Over the past several months I’ve been taking voice lessons with a man named Ramesha, previously part of a singing group at Ananda Los Angeles and now co-leader of the music ministry at Ananda Village. He also gives voice lessons on Skype.
Over the months I have taken lessons with him, there have been a few things he’s needed to remind me of over and over nearly every lesson. After a while, I noticed a trend. Many of those things matched common pitfalls on the spiritual path. I realized they might be helpful to people whether they have ever learned singing or not. Below is a list of them:
When you try to sing while tense or stressed, the notes come out weak, can easily break, and you tire much more easily. You can even strain your voice.
Similarly on the spiritual path, and in life in general, tension only makes things harder. Studies have shown that prolonged stress creates toxic chemicals in the body which potentially shorten your lifespan, and it is impossible to go deep in meditation if you can’t relax and let the tension go.
2. Sustain but don’t push
It’s common for new singers to try to increase the volume of their voice by pushing harder on their lungs and throat instead of using correct placement the way experienced singers do. For those who don’t know what placement is, it’s basically the place in your throat that a note feels like it’s coming from, and there is an optimal spot for each note to produce the best sound and volume.
Pushing instead of using correct placement will hurt your voice and make you run out of breath very quickly without improving the quality of the sound or increasing the volume very much. But if you keep your stomach muscles engaged (something that Paramhansa Yogananda recommended people do all the time) and not too tense, while keeping your throat relaxed and open, your voice will naturally and easily project with great sound and energy.
For devotees, when we push too hard at life, thrusting ourselves aggressively at life and other people, we find ourselves even more bound in karma. Using forceful willpower to scare away any obstacles in our path robs us of the sweetness of devotion and friendship and unbalances us. But if we calmly and steadily press forward while staying open and receptive to new realization, we can make it through just as many obstacles as the aggressive one, but without the wild emotion and subsequent exhaustion.
3. Open your mouth (and throat)
It seems to be part cultural, and part gender-based, but many people don’t like opening their mouth wider than the minimum required for speech. People are often surprised when they sing with their mouth wide open for the first time and get a much clearer, more resonant sound.
It may be uncomfortable at first; we like to protect ourselves by closing off our voices and hearts. But by opening ourselves fearlessly to the adventure of life and joy of God, we actually become much stronger and more magnetic.
4. Don’t Try to Control It
Sometimes new singers who don’t understand placement will try to control where their voice goes in their throat and will place it wrong, causing their voice to break. However, if you have your throat open, your voice will naturally go to the right place and you will not need to tell it where to go.
Devotees have the same experience. If we try to control the events of our lives based on our desires, it often doesn’t work, or if it does, it doesn’t make us happier. When we open ourselves divine guidance however, our energy naturally flows upward.
Try a few of these voice techniques if you are able and pay attention to how different your voice sounds. Feel how different the energy is when you are open and relaxed. Keep this in mind as you go about your day, and see if you can make your energy flow through your life the way your voice did.