In the past months I've been getting very much into mindfulness. By this I mean mindfulness meditation, but also mindfulness as a whole.
One really good resource from this has been Diana Winston's free recordings from the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at UCLA. In her recordings, Diana defines mindfulness as, "the art of paying attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is".
Now, regardless of whether or not you partake in meditation or believe in its uses, there are a few really helpful things that happen when we apply this mindset to singing...
1. Holding yourself with kindness during the learning process.
One of the biggest road-blocks that some students tend to go through is the belief that they are expected to get everything right, or the feeling that they are required to be impressive. In reality however, this is not at all how the learning process works. If a student already knew everything there was to know and could do everything perfectly, there'd be no point in coming in for lessons. If you think about the first time you did anything- learning to ride a bike, your first job, the first time you learned something at school - you made mistakes right? Mistakes are what enriches the learning experience, rather than detracting from it. How are you meant to learn exactly what the right way is unless you've learned what it's like to do it the wrong way? As a student it's your responsibility to get things wrong at least some of the time. If you can manage to hold this experience with a level of kindness rather than self-criticism, you are more able to focus on the learning part of making mistakes rather than just beating yourself up.
2. Staying focused during the performance process
Nerves before or during a performance are totally normal. But once we get caught up in our nervousness, we become unable to break free of it. The art of mindfulness is all about choosing what to pay attention to, and not letting yourself get caught up in the emotion of it all. Now try this the next time your nervous about a performance! Say to yourself (silently or aloud) the following:
- Nerves are perfectly normal.
- Nerves are just gearing me up to do the best job that I can do. They are a superpower.
- I am accepting of the fact that I am nervous. It shows that my fight or flight response (my body) is working, and that I really care about the outcome of this. That's a completely reasonable way to feel.
After saying this to yourself, the whole idea of being nervous seems kind of normal (or even boring) doesn't it? Now rather than allowing yourself to think of the future and what it may or may not hold, try grounding yourself in the present. Try standing still, closing your eyes, and cluing into the following:
- How does my body feel?
- What are the sounds going on around me?
- What does each breath feel like in my body?
Try not to make judgement calls about these things, just be aware of them happening.
This is a really great way to stay grounded and focused during and in the run-up to a performance. Once you learn how to stay in the present moment, nerves don't really seem so bad, do they? And if you still find yourself getting nervous, you know what to do. It's perfectly normal, just "[pay] attention to our present moment experiences with openness and curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is".