches or ranges are accessible in your spoken voice, though not in your sung voice…YET! 

Additionally, it is a great exercise to document the spoken voice performing text. Pick a favorite poem, speech, monologue, or article and record yourself. Notice how this performative context compares and contrasts to your every day speaking voice. It is more pronounced in diction or volume? Slower or quicker paced? 

 

VIDEO KILLED THE RADIO STAR 

Once you have gotten comfortable with audio documentation, up the ante by adding an element of video. Using either your phone, computer, or camera, film yourself in practice, performance, or play. This will take your self-assessment/analysis to the next level by becoming aware of physical attributes that may be contributing to limitation in the vocals. When the body is tense the voice is likely to follow. How does your physicality shift from practice to performance? Make notes and date them so you can follow your progression.  

 

PERFECT SCHMERFECT 

I had a student ask me recently in a lesson how long it took me to like the sound of my own voice. My answer (after 25 years as a vocalist) was,  “FINGERS CROSSED… ANY DAY NOW.”  We may never get the point of loving the sound of our recorded (or live) voice. However, we familiarize ourself with it to the point of gaining more objectivity. Learning to love ASPECTS while continuing the journey of stability and improvement. Also, remember that perfectionism is not a useful attribute when it comes to the voice. We are humans and part of what makes a voice compelling is when it is a truthful extension of that human being. Be honest and your voice will be affecting even if it’s not technically flawless. Tell the story and let the story be received and translated. I’ve made the mistake in the past of soiling an audience member’s positive experience by countering their compliment with a self-deprecation. Don’t let your desire for perfection hinder the importance of your progression. 

THE COURTSHIP OF CREATIVE IDEAS 

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Some “Dear Abby”-esque relationship guidance for all your creative suitors…

 

SEDUCING AN IDEA

Dressing the Part - You wouldn’t show up for a date in your pajamas, right? Working on creative projects deserves the same degree of gussying up. Shower, brush your teeth, get dressed. Then, set the scene. Create mood lighting with candles or open the shades for natural sunlight. Light incense or burn oils to get your senses stimulated. Let your work space be clean and clear, not cluttered with the contents of your distractive everyday life. Or, why not take yourself out on a date and do your work at a park, coffeeshop, or bar? Romance your realization! 

Foreplay - Begin to stimulate your idea with journaling and free-associative writing. Create a slam page. Highlight general thoughts on a subject with bullet points. Jot down every phrase or half-phrase that comes to mind. Make an adjective list that you can associate with your subject. Prime yourself for creativity by getting the juices stirring. And DON’T EDIT YOURSELF! Censorship, at this stage, is detrimental. Stockpile all your thoughts and sort them later. 

Press the Buttons - Record everything! Documenting the process is essential. Whatever your form, document ideas using multiple mediums. Utilize hand-written text, computer or typewriter, video, audio, photography, etc. (However, turn off email notifications and shut down social media on all devices to prevent being sucked into a vortex of distractions.) Research references that emphasize your themes. Make look-books, collages, and archives using images and quotes from your work or others’.

 


 

BURNING HOT / BURNING OUT

Steamy Start- So things are moving fast. You’ve got yourself firmly nestled around the hips of a great idea. The inspiration is flowing. Ride it wild. Do a ton of research. Immerse yourself in the process. Review your work as part of your morning routine and before you fall asleep. Let it seep into your subconscious and waking life. 

The Advice Column- To keep momentum moving, it is wise to extend the conversation. Engage in discussion with friends about their creative techniques and tricks. Get opinions and suggestions about other people’s work methods. Reach out to teachers, mentors, trusted peers. Everyone has a unique tool in their kit regarding the creative process. By sharing experiences, you may discover the impetus to your continued success and inspiration. Chat it up.  

Getting Rubbed The Wrong Way - There reaches a point in any new relationship where fantasy yields to reality. We will ultimately encounter struggle, misunderstanding, and road blocks along our path to guiding an idea into fruition. You may find that you have the endurance and passion to move through these hardships. You also may feel that a temporary break is needed for clarity. In some cases, the temporary break may showcase that permanent break is in order. Some ideas are just not ready for commitment. But ALL ideas, whether realized, stunted, or abandoned will influence new ideas to come. 

 


 

IN IT FOR THE LONG HAUL

Finding The One - So, you’ve found it. That creative love that continues to excite and expand. There may have been hiatuses from active involvement, but your desire never ceased. You may have broken up and gotten back together. Or maybe your relationship persisted without truncation. Remember that long-term love succeeds by consistent demolition and reconstruction. You may have to completely decimate an initial concept, impulse, line, or foundation in order to give way to an idea that creates long-lasting support to your vision. Try not to grasp too tightly to stability or expectation. Recognize that change is an essential component to longevity in art. You are constantly shifting and evolving. Allow your ideas to do the same. 

Keeping the Spark Alive - All successful long-term relationships need attention, respect, and spontaneity to keep the fire burning. Try to spice up your patterns. If you have a specific time/place that you tend to work, change the schedule. Or try an exercise where you flip the perspective. For example, if you are working on songs for an album, write something musical that is completely contrary to your theme. If you play bluegrass, write in the style of hip-hop. Shaking things up creatively is essential to staying fresh with perspective. Then when you return to the task at hand, there won’t be so much pressure attached.

