Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why you should try yoga

Years ago, a friend suggested that I try yoga.  Knowing that I've always been an avid athlete - runner, cyclist, etc. - as well as a deeply spiritual person, he thought I might enjoy it.  Even though he didn't mention it in his list of reasons why I should try it, the added benefit of calming down this Type A personality might have also occurred to him.

I immediately liked it. It was physically difficult in ways that I had never been really challenged before.  It helped loosen and lengthen my poor leg muscles that were aching to be stretched from miles of running.  I've never been a flexible person.  The fact that I couldn't do the splits at age 10 sealed my fate and prevented me from ever becoming a cheerleader.  Yet, after doing yoga more regularly over the last two years, I have noticed that my body is more open, less tight.  Maybe the splits are in reach after all.

Yoga means "to unite" -- mind, body and breath.  I also sing, so breathing deeply was not new to me. Yet, breathing techniques, or pranayama, have given me tools that help calm my nerves and focus my mind - whether it's in traffic or when I'm preparing to sing on stage.  I'm less apt to react to distressing situations and able to better respond thoughtfully.  This, too, is a work in progress.

If I had to give anyone reasons why he/she should try yoga, here's my top five:

1. Put your health - mental and physical - first
Making time for yourself can be the greatest challenge of all. Regardless of how "in-shape" you are, yoga meets you where you are.  You can be a better friend, spouse, mother, father, son or daughter when you take care of yourself.  You also set the example for other loved-ones when you make your health a priority. 

2. Strengthen your body inside and out.
Regardless of how strenuous the practice, yoga has numerous benefits working for you, which only multiply over time. Stress reduction, lower blood pressure, increased oxygen to your blood to create new cells, removes toxins from organs and blood stream, lubricates joints, strengthens muscles that support joints and spine... should I go on? 

3. Train your brain. Turn off the noise.
Even when I was running or biking, my "monkey-mind" was still "on." Grocery and to-do lists, relationship drama, life's worries... all of it still running on its own treadmill in my mind.  By focusing on your breathing, yoga teaches you how to train your brain to turn off the noise inside your head for the moment. It will be there when you finish. For now, focus, create space and find clarity.  This is a critical skill that we need more of in today's 24/7 digital society.

4. Connect with your inner-self. 
How often do you take time to search deep inside your heart and simply listen?  It's easy for day-to-day busy schedules to prevent us from pushing the pause button.  Yoga creates the place and space for you to reconnect with your deepest desires or issues that need your attention.

5. Give yourself permission to be still, at peace.
Every yoga class ends with one final pose: corpse pose or Savasana.  Our society does not typically "reward" you for seemingly doing nothing, so spending five or ten minutes or more simply lying on the floor may seem either luxurious or like a waste of time.  However, to become more at peace with ourselves and those around us, we must take time to rest and find a balance with body, breath and mind. Think of it as a wonderful palate cleanser between your yoga practice and re-entering your world.

When in doubt:  Have fun. Try something new. Don't put it off.

Click here for my schedule of upcoming classes.  


Friday, July 27, 2012

Gail @ Yale

I'm sitting in Philadelphia airport waiting for my final flight to New Haven and the beginning of what I hope will be a wonderful adventure. In February, I auditioned for the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University and was accepted on the spot. Let me explain how radically unbelievable that was for me.

I chose not to study music in college because I'm from a very traditional, practical Midwestern family and community where music is a fun hobby (not a real, reliable profession). It's just assumed that the only thing one could do with a music degree is teach. So, even though I had lived to sing whenever, where-ever possible for as long as I could remember, I studied public relations and communications at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a renowned program in pr, but a horrible music program (at the time, anyway).

Long story short, I didn't sing for four years and felt ...different. I moved to Indianapolis in 1994 and quickly joined Second Presbyterian Church because of its tremendous music program. I was in heaven. Fellow members encouraged me to audition for the Indianapolis Opera Chorus and I went on to be one of the church's founding members of its paid small ensemble, the Beecher Singers.

By 2007, I was tired of singing in choirs. Solos were precious commodities judiciously distributed among a throng of other great singers. My lyric soprano tone and style was a dime a dozen and I couldn't figure out if it was best suited for classical or pop or what. One day, I literally had a panic attack when I realized: "I'm almost 40 and I have lost my voice! I have NO IDEA what MY true voice sounds like!"

After spending all my life trying to blend in with a group, I decided that it was time to find help and find my voice. This has not been an easy journey. I will spare you the drama, setbacks and disappointments along the way, for there is a happy ending. In fact, I wouldn't appreciate where I am nearly as much if it had come more easily.

The morals of this story are:
  • never, ever give up on your dreams, no matter how old or whatever excuse your ego might come up with 
  • be true to yourself and be relentless about it, no matter what others may think or believe 
  • stop caring what other people think. Period. Not that you can't or shouldn't take constructive criticism; we are not perfect, but quit letting it prevent you from (fill in the blank) 
  • give yourself permission to make room for yourself and your goals and ask friends and family for support. You will be amazed at the tidal wave of love that is waiting for you. 
This is what I have learned in my journey so far. I hope it's far from over. One of the most surprising and best rewards from it have been when several people have said to me: "You have inspired me to think about my dreams and to go for it!"

Marianne Williamson says that when you let your light shine, you automatically gives others the permission to do the same. I arrived at Yale without a hitch and had a fantastic first day. I look forward to sharing more insights and stories with you as I take this next step in my journey. Already, I'm so impressed by all the interesting diverse people with such unique talents bringing so many interesting stories to song. (21 people from 8 states and 4 countries!) Everyone is concerned about being critiqued, but I think we all know that this is the perfect, testing ground to learn. If we thought we were perfect, we wouldn't be here. The great thing about cabaret is that you just have to be yourself; you don't have to play a character, just let your light shine.