As a singer who practices yoga for its health benefits, I can’t help noticing many similarities between certain singing and yoga exercises. It’s not surprising, since both singing and pranayama are considered Arts of Breathing. While not all yoga exercises are useful for singing (the Ocean Breath, for example, which involves constricting the throat, is great for yoga practice but not so much for good vocal tone), there are three pranayama exercises which I’ve long incorporated into my daily singing routine to great results. And singing aside, they also work as great go-to energy fixes when you need to clear and focus your mind and you don’t have time for a nap!
1. Wood-chopping Breath
Good for: back and hamstrings tone and flexibility, practice re-establishing posture after torso collapse, opening the chest, relieving stress
Assume a noble standing position. Stretch the arms overhead, hands clasped. Inhale and look up, moving the hips forward and arms back for a slight backbend. Then, exhaling on a voiceless “ha”, throw the arms and upper torso down and forward in a swift, log-splitting motion. Make sure your head and neck are fully relaxed when bending forward. If you feel your hamstrings are tight, you can bend your knees. Repeat 5 times.
2. Breath of Fire – Agni prasana
Good for: strengthening the primary breathing muscles (abs, diaphragm and intercostals), breath awareness and control, practicing quick inhalation (useful in fast coloratura music), revitalizing and energizing the whole body.
1. Sit bent-knee on the floor with your heels tucked under you. Place your hands palms down on your knees. Breathe through the nose, slowly and deeply, taking a few minutes to just become aware of your breathing.
2. Place a hand on your belly. Inhale fully, feeling the belly gently expand as the diaphragm descends, and then exhale, feeling the belly button moving in towards the spine.
3. Speed up this motion, breathing in and out quickly and forcefully through the nose, activating the abdominals with each exhalation. It takes a bit of practice to learn how to balance the amount of air going in and out, so start with short sessions (16 beats, then rest) and take breaks if you feel dizzy.
3. Alternate nostril breathing – Nadi sodhana
Good for: managing the breath over a slow exhalation, clearing and balancing the mind, a natural high. If your nose is too stopped up to do this exercise, try steaming first.
1. Sit on the floor or in a chair in a comfortable position. Using your right hand, curl your pointer and middle finger into your palm, straightening the ring finger and thumb.
2. Use your thumb to close up your right nostril. Breathe in through the left.
3. Use your ring finger to close up your left nostril. Breathe in through the right.
4. Repeat, alternating 5-10 times.
Variation 1: After inhaling, close up both nostrils. Hold 5-10 seconds before exhaling. Do this about 3 times, then return to the original exercise.
Variation 2: Instead of curling your middle and pointer finger into your palm, place the fingertips onto the “third eye” area of the forehead.