I've always enjoyed cooking and baking. It goes back to my childhood. My dad was quite the chef and loved food, unfortunately to the detriment of his health. He grew up in France with all the rich foods of that culture.
It wasn't long after my first home economics class at age 12 that I wasn't satisfied with the recipes they provided and started delving into my dad's vast tome of Larousse Gastronomique (a French food bible) and whipping up many of the decadent treats. Let's just say I went through a lot of whipped cream and butter.
As time wore on I started to have health issues and had to clean up my diet. That has lead me to my current plant-based lifestyle. I read many food blogs in the process, but today brings me to a first - MY first food blog.
One of the reasons for this is that the ladies in my current Boot Camp are getting fabulous results, but are seeking inspiration for tasty meals. So I came up with a whole week's worth of dinners that not only are clean, but also give us taste sensations from around the world including Indian, Moroccan, Asian and Mexican. Best thing - none of them take more than 20 minutes to prepare.
Today, I've decided I would share one of these recipes, which are usually only available exclusively in the Boot Camp. Are you ready for it?
Easy Chickpea Curry:
(makes two servings)
1 onion, chopped
1 tsp Extra virgin olive oil
1 19 oz. can Cooked Chickpeas (Garbonzo Beans), canned are fine
1 14 oz. can Coconut Milk
2 tsp Curry Powder (I used Madras)
1/4 tsp Tumeric
1/2 tsp Sea salt
Cayenne pepper to taste (a pinch for me)
In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until transparent. To the onion add chickpeas, coconut milk and spices. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes until slightly thickened (about 3 minutes).
Serve with a brown rice and salad.
As you can see when you get it all on a plate it really makes for a filling satisfying dinner (I didn't center it very well on the plate).
If you are interested in learning more about future Boot Camps feel free to contact me. I may no longer delve into that Larousse, but I will still say - Bon apetit!
Google exercises for singers and you will find many lists that include yoga, pilates, walking and swimming, while cautioning against weight training, extreme sports and sometimes dancing. In a world where what the human body can do is constantly being challenged and new ideas are evolving in sports medicine this is a very traditional and limiting view.
There was a time only a few decades ago that women were discouraged from running for fear that their ovaries would fall out. Now nearly half the field at the Boston Marathon is women; 61% of half-marathon finishers are women. If attitudes to women and exercise are changing so dramatically, then why are many sources for singers still behind the times? Luckily there are many singers that are pushing the frontiers of fitness and singing. There are singers who are marathon runners, triathletes (including me), and more. Some of these singers are very successful in the world of opera, too, an art form that is steeped in tradition. In the next few months I will be doing some interviews with these singers, so stay tuned.
But back to the original question: What makes a good exercise program for singers? Well, since presumably singers are humans, we require the same elements as anyone else. These elements will help prevent disease, improve body composition, help prevent injuries and make everyday activities easier to perform. The three primary components are cardiorespiratory training, resistance training and flexibility training.
Cardiorespiratory training improves lung capacity and strengthens the heart, increasing stroke volume so more blood is pumped through with each contraction of the heart, which means more oxygen is delivered to the cells and used at the cellular level to create energy. Read more in my previous article Why Cardiorespiratory Training is Important for Singers: How Hip Hop Changed My Life.
Resistance training (also called strength or weight training) improves muscle endurance and muscular strength, increases basal metabolic rate, improves joint strength and overall posture.
Flexibility training, by increasing range of motion, decreases the risk of injury, improves bodily movement and improves posture.
I’m sure as a singer you see the benefit of it all. For all singers posture is important for freedom of sound. Making sure any muscle imbalances are corrected through resistance and flexibility training will help with posture in an efficient manner. Energy and muscular endurance are important for performance when we have to deal with moving in heavy costumes, dancing, lifting props and any other stage craft needed to make it through a whole show sounding fresh right to the end. Even choral singers have physical demands placed on them to stand through a performance holding music.
So we need the three primary components of fitness, what else? The secondary components of fitness are comprised of balance, coordination, agility, reaction time, speed, power and mental capacity. All of these, even when exercised on larger muscle groups, will prime your brain to carry these components into singing, as well.
Now we know all the components to fitness, but how do we build a program from that? Ideally, you should have an assessment and work with a personal trainer who will design a customized program for your particular needs. We are all unique in our goals. We all have areas of weakness or muscular imbalance that a trained professional can help you with on an individual basis. They will also help you find something that you will enjoy doing so that you are successful at reaching your goals.
For many singers the cost of working with a trainer can be prohibitive or if you are traveling just not possible. The Fit Singer offers programs that can help you that are cost efficient and available to do from anywhere. For more information check out The Fit Singer Boot Camp.
If you already are doing some physical activity that’s wonderful! Just make sure you are including all the components of exercise. I would love to hear about what you do for your singer fitness. Let me know by commenting or send me a message at The Fit Singer.
Another year has begun. A new school year, a new teaching year, a new performance year. In fact, why we celebrate the “New Year” in January is strange. What’s new about more snow and cold? Many religions still celebrate their new years in September. It makes sense; the harvest is in and a new cycle begins. Lofty cerebral ponderings of why calendars have evolved in this way, aside, the fact remains that for many of us it is the start of a new cycle in our Singers lives, whether as a student, teacher or performer. This time of year also heralds the start of cold and flu season, and with the weight of responsibilities expected of us, can also increase the stress in our lives, which if left unchecked can impair your immune system. So this is a time at which self-care is more important than ever!
Self-care incorporates a number of elements and though it may seem like you don’t have the time to indulge in it, in the long run you can avoid getting sick and overwhelmed. No one wants to cancel a performance or a lesson. Taking care of yourself will also maintain your productivity and most importantly your creativity. So here are some tips to taking care of you and your voice.
Make time for yourself!
This is the most important step. All the other elements of self-care depend on you allotting time to for yourself. Schedule this time in you calendar – you are making an appointment with yourself and don’t break it for anything else!
Make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. You should be getting a minimum of 2-3 servings of fruit a day and 3-5 servings of veggies. This is the part of the diet that usually is the most neglected, but contains the most micro- and phyto-nutrients that will help with immune function and energy levels. Also (and I probably don’t need to mention this to singers), stay well hydrated. Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily. This helps flush the body of toxins, helps in the uptake of nutrients into the body, keeps your vocal folds hydrated and so much more.
Get enough sleep!
Sleep is the time that your body and mind are being repaired. You cannot skimp on it without repercussions. Read Are You Getting Enough Sleep? to find out more.
Staying strong and fit helps increase your immunity. It makes everyday tasks much easier. Exercise can helps with mood, assists in stress management. It also prevents cardiovascular disease. You get the added benefits of weight management and a toned body and it will help your singing. You can easily get a good workout done in 30 minutes a day.
Have some quiet time!
This could be in the form of meditation or just having a relaxing soak in a tub. Or drink a soothing herbal tea by the fire. Or maybe a gentle walk in the woods with the crisp leaves crunching under your feet while you enjoy the colors of autumn; nature is a great place to have quiet time. Whatever makes you feel recharged and lets your mind clear. That’s actually the most important part of it, training you mind to let go of your worries.
Do something you enjoy! Go out with friends, read a good book, watch a movie…whatever gives you pleasure! This is a very personal thing and may depend on whether you are an introvert or extrovert and other personality traits. It may overlap with some of the other elements of self-care. Letting your hair down once in awhile is important to maintaining balance in your life and will help keep your stress levels down.
For me, taking these elements into account has made a world of difference. I used to be quite sickly and seemed to come down with something about every 6 weeks. Making lifestyle changes (especially eating well), has made a huge impact on my health.
So here’s to a healthy, creative and productive new year!
At the end of my very first formal yoga class at a Bikram studio, the instructor came up to me since I was new and asked what yoga I had done before. I told her this was my very first class. This seemed to surprise her a bit because she said I had done very well if it was my first time. Before this, I had dabbled with yoga poses on my own and in dance classes and I suggested to her that it might have been the dance. She replied with an emphatic “NO”. She went on to explain that dancers did not necessarily make the best yogis since they seemed to hold tension and it was more to do with my breathing. When I mentioned that I was a singer her face lit up and she said, “Well that explains it!”
As singers we all know the importance of breathing. It’s the first thing that most of us are taught when we begin formal training. We learn to take deep low breaths and how to manage our breathing musculature for efficient sound production. If you haven’t mastered this yet, I hope your voice teacher is spending time helping to develop this very important part of your instrument. The specific mechanics of breathing are not what I want to discuss today. Rather I want to talk about how deep breathing will benefit not only your singing, but also athletic performance and your general well being.
Many singing teachers that I’ve had in the past and even some current discussion groups and blogs that I read caution against vigorous cardio activities for singers under the misconception that this encourages shallow breathing. Nothing can be further from the truth! Yes, inexperienced exercisers sometimes tend to breath in a shallow manner, but this is not correct and usually due to bad breathing habits at rest, as well. Elite athletes all breathe deeply – they have to. Oxygen = energy for aerobic activity. The very word “aerobic” means “with oxygen”. Athletes need to use their full lung capacity to get the greatest amount of oxygen possible that will be picked up in the blood and pumped through the heart to the muscles being used.
I remember my triathlon coach telling the rest of my team to inhale deeply on their bike ride and feel the expansion of their gut as the diaphragm descends and displaced the organs making room for the lungs to expand fully. He said if you watch the Tour de France racers, these guys who are so slim and fit, you would see they look absolutely pregnant when they inhale.
Exhalation is also important and that abdominal contraction that happens on exhalation can help with the power in your movements. Think of martial artists letting out a yell as they punch or kick and the weightlifter’s grunt.
So some quick tips on breathing as you exercise:
When doing aerobic exercise find a rhythm to your breathing. Swimming has it’s own unique rhythm and is great for controlling exhalation. For running or biking it depends on the effort. For a hard effort you can inhale for 2 steps/pedals, exhale for 2. For an easy effort try 3 and 3. There are other patterns, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
When doing resistance training, exhale on the effort/contraction of the muscle and inhale as the muscle lengthens.
Finally in stretching, relax with the exhalation and feel a deepening of the stretch, but be careful not to over stretch.
Read more about why cardiorespiratory training is important for singers here.
The benefits you will gain from deep breathing will not only help your singing and athletic performance, but will carry on into your life. Here is a list of benefits of deep breathing.
So as a singer, you already have an advantage to reap these benefits. It’s no wonder singers are known to have above average life expectancy!