Here is an inquiry I received that I think would be helpful to may people:
I practice Bikram (ie., hot) yoga. I also sing in a community choir here in Salt Lake City. When I do yoga I almost always suffer significant weakening of my voice (it becomes constricted, and I don’t have my usual power or resonance), and in addition, as a low bass, I usually lose about the bottom minor third of my range. It generally takes 36 to 48 hours to recover.
This has the Bikram instructors totally puzzled, but none of them knows anything about singing. It seems very odd to me, since my vocal chords are never really engaged during yoga. Since you obviously know about both singing and yoga, I thought you might have an idea or suggestion for me. I really thrive on my yoga practice, and regret the constant burden it is to my singing.
Anyway, If you have any thoughts about this I would really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks!
Thanks for your question. There are indeed some possible reasons for your vocal problems after practicing hot yoga.
You might be engaging what is called the val salva reflex. When doing any sort of strenuous exercise we can hold our breath and close and squeeze our vocal cords together, causing vocal cord distress. You have probably heard weight lifters making grunting and squeezing sounds when lifting heavy weights. You can squeeze the vocal cords together even without any audible sound.
Although breathing is a very important component of yoga, most of the yoga teachers I train inform me that most of their students hold their breath while doing difficult postures. So make sure you are breathing and your throat is relaxed, and your vocal cords are open.
Many students also clench their jaws when doing difficult postures which is also terrible for the voice as there is a muscle that courses directly from the jaw to the hyoid bone, which the larynx hangs from. Jaw clenching is often accompanied by squeezing of the vocal cords, so make sure your jaw stays released when you are practicing.
Another problem could be ujjayi breathing. In India the yogis say that ujjayi breathing should be barely audible but many Americans practice ujjayi breathing loudly. Ujjayi breathing is a constriction of the back of the throat and will often constrict the vocal cords as well, when done loudly. The one thing we want most, in singing, is a relaxed throat, so ujjayi breathing is not always good for singers. Especially singers that struggle with throat tension. It can be practiced softly without constriction of the vocal cords, but it requires some training to do so. I practice ujjayi breathing, but I do it softly and I am always aware of not clenching my vocal cords. The main purpose of ujjayi breathing is to give a focal point to direct the breath stream to. By directing the breath to a surface the air pressure coming from below is balanced and the breath will be lengthened much the same way it is in singing when the voice is directed to the resonators.
You could also be breathing too vigorously. We breathe right between our vocal cords, since they are at the top of the trachea. They are actually like a mouth opening into our respiratory system. When breathing the cords should remain open and relaxed, but if you are breathing vigorously you may be tightening the vocal cords on inhalation, which can fatigue them. Try breathing deeply and silently as you would in singing. In singing we don’t want the singer to make an audible sound on inhalation because any sound on inhalation is caused by constriction of the vocal cords or vocal tract. This same constriction can happen through vigorous breathing while exercising.
Another possible factor is that practicing yoga in a hot dry room is drying out your cords. The vocal cords like humidity levels between 30 and 60%. If the room is very dry you need to drink a ton of water while practicing and afterwards. The best way you can hydrate your vocal cords is by drinking water (better than any other type of drink) that assimilates into your blood stream and is delivered to the cords through hydration. The other way to hydrate the vocal cords is through inhaling steam. Inhaling dry air dries the vocal cords. Singers are more sensitive to things like humidity changes and dehydration than the average person. There is a layer of moist mucus called a mucosal wave that floats over the vocal cords and when this dries out they don’t respond normally. Many opera divas make concert halls turn off their air conditioning or heater in rehearsals because it dries their throats. After practicing hot yoga a regular person needs to consume a lot of water to re-hydrate the body; a singer needs to consume even more. Watch out for the consumption of coffee, black tea, alcohol or use of antihistamines if you are practicing hot yoga as they dehydrate the body and the vocal cords. So, drink lots of water and you could also try putting a pot of plain water (no herbs) on the stove, heating it up until it is steaming and putting a towel over your head so you can inhale steam for about ten minutes to rehydrate the cords. This is great for any type of vocal fatigue or if your cords are feeling uncomfortable after an illness.
I have a feeling your problem may be a combination of the things above which are exasperated by practicing in a hot room. Have you had any of the same problems doing other forms of yoga?
Hope this helps!
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