Are you holistically Stage Ready?

Are you holistically Stage Ready?

For this blog post, I wanted to share a copy of the article I recently published in ISing Magazine last month! Here it is below, or check it out at: www.isingmag.com/?s=Leigh+Graham

Are you holistically Stage Ready?

You have your own unique magic, your true creative essence that has the opportunity to shine in  musical expression. When you get out of your own way, it works brilliantly!

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you feel more than ready for the stage, feeling primed and in the zone, both physically and mentally? Other times, you feel tired, nervous, scattered or unfocused?

Perhaps you’ve been performing for a long time, but you still feel you lack consistency. You desire a singing preparation routine that works. You do the vocal exercises, practice the repertoire, maybe learn some choreography, and do some breathing exercises. After that, do you just hope for the best that all will turn out?

In my lifelong journey as a singer, I’ve had the privilege of performing in small and large venues around the world. In doing so, I have been reminded of the notion that, ‘wherever you go, there you are’. My doubts followed me, as did my negative self-talk and anxiety. Can you relate? It made me wonder, after singing on stage my whole life, is it too much to ask to enjoy connecting with the audience while delivering the goods? I didn’t think so.

Being a fitness and mindset coach, I looked for clues in the mind and body. I came to discover that you don’t have to leave your state on stage up to chance.  I realized singers could absolutely transform their performance using specific tools through mindset, movement, and other nourishing habits in addition to practicing the music. A big component of a successful performance is mental and state-based, and I discovered some other health hacks for feeling great onstage, in your body.

What about our bodies? Should we be doing something in particular with them in between practice sessions that can benefit us? Singing affects the whole body. While proper breathing is essential, there are many other body aspects to consider including musculature, posture, strength, stamina, mobility and flexibility in all of the right places. A strong core is important, for example, but the abs can’t be too tight, or stuck, otherwise you will struggle with breath control and line. Immune and nervous system support are important to consider as well.

Enter the mind. Ever used visualization? One of my favourite courses in my Kinesiology undergrad at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada, was Sport Psychology. I thought it fascinating that science had proven that the brain doesn’t differentiate between skill practice and skill visualization! Applying the principles to music performance courses as well, I found the claim to be true across the board.

TIP: When too ill to practice, try practicing the song to perfection in your head. Then take the time to visualize your ultimate performance in real time. To see what you would like to see, hear and feel. You need to immerse yourself in the fantasy. It should feel real. In addition to helping you become very clear on your intention for the show, you are programming ‘future memories’ into your brain.

The missing link we have not yet discussed is how to integrate mind and body for the stage. All the preparation in the world can go out the window when nerves and hyper (or hypo) stimulation come into play. So how do you manage colliding fears, doubts and habits