Embodied Singer - The Class by Shauna Fallihee

It’s here!

Embodied Singer - The Class launches on October 16th 7-9p at Danspace in Oakland. This ongoing weekly class blends traditional vocal exercises and improvisatory singing with movement, meditation, and posture practice. It is an immersive exploration intended to reveal and support your authentic voice.

So, is it like a yoga class with singing….?

Yes! Kinda! The postures and movements we will sing in often show up in yoga. Embodied Singer draws on many disciplines and methods so that the options for each singer are limitless. Creating different shapes with our bodies allows us to balance our energy and space, liberating our breath and ultimately our vocal expression. Freeing the body through movement that is supported by safe alignment frees our voice.

Do I have to be flexible and strong to participate?

As a moving, breathing human being, you already are flexible and strong! Do you need to be able to wrap your legs around your head or do a handstand? Nope! Every shape and movement in our class is expressed by you. You will have opportunities to stretch your body, explore your strength, and develop your balance. You will be encouraged to listen closely to how your body is responding and use the movement of your breath and singing to deepen the experience. Every pose and movement can be modified for you and props will be made available to support you.

Meditation….tell me more about that…

Meditation is the act of defining a point of concentration (the breath, your incoming thoughts, a candle, your footsteps, etc.) and returning again and again and again and again to that focus point. Meditation has the capacity to change the way we see the world and respond to stimulus. It can bring deep awareness to the movements of our mind and our patterns of response.

Singing is meditation. As singers, our focal point is our desired musical expression. While singing, our mind is drawn away from our musical intent by many things: our fellow musicians, the audience, our physical body, our technique, our own thoughts and sometimes judgments. Embodied Singer recognizes the power of meditation to nurture a mind that is aware, responsive, and focused.

And it’s not religious, in this context. Just in case you wondered. :-)

What kind of singing do we do? Will I have to sing by myself?

The sounds in Embodied Singer - The Class are intentionally simple to serve as a blank canvas for exploration. You will typically sustain tones or slide through your range, observing the quality of sound that emerges from your shape or movement. Often a drone or chant plays in the background, giving you several pitches to choose from in the range that suits you. We may occasionally do structured vocal exercises but generally the singing is improvisatory. We will all sing together with interest and awareness in our own unique sound.

I’m a new singer! I’m a professional opera singer! I’m a karaoke enthusiast! I’m a public speaker! I like to sing but I’m not sure I’m an anything! Is Embodied Singer - The Class for me?

Yes! We are going to gather together, make shapes, move our bodies and make sounds. The class is designed to help you reveal a wide spectrum of sounds that you can choose from. Embodied Singer welcomes singers of all experience levels and all genres.

Will Embodied Singer - The Class teach me the right way to breathe/support/resonate/gesture/perform/solveworldhunger?

There are as many ways to do those things as there are singers. The “right” way to breathe, support, resonate, etc. is the way that results in the sound you find exciting, beautiful, and satisfying. We will explore these topics in the class and use different physical positions, movements, stretches, and awareness exercises to help you find your right way.

I study with a voice teacher. Is it appropriate for me to participate?

That decision is between you and your teacher but I say YES! And bring them!

The goal of the class is to explore and discover. You may discover a new way of doing something that feels great or yields a sound that you love. Wonderful! Reconciling new and old information is the learning process. Taking an empowered role in your own learning will help you develop unique vocal technique that you own.

I am always more than happy to communicate with my colleagues about Embodied Singer. If you or your voice teacher has questions, they can contact me at EmbodiedSinger@gmail.com

What should I wear and bring?

Wear comfortable clothes that move. Stretchy pants are ideal. You might want to bring warm layers for meditations or resting poses. Bring a yoga mat and if you don’t have one, you can get them inexpensively at places like Target. (*smell it before you buy. Some of the very inexpensive ones are super toxic!) If you have props like blocks, bolsters, straps, you’re welcome to bring those too. Anything necessary will be supplied.

How do I get to Danspace?

Danspace is located at 573 Hudson St. in Oakland. It is right in the heart of Rockridge, surrounded by great restaurants and shops. It is a safe neighborhood with street parking and it is two blocks from Rockridge BART.

I have other questions. Can I contact you?

Please! EmbodiedSinger@gmail.com

Or leave your question in the comments so others can see!

Hope to see you very soon for exploration, friendship, and beautiful singing!

For dates and topics, visit Event Details

Ready to register? Online Registration is here!

Find Your Way: Physical Activity by Shauna Fallihee

There is intelligence, insight, and truth in your body.  How connected we are to our bodies varies from moment to moment, day to day. Feeling all of the sensations of our body is a homecoming.  It's presence.  For many reasons, we may drift away from our body.  Physical activities are an opportunity to connect to our complete selves. 

What do you like to do?  What are you intrigued by?  What have you always wanted to try?  There are enjoyable, embodied activities for everyone!  Sometimes we assume that certain abilities are a prerequisite when in fact, those abilities are gained by doing. If an activity appeals to you, there is very likely an expression of it that can work for you right now.  

How do I want to feel? 

Calm ... Sweaty ... Comfortable ... Sturdy ... Pliant ... Exhausted ... Challenged ... Flexible ... Agile...

.... all of the above?

Maybe you know exactly what you want to do. A childhood memory of running, swimming, biking, monkey bars, or ballet class might draw you to a deep reconnection. You can bring your adult strength and wisdom to grown-up versions of your favorite childhood activities.

If you’re floating in the vast ocean of choices, consider these inquiries:

  • Do I like to be inside or outside?

  • How much intensity do I want?

  • What pace of experience is appealing to me?

  • Do I want a teacher/coach or do I prefer to explore on my own?

  • How many people, if any, do I want around me?

  • Do I want a goal-oriented activity?  How do I feel about quantified data?

  • Would I like an activity that teaches me about another culture?

Enthusiastic practitioners or the latest article on social media may suggest (or outright state!) that there is one "perfect" way to move or feel or be.  If their suggestions sound appealing, maybe you try them. If they don’t, that’s just more helpful information.  There are infinite resources (books, articles, videos, podcasts, etc.) that can help you start any activity that you're interested in.  The "right" activities are the ones that you choose to enrich your embodied life.

We are biologically wired with certain fears, including fear of failure.  While we rationally know that learning is a process, we may still feel fear of not meeting expectations, even as a beginner.  If this fear is deterring you from connecting with yourself, beginning classes and groups or exploring on your own might initially be more comfortable.  Some physical activities have moments of discomfort.  These moments are incredible teachers.  Facing fear and discomfort openly and with self-compassion is one of the greatest benefits of a physical endeavor. How lovely to get that great benefit on day one!

We are deep creatures with both bodied and intellectual intelligence. To truly share ourselves, we have to know ourselves on all levels.

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The Whole Tree by Shauna Fallihee

Imagine a huge tree.  Full, healthy, verdant.

There is one brown leaf on this tree.

Now imagine that someone asked you about this tree.  You began to describe, in great detail, the single decaying leaf.

Maybe you are a botanist, trained to analyze plant health. You spend all of your professional day focused on the signs of decay, the causes and implications. This is important to you.

Maybe you, yourself, are a tree.  All of your own leaves are brown. You see the single brown leaf on the other tree and identify with it. Maybe you judge it. Maybe you appreciate it.  Either way, it is important to you.

We are designed to identify safety cues to protect ourselves and others.  If anything appears amiss, our bodies and minds focus on it instantly. We recruit all of our senses to affirm that we are safe. This is the root of negativity bias, the phenomenon of asymmetrical awareness.  We look for and hone in on any indicator of disease or danger.  We barely notice the tree.

This innate biological and behavioral function translates into our actions with others. We have a concern, often well-meaning, and we seek to correct it.  Sometimes we act before asking whether someone shares the concern or wants help. The unsolicited observation could be welcome or it could be perceived as criticism and judgement.

With our friends and family, we might believe that permission to share concerns and seek solutions is implicit.  If we are educators, we may assume that anyone who has learned from us is open to learning whenever we have an impulse to teach them.

The immediate awareness of something incongruous is natural.  The stories our minds create and whether we act on them is worth examination.  

We may find ourselves rejecting what concerns us or possibly identifying with it and attaching.  A momentary lapse of balance could support a story about being uncoordinated. An out of tune note can confirm deep-seated fear of failure.  The process of quickly assessing and assimilating information into our understanding is highly complex. The same systems that scan for danger are wired to believe that failure can lead to being ostracized from the tribe.  A benign error can provoke intense feelings.

Our motivations for sharing what we observe also deserve consideration.  If we feel inundated with self-directed negativity, we might deflect that outward, applying the same scrutiny to the circumstances and people around us.  Even kind and caring observations of others might be a way of offsetting our own self-judgment.

We may not be physically evolved enough to only recognize true threats but how much consciousness can we bring to the imbalance of negative observations?  How does this play out in our practices: physical, artistic, interpersonal...

When is it necessary to bring acute awareness to a brown leaf?  When is it kind?

How can we open up our field of vision to see the whole of the tree?

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The BodyMind Relationship: Pain by Shauna Fallihee

In relationships, some pain is inevitable.  One person says or does something that the other perceives as harmful.  Sometimes it’s intentionally harmful, sometimes not. Sometimes the hurt person has misunderstood, sometimes not.  Sometimes, even in a conflict between two people, the hurt is self-inflicted. Both/And. Relationships are complex and intense emotions like pain and fear can make them confusing.

Most can agree that a relationship characterized by frequent or prolonged pain is undesirable and probably unhealthy. There is some valuable growth that can come from painful experiences but in general, we seek equilibrium and peace.  In this quest for peace, we will adapt to pain and stress. If we’re constantly in pain, we might become desensitized but the impact of the pain permeates and ultimately guides our being. Eventually, the proverbial camel’s back breaks.

Our most significant relationship is with our self.  And it can be far more complex, intense, and confusing than our relationship with others!  Our body and mind interact every moment of our life. At times we experience the integration of the two but more often, we experience them as separate entities.  In truth, they are inextricable.

Bodily pain can hurt our minds.  Our mind may worry that we will lose the ability to do the things we enjoy.  Our mind might fear that the pain is permanent and happiness will be unattainable in the uncomfortable physical state.  The fearful thoughts may put the body under more stress, slowing healing and fueling the negative thoughts. A cycle emerges.

On the flip side, our mind can harm our body.  One’s desire to achieve a physical outcome like a particular vocal tone or yoga posture can lead them to transgress body boundaries and cause harm. Mental responses like shame or disappointment about the action or fear of the physical consequences initiates the cycle.  Shame, criticism, or judgement from oneself or others can manifest in bodily harm, without any physical act to provoke it.

Consider: which do you sense more, your body sensations or your thoughts?  Does one have more credibility than the other? Are you more likely to attend to one before the other?  If there is pain in your thoughts, will you sacrifice your body to alleviate it, potentially creating different pain?  Will you create worrisome thought patterns to distract yourself from bodily sensations?

Adapting to appropriate stress is how we grow.  But what is appropriate stress and who decides?  If you report intense physical sensation to your teacher during a voice lesson, who decides whether you should proceed with caution or change your approach?  If you are the voice teacher, do you encourage your student to trust their felt sense and make their own choice or do you take on the responsibility yourself and guide the experience?  How will the reaction of both parties (calm, inquisitive, fearful, dismissive…) influence what happens next?

The expressed intent of many fitness modalities is to break something down so it can grow back stronger.  For instance, the breakdown may be muscular micro-tearing in the context of a squat, a lunge, or a push-up.  One may or may not feel the sensations of the breakdown or rebuilding process. They may simply observe over time that their ability to do the same movement has changed.  More extreme expressions of this break down to build up approach can leave the participant in intense physical discomfort, short or long-term. Again, it’s worth considering what is appropriate stress and who decides.  

If we’re intentionally introducing pain into our lives, what are we hoping to achieve?  Is our intention true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first Yama (ethical practice) is Ahimsa (non-harming).  Non-harming of ourselves, of others, of body, of mind. Yoga practitioners may find themselves having to reconcile this aspect of yoga with a posture that is desirable but potentially harmful.  Who decides whether the yogi is introducing appropriate stress to challenge their mind and body or harming themselves? There’s no simple conclusion but when asking these questions, it’s essential that we listen to all of the answers the bodymind offers.

The bodymind is a lifelong relationship.  Pain is inevitable. How can we find resilience and strengthen the support between the body and mind?  Again, no simple answer but relationships tend to flourish when both parties feel equally acknowledged, valued, and loved without condition.  

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Dynamic Singing by Shauna Fallihee

As singers, we have chosen an infinitely dynamic musical instrument: our human body.

The state of our instrument changes from moment to moment. The attentive mind and nervous system that govern our body are constantly responding to the world around us.  We are influenced by our own memories, our desires, our fears. Our body adjusts to the sights, sounds, and other beings in our environment. These shifts happen constantly above and below the level of consciousness.  Added to our own variability are the ever changing requests of our composers: low and high tones sung strongly and softly, vibrant, sustained, staccato. Even within one style, our music requests a broad spectrum of sounds.

With such a dynamic set of circumstances, it stands to reason that our vocal technique should be similarly dynamic. Our breathing and resonance strategies can be flexible, easily adapted to our responsive bodies and varied musical intention.

The fundamental question for a singer is: “how do I want to communicate?” (also often asked as “what do I want to sound like?”)  We ask this question of artistic intention over and over. No matter how many times we sing a phrase, the answer is slightly different, colored by our ever changing selves; the self that is communicating.  This intention leads our singing. Some singers are able to make the sounds they desire solely guided by their imagination, without awareness of how the sound was produced. In the moments when our voice doesn’t readily serve our intent, we can look to our body for information and opportunity and draw from our well of vocal technique.

Our body systems, including our singing voice, seek equilibrium. To find holistic balance, the first place to bring awareness to is the alignment of our full body. Once we’ve sensed our whole instrument, we can notice the finer points: engagement, space, and any areas of energetic congestion or tension.

Let your musical intention lead your technique: if you seek a strong sound, experiment with deepening or intensifying the strength of your body. If there is vocal strain, there is likely physical strain that can be rebalanced into productive energy.  Bring awareness to the unexpected places, the places that don’t immediately strike you as singing parts. You may be surprised by their influence. Exploration will either illuminate new options or affirm your present techniques.

You can take great comfort in the adaptive and responsive nature of your body. Your body is ready to answer the questions you ask. When you make sounds you enjoy, pause and reflect on the physical sensations you felt. Appreciate that the felt sensations and perceptions may vary within you, from musical moment to moment. This information, revealed to you through your own singing, forms your own dynamic and embodied technique.  

We want to trust our voice.  It’s natural to desire consistency and predictable vocal outcome, especially if one performs publicly.  While a fixed vocal technique might suggest a fixed or predictable outcome, it can also be limiting. As soon as we believe we have found the “right” way to do something, we potentially close to other fruitful possibilities.  Empowered experiential learning leads to deep understanding and trust of one’s own technique. It is on that foundation of trust that singers are free to express themselves.

There are many ways to move breath. There are many ways to resonate your sound. There are many ways to communicate. There are many ways to connect to others with your unique voice.

Singing is the sound of your being. Whether you are performing your own composition or playing a character with a life unrecognizable to your own, you are the singer.  Your whole self is the singer. When you are fully inhabiting your own body and mind, you have every resource to sing with your authentic voice.

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