Mindfulness is a very trendy word and practice at the moment. It is a tool used for anxiety, depression and coping with the hustle of modern life. It comes from Buddhist meditation traditions and is now the subject of much research within the academic community. It is being used in such diverse areas as police training to high level sporting performance. How do I use it in my studio?
Many students arrive rushed to their lesson. Occasionally traffic has been bad, or they have had a bad day at work. A busy week at university. A stressful time dealing with their friends at school. They may be concerned about their voice, or lack of practice over the previous week. There may be problems at home in their family. I don’t need to know the details. I am not a counselor, that is not my role. But often students share what is happening in their life, and as their teacher, I am genuinely interested in them, not only their voice. Many of these stressors have an affect on their mental and physical capacity to sing with freedom and to be attentive to what we are about to do in the lesson. As a result of a week of heavy study, or intense work pressures, they may have tension in their necks and backs. This is what stretches are for, to give physical relief, but what if a student is so mentally wound up they cannot begin to sing.
Mindfulness can help adjust both my student, and my own, focus back onto the job at hand – to teach a singing lesson with a positive and specific outcome. I must admit, I sometimes forget to use this tool. But I am always amazed when I do apply this in the studio at the start of a lesson how much more focused the student is, and how much more we accomplish in the lesson.
Last year I was lucky enough to listen to Professor Mary Sandage from Auburn University discuss mindfulness at the Australian Voice Association conference. I felt like there were light bulbs flashing in my head. I use mindfulness myself, but I am not good at daily practice. I try! But like so many students and their singing practice, life gets busy and in the way. Those days when I DO start my day with some mindfulness (I use guided meditations from YouTube – I get too easily distracted with my busy mind without this!) are really productive and ENJOYABLE days. Lessons where we begin with a very short mindfulness practice (bringing attention back to the body, breath and generally noticing your thoughts and environment) are usually productive and enjoyable lessons. It doesn’t always work. But it very often does. It helps us to focus on exactly what we are doing in a non judgemental way. It helps us notice what our body is experiencing when we sing, what we are hearing when we sing, and how we feel about these things. Noticing then leads to adjustments which can have positive functional, stylistic or experiential impacts on our learning.
Here is a link to some interesting research on mindfulness and singing.
Want to study mindfulness? Check out the amazing program at the Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts. This is on my wish list!