I am a native Californian, raised by my single working mother in Napa before it became a worldwide name in the wine industry. Childhood was not a happy time – I often found myself at the bottom of the social order.
I was teased mercilessly for being fat, and constantly on guard in an environment in which “dude don’t be gay” and “you’re such a fag” were commonplace comments heard amongst the boys, and often the go-to statements during disagreements.
In elementary school we had a very modest music program. A handful of children participated in a chorus. I remember feeling a sense of rightness. One Christmas concert in particular, we were singing and I remember feeling that I was doing the most important thing in the world, a sense of being in line with my purpose on this planet. After the concert a teacher made a couple of insensitive, belittling remarks. I recall a feeling of my heart closing, and my soul going into retreat. No way did I want to open myself up to that kind of criticism again.
A number of similar interactions with adults in those formative years left me with an internalized self-doubt and insecurity, which manifested in a lack of connection to my body when I sang and an overall holding back of my sound.
Your journey may be different than mine, but I know and have come to understand through my work as a teacher that so many of us have been told in some way that we are not good enough.
Technically, I have had to learn the language of music and also study the voice as an instrument and the technique of singing. These have not come easily and I have worked diligently to improve – as a result, I know that it can be done!
I know that musical and technical deficiencies can be overcome with the proper guidance and with focused, consistent effort. The inner work has arguably been more profound.
Through mindfulness and self-awareness I have come to see the automatic patterns of contraction and suppression that arise in my body when I take a breath to sing.
By both addressing the core beliefs that cause these reactions, and by developing practical tools to overcome them in the moment, I have broken the bonds that kept me down and achieved success with my singing that the little boy me would not have thought possible.
I often have first-time students come for a lesson and ask “do I have what it takes?” The answer is yes, but my response is always : “have what it takes to what? What is your goal? What do YOU want? How hard are you willing to work?” Some people like their voice lessons because they are entertainment; the lesson IS the goal. Some people want to perform or record. To them I say, “This takes study, practice, and devotion”. Those of you familiar with the three forms of yoga will recognize jnana, karma, and bhakti.
The practice enchanted me. I was immediately able to feel my body in parts and as a whole from the inside out. I experienced my muscles working and my heart rate increasing, but in a way that was actually enjoyable.
I wasn’t pitted against anyone else, I wasn’t being graded on how fast I could run. It was just sensation, breath, and my inner reactions.
I enrolled in a yoga class at my local community college, which provided a systematic approach to learning the postures and sun salutations.
When I moved to San Francisco at the age of 20, I discovered my first vinyasa class and felt very prepared for the rigorous movement and creative sequencing. Since that time I have studied multiple styles of the physical practice, with most of my focus being on my body and sensation.
Looking back, I realize that my favorite teachers always had something potent to share beyond the physical practice, and as a teacher I have now come to understand the symphony of human experience that makes up the practice.
A casual listener might not notice the violas within the string section, but that listener can experience the fullness of the harmonies provided by the violas’ presence. Likewise, I could feel the spiritual power of classes taught by teachers who understood and embodied yogic philosophy, and now I compose my own classes with a more complete ‘string section’.
We moved away from the San Francisco area as the price of living skyrocketed with the influx of the tech industry.
We are not sure yet where we will land, and are committed to taking our offerings online so we can have the freedom to choose someplace rural. I recently invested a great deal of time and money in a potted garden for our backyard, which was quite under-nourished. I continue to study voice and yoga to improve my teaching.
My hope is that through this story of my journey you will feel the connection to something similar in yourself, and remember that even though our individual stories might be different we are not alone in our experiences, and that transformation is possible.
Through understanding, practice, and commitment we CAN change patterns that hold us back from living our most fulfilling life.