Yoga is not only a physical practice. Classically, yoga is an “eight-limbed” practice – only one of which is physical yoga postures. Boiled down, the remaining seven limbs involve various aspects of meditation and the development of a personal code of ethics for living our lives. Because yoga takes a more complete view of our overall health and wellbeing, it can be considered a “wholistic” practice.
This is one of the fundamental reasons why I believe yoga can be so healthy for classical singers. Our careers are not simply about the having the physical ability to sing; our careers involve a development of our own personal career philosophy. A philosophy that jives with our life as a whole.
And that’s why today we’re going to talk about dharma.
In the practice of yoga, a soul’s purpose in life is called dharma. Following the pursuit of our life mission gives us meaning, and helps us to act with integrity.
One’s mission in life can be simple or grandiose. We can have many different dharmas at any given point in life, too! A person may simultaneously be called to be a classical singer, music educator, caretaker, parent, and activist.
You’ll know you’re close to discovering your purpose when you notice that your work effortlessly flows out of you. Those moments in your life when you feel most like yourself are signposts pointing you in the direction of dharma.
I first became enamored of this concept while reading Fire of Love, Aadil Palkhivala’s treatise on purna yoga, or “whole” yoga. And when I read his chapter on dharma, I immediately recognized the most beautiful description of what I had never had a name for as an artist: the study and performance of music was part of my life’s purpose, my dharma.
The truth is that for me, as with so many singers I know, this profession doesn’t really feel like a choice, it feels like a calling. But once a person identifies their life mission, that doesn’t mean their job is done!
Often our lives get so hectic that we lose touch with that subtle inner instinct. This happens when we listen to our ego too much, making decisions based upon society’s expectations rather than what is truly meaningful to us. We can work incredibly hard to climb the ladder of success, only to discover when we reach the top that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.
So it can be helpful to think of dharma as a living practice. It’s not enough just to identify your purpose! You must keep your thumb on the pulse of your dharma as your life evolves, and then summon your resources to go out into the world and fulfill it.
SINGERS AND EGO
The opposite of following our dharma is following our ego.
Haven’t we all known singers who, driven by ego, sang repertoire that was very inappropriate for them at the time? Here is a good example of how we must look deeper to go past ego and locate true dharma:
If a 25-year old dramatic soprano only ever sings Wagner because they like to show off their unique ability to do so, they will eventually develop technical imbalances in their instrument. In order to preserve the health and longevity of their voice for a future career as a Wagnerian soprano, it may be that singer’s dharma to perform Schubert at age 25; Puccini at age 30; Verdi at age 35; and Wagner at age 40. This way the singer has the technique they need to sing a wide variety of repertoire throughout the years, creating more work for themselves and building up their contacts in the music industry.
All singers might benefit from stepping back from fach labels. Ego says “I am a [fill in the blank] singer that only sounds good in one style of music,” but dharma says “I am a singer that searches for healthy technique in a variety of styles in order to impact audiences for years to come.”
TOOLS OF THE YOGA TRADE
Yoga can be a wonderful tool in our exploration of dharma.
By starting each practice with stillness we give ourselves the chance to step out of the energetic patterns of our everyday life, and release the labels and artifice we put on to appease society’s expectations.
Asana, the practice of physical yoga postures, can also be used as a tool toward our goals. If it is my current dharma to learn to sing without tongue tension, then I may practice breathing without tension in postures that release the shoulders and neck.
Then, when our nervous system is relaxed and our mind is quiet, we can ask direct questions like “Who am I?,” “What is my purpose in life?,” and “How can I use my talents to impact the world around me in a positive way?”
There are many decisions in this business that we ultimately have to make based on instinct. We must consider jobs that pay a lot or a little, that require months of travel away from our family, and know how to invest our energy during the time in between gigs. In those moments it is important to have a strong understanding of our soul’s purpose.
Below is a meditation to help you explore dharma. Come back to these questions every few weeks and notice how your answers change over time. Then, consider what the clearest paths are to fulfilling your mission in the world.
Find a comfortable seat.
It is most important to be comfortable.
Try sitting upright on your yoga mat with your ankles crossed in sukhasana. Sitting upright helps to keep the mind alert.
If that is uncomfortable, however, then go ahead and lay down on your back.
Close your eyes and allow your senses to fall inward.
Notice the shape of your breath in your body.
Notice the thoughts that present themself in each moment, then visualize yourself taking a step back away from them.
Allow thoughts to float by without becoming attached.
When you mind feels clear and your body relaxed, bring your internal vision down to your heart’s center. Look into the light of your heart and ask the following questions:
Who am I?
When in my life do I feel most like myself?
When does work flow effortlessly from me?
In what areas of my life do I see a big return for very little effort?
How can I use my talents to make a positive impact on the world around me?
What is my purpose in life?
Use a timer or timed music playlist to control the length of your meditation. If you are new to meditating, start with a five minute timer. As you continue, you may lengthen the time to 10, 20 or 30 minutes.
When the timer rings, let go of the question you are on. Deepen your breath and open your eyes.
Use the next minute to jot down any insights you may have experienced in a bullet journal.
Date each entry, so you can see how your priorities and interests change over time.