[Editor’s note: Kirk Averitt is a conductor, vocalist and educator and is relatively new to the Listerhood. He has brought us some intriguing ideas and different ways to think about singing. Here, Kirk shares some of his recent experiences with yoga and chakra theory. We encourage you to join in the conversation by commenting below. –L]
My journey into yoga and chakras started with a Groupon. I had just moved to Boston after grad school and was looking for a new healthy hobby. Clicking around the Groupon website, I found a good deal for a swanky yoga class in a fourth-story loft studio; I couldn’t resist. That was over six years ago, and I have been practicing yoga regularly ever since. Fast forward to March 2020 when all of our lives were upended by the pandemic: I found myself with lots of extra time on my hands and turned to yoga and meditation to help deal with all the uncertainty 2020 was delivering.
As singers, we are required to be in tune with our mind, body, breath and voice. I believe yoga and meditation are some of the best tools for building strong connections between these. This article will discuss why chakra work can be beneficial to singers and describe an exercise I have found particularly helpful for strengthening connections between mind, body, breath and voice.
First, let’s discuss what chakras are and how we can utilize them in our practice:
The literal translation of chakra from Sanskrit is “wheel”. This system was conceptualized thousands of years ago on the African continent and has been adopted by many cultures and belief systems. The fact that we are still learning about this system today is a testament to the well-being that studying chakras can yield. The term chakra is usually associated with seven focal points of energy that run along the spine. Take a look at the map below:
Because these energy centers are wheels, we can think of them constantly spinning and moving energy from one center to the next. The wheels can send energy from the bottom of the spine to the top, or vice versa. Consider how chakras are used when bringing an idea to life:
- We receive the idea – the thought appears in our mind (crown chakra)
- We ponder the idea, allowing it to take shape in our mind’s eye (third eye chakra)
- We begin to speak about the idea, sharing with others and receiving feedback from trusted sources (throat chakra)
- The more we share the idea, the more connected we become to it. It has now become something that we care for and want to see become reality. (heart chakra)
- We begin doing the work necessary to bring the idea to life. We feed the idea and give it what it needs to take form (solar plexus chakra)
- As we work toward our vision, it becomes our passion. Things begin to take shape as the pieces come together (sacral chakra)
- The idea has become reality and is now tangible and present (root chakra)
If we flip the direction, we can imagine that ascending from the root to crown chakra is about releasing ourselves from the material world and connecting back to our original, pure idea. Think of the chakra system as a ladder between the physical (lower) and spiritual (upper) worlds.
What this means for singers
Because chakras can be used as a tool to move energy through the body, and we use our bodies as our instrument, awareness of these energy centers can help inform our connection to self, audience, the music we perform, emotions, and creativity.
I like to think of chakras just like any other singing technique. Most of the techniques we use as singers involve imagery. Because our instrument is not tactile, we have to use our imaginations and knowledge of our bodies to create a desired sound. This is why knowledge of chakras is a wonderful tool for singers. To utilize chakras, we have to use our imaginations to “see” our seven main energy centers. Just like any technique, it takes hours of practice to adopt and fully implement. The wonderful thing about practicing chakra work is you can apply it to all aspects of your life – it’s not just a technique to improve singing.
Techniques are simply tools we use to express. The best techniques allow us to be fully present and in control of our instrument. I have found chakra work to be incredibly beneficial in my growth as a singer and conductor. Here is an exercise I have found to be particularly helpful:
Replacing anatomy with chakras
Much vocal pedagogy is based on knowledge of human anatomy. While anatomy is helpful to learn how the voice works, I have found that focusing on actual parts of our anatomy can sometimes cause tension in the sound. For example, we have all heard of ‘diaphragmatic breathing.’ Yes, the diaphragm is essential to powering our voice, but isolating that muscle as a technique to improve singing has its limitations. The goal of diaphragm work is to get the singer to take full, connected breaths in order to create a supported vocal sound. In lieu of isolating the diaphragm, let’s consider how breath work might be approached through use of the chakras.
The diaphragm is located below the lungs. In terms of chakras, it sits in the vicinity of our solar plexus. By isolating the diaphragm, we fail to utilize our two lower chakras (root and sacral) when singing.
A meditation to include all seven chakras when singing:
First, come to a seated or standing position in which your spine is lengthened. I find it helpful to imagine the spine as a stack of golden coins to achieve this. Once you are comfortable and have found your length, use your mind’s eye to scan from the bottom of your spine (root chakra) to the top of your head (crown chakra). Note any places that feel slumped or blocked and maneuver your stance until you feel breath energy is able to run unimpeded along this path. This alone can take much practice to achieve.
Now that you are balanced and able to feel the breath energy running along the entire spinal path, imagine your root chakra and the color red. As you inhale, send the breath all the way to the bottom of your spine. Take 3 – 4 breaths like this to build a strong foundation and become grounded. Continue on to the sacral chakra. As you inhale, be sure to send the first bit of breath to the root chakra. Always build from the bottom up.
Continue on to each chakra following the steps mentioned above. As you reach the heart center, allow your chest to open and shine forth. At the throat chakra, begin releasing the breath audibly. I typically release on [hmm] and gradually open to a relaxed [ah]. As you become more connected to the breath and feel the spinal path is fully open, consider changing your breath release to sustained pitched sounds. The final step is to convert the pitched sounds to singing. The result should be a well balanced tone with an easy onset.
Just like any technique, time and practice are key to adopting and implementing chakras fully into your practice. I hope this article has been informative and sparked some curiosity to learn more about chakras and their uses while singing. Below are two resources I have found helpful on my own journey:
Opening to Spirit by Caroline Shola Arewa
Chakra Meditation by Swami Saradananda
KIRK AVERITT — Lister contributor
Kirk Averitt is a vocalist, conductor and music educator located in Los Angeles, and currently working at the California School of the Arts. He has always been fascinated by the intrinsic power of vocal music to inspire and uplift.