 


 

POLYAMORY 

Wandering Eye - When your interests and creative inclinations cross mediums, it can seem difficult to get individualized goals achieved. Logical thought would suggest that we should focus on singular subjects and tasks in order reach our objectives. However, “crossing the streams” creatively is a wonderful way to stay stimulated across the board. Think of it as useful ADD. The moment your creative attention to a project wanes, hop over to a different interest. If you have reached capacity for the day learning lines for a play, take a break and doodle a drawing. Whatever your mixed mediums are, try devoting smaller chunks of time to ALL of them in a given work session. This way, your blossoms of thought receive equal watering, which yields a larger crop! 

Branching Out - Extend yourself into other creative disciplines that you are NOT actively interested in! Take up photography, poetry, pottery. You can gain insight in the most unexpected places. Keep stirring the pot and the flavors will broaden and explode. 

Keep Your Dates Straight - Buy separate journals and notebooks for all your individual creative subjects and ideas. Organize them in a way that feels helpful and fun. Give them the individualized attention they deserve. You can’t adore them equally if one is at the forefront and the others lie dormant. If you prefer digital to analog, use bright colors and photos to spice up your work files on the computer. 

 


 

THE CASUALTIES OF LOVE

In art, as in relationships, not everything survives. There will always be casualties of love. Whenever we put ourselves out there to romance an idea, whether it succeeds or fails, there is something to be learned. We can’t know what we want, how to evolve our ideas, or how to express ourselves without experiencing failure. Allow your defeats to inform and inspire new desires and dreams. 

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.” Jalaluddin Rumi

HEALING FROM CREATIVE SCARRING 

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Whether consciously or unconsciously, most humans have experienced some form of creative scarring. It may have been the art teacher in elementary school who questioned the shape of your sketch of a horse. Or a parent negating your dreams of becoming a musician. The theatre director who deemed that you would never be the right type to play the “ingenue role”. These comments and criticisms, whether benign or actively hurtful, have significant impact on our lives as creators. Words, memories, and criticisms cut deep and the scar tissue is lasting. I have known many who have completely abandoned all artistic/creative impulses due to being traumatized by the careless words of others. For creative professionals, these wounds can create growth blockages, preventing the artist from taking chances/risks necessary for evolution and continued expansion in their craft.

For vocalists, this creative scarring can be extremely detrimental. There is little place to hide within vocality. Our voices are a direct link to our emotional and mental state. By stifling the pain resulting from experiences with criticism, we are creating an active barrier between ourselves and our art. These memories can be painful to excavate, but with a careful and cautious approach, we can start to mend internally which allows our expression to flow without boundaries.


 

JOURNALING

Journaling is one of the most simple and effective ways to begin the creative healing process. The type of journaling that I encourage to begin is free-associative. A form of mental purging. Expunging all the contents of your brain onto the page. This can be, at times, as boring as it is exhilarating. Somedays, all I can muster to write down is, “I don’t feel like writing in this journal” over and over. This is the point of a free-associative journal. To document any and all emotions, thoughts, observations, no matter how mundane or how exciting. It is an enema for the brain. How do we get to the juicy center of our creative mind, with all the crusty crap of our psyche blocking the access? This journal is meant to be a cleanser. A means of contemplation and elimination. 

Now, that being said, you still need to hold this journal in high regard, or you will not be encouraged to utilize it. Go out and buy a NEW JOURNAL. Something aesthetically pleasing. Something that works with your lifestyle. Small and pocket-sized, if you don’t carry a bag most of the time. Or huge and leather bound, if that feels right! Make it yours, and make it feel good to write in it. Buy a new pen, one that feels good in a color you enjoy.

The key with journaling is CONSISTENCY. Some people find it easiest to journal in the morning, before they do anything else. Others find it cathartic to do it mid-day while on the train or a work break. Some find it helpful at night, as a means to document the day. Whatever your schedule, do it DAILY. Begin by doing one page back and front (or two pages if your journal is teeny.) While it may begin as a chore, you will quickly feel the benefits of this daily practice.

You may also begin to see little nuggets of creativity emerging in your everyday entries. From here, buy a SECOND JOURNAL. One that you can transfer more creative elements of your writing into. It is important to have this separation. We are attempting to organize our creative selves, by actively separating the curds and whey of our mind cheese! Believe you me, the results will be delicious.

 


 

ALTERNA-AFFIRMATION

The art of affirmation is particularly healing. However, I find that for most, effortlessly conjuring positive things to say about oneself is pretty far-fetched. This is especially true for those dealing with a traumatic history of being criticized or teased. It is much easier for our brains to go straight to the negative: the hurtful words from ourselves or others that have cycled through our brains non-stop for years or lifetimes. So let’s start there.

-Gather a piece of paper or a pen (you can also do this activity in your free-association journal)

-Set a timer for 1 minute.

-Actively write down every negative self-identification that emerges.

Example:

I AM LAZY.
I AM UNTALENTED.
I AM UGLY.
I AM USELESS.
I AM BORING.  

-At the end of the minute return to the top of your list.

-Taking your writing utensil, actively cross, scribble, Sharpie out the negative sentiment.

I AM LAZY.

-Immediately rewrite the phrase with the opposite.

I AM LAZY.                                I am driven.
I AM UNTALENTED.                 I am gifted.  
I AM UGLY.                               I am beautiful.
etc.

-When you have finished writing the opposites, return to the beginning of the list and read aloud your new set of affirmations.

 


 

These methods will assist the process of unraveling your history with critique, judgement, or even abuse. The exercises become a salve which will aid and mend your healing. The scar may always be faintly visible, but you can learn to let it encourage and fuel your artistic endeavors instead of inhibiting them. Here’s to you, brave creators!