How is learning yoga like learning to Sing?
If I had a dollar for every time someone said do me, ‘I can’t do yoga, I’m too stiff,’ I would be a wealthy woman.
You could substitute any of these words–‘old’, ‘fat’, ‘nervous’, ‘anxious’, ‘tired’, ‘busy’–for stiff. It all amounts to the same thing. People have an idea in mind of what yoga is, what it looks like, who can do it and who can’t. An old person even said to me once, ‘What’s the point, I’m going to die anyway.’ (I taught her for a few years, and, fortunately, she’s still alive.)
Where do people get their ideas? Often through social media. These days, Instagram and Facebook carry much responsibility for publishing impossibly beautiful and youthful images of people doing yoga. Discouraging to anyone who is trepidatious about taking up yoga in the first place.
Video classes may present a further barrier to those who can’t keep up with the intermediate and advanced poses and routines they see offered.
I guess I’m talking about lack of accessibility and inclusion: the teacher presenting content in such a way that the student feels discouraged about learning. And the possibility that the student will be burdened with the teacher’s expectations as well as their their own.
This topic feels immediate for me as I’ve ventured into learning to sing. I’m pretty much a beginner, but one who comes with her own baggage and lack of confidence. This may sound odd considering I’ve been a member of a community choir for nearly ten years. But I’ve always thought of myself as an adjunct to the choir, not an essential member.
Furthermore, I haven’t considered myself a real singer. A real singer goes around humming little hums in tune, singing along in perfect pitch with Spotify and generally unafraid of hearing their own voice. Not me.
A timely message
In the way that a kind and very experienced yoga teacher would present information to a shy and nervous beginner, choir director, performer and singing teacher, Rose Wilson, has offered me an entry point to singing. She says on her website that ‘she teaches singing unscarily to curious and longing-to-sing souls’. That’s me, a person who’s always wanted to sing out loud but felt inhibited.
After several lessons with Rose, we got to the crux of the matter…this business about not thinking I am a singer. Like those stiff, overweight, old, too busy, too tired people, I had placed myself outside of the club. When I aired what felt was a secret I’d kept all my life, she came back with the most beautiful declaration, which explained how I’d taken an unskillful turn at some point in my life. Was it in 3rd grade music class? My teacher didn’t say I wasn’t allowed to sing, but she did say I was to mouth the words.
In effect, Rose’s pep talk reminded me that I am allowed to sing, that I am allowed to learn to sing. She said:
Whether you are any good or not, whether you get better, whether you take it seriously or not, it’s not a product to be commodified or to perfect, and then to present, and for people to consume and critique. It’s not an exclusive thing. It’s something that you do to connect and express. It’s cathartic. It’s beautiful. It’s meaningful.
I’m coming at singing differently now. It’s a lovely thing for me. It’s a means of self-expression. I don’t even have to have reasons for doing it.
So much of the way our culture works is about improvement and competency. I’m not saying those are bad things. But they can potentially rob us of experiencing the simple joy of being alive.
As a beginner, yoga snuck up on me. It provided enjoyment from the very first class, more than 50 years ago. Rose and I are singing from the same hymn book when we teach, whether the sort of self-expression is yoga, or singing, or writing or painting.
You are allowed!
Here’s a little video clip of Rose encouraging me: