How Connecting with her Body Made this Opera Singer a Better Performer
An elevated practice that helps you live your best life? That’s a ritual. We've asked women we admire to share the daily rituals that make them who they are. Discover their secrets and try a new ritual for yourself.
Being an opera singer means that your entire body is your instrument. But unlike pretty much every other instrument, singers can’t see what’s happening. It’s as if you took a clarinet, put a bag around it, and asked someone to figure out how to make a sound. Sounds hard, right? Instead, singers have to rely on how the body feels. The more you understand the body based on physical sensation, the easier it is to achieve a more beautiful sound.
But connection with your physiology isn’t just useful for singing; I rely the same techniques I use to enhance my voice before speeches or challenging conversations I’m nervous about. My ritual even helps if I’m just feeling totally stressed out. It helps me speak from a place of confidence and feel more in control of my surroundings because I am more in control of my body. Shout out to my voice teacher, Trish McCaffrey, for helping me develop this stress-busting, voice-enhancing, confidence-boosting ritual.
Pant Like a Dog (Yes, really)
A lot of people think singing and speaking start in your diaphragm, but the diaphragm is an involuntary muscle that you don’t have much control over. What you do have control over is your abdominal muscles, which help the involuntary work of the diaphragm allow more air into your lungs. More oxygen = more feelings of euphoria and relaxation if you’re feeling stressed. Tight abs are not the goal here. You want your belly to be loosey-goosey. To do that, try panting. In yoga, they call it breath of fire. Basically, you rapidly puff air out of your nose or mouth, quickly inhaling between exhales. If you look down, you can see your abs moving in and out, signaling a loosening of those areas. After a few rounds, you’ll feel more relaxed, promise.
Do Tongue Yoga
Ever had that feeling when you’re really nervous like you’re going to literally choke? A lot of times that’s because you’re pushing your tongue back in your throat. Singers are guilty of this, too, and it can majorly mess with how you sound. It puts pressure on your vocal chords, which is why even your speaking voice might sound really small when you’re nervous. To loosen up this area, stick your tongue out as far to the right as possible and look as far to the left as possible while taking deep nose breaths. Then the tongue goes to the left and the eyes to the right. Then up and down. You look insane, but it works.
Plank & Practice
Sometimes if I’m struggling with an aria, I’ll get on my belly and push myself into plank, practicing the song as I hold the pose. This is (duh) super exhausting, but helps you access your body. It’s a great technique for practicing a speech or even just preparing yourself for an anxiety-inducing moment because it’s a total power pose, igniting your circulation and firing up those ab muscles. Bonus: when it actually comes time to sing your aria or deliver your speech, you’ll be so relieved that you aren’t holding plank that you’ll kill it.
Stretch Your Face
We all know that stretching is really good for releasing tension, but what many people don’t realize is that you hold a lot of tension in your face. As a singer, this can screw with your sound because the face is basically one big resonating cavity. Any tension in your face and you’ll sound tense. But excess tension in the face also leads to jaw clenching and brow furrowing. Not what you want when you’re trying to pull a poker face in a meeting. To loosen up, scrunch your face as tightly as possible, then let everything go, lifting your eyebrows and throwing your mouth open wide with your tongue out. Repeat 3-5 times.
Singing is all about finding an equilibrium within the body—good, healthy singing gives you a feeling of floating like you’re a jellyfish suspended in water (one of my teacher’s fave metaphors). You’re being active for the sake of feeling passive and relaxed. It’s a sensation of ease that all of us strive for, I think. My awareness of how my own body works has made me feel better in all other aspects of my life, and understand what my body needs to be healthy. When you know what’s going on inside, it makes it easier to help your body get the good stuff it needs to feel its best.
Adopt this Ritual for yourself
Soprano Diana Newman is a Young Artist at the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s prestigious Ryan Opera Center. She is quickly establishing a reputation for fresh and intense performances in both the opera house and on the concert stage.
She has been taking Ritual since October 2017. Learn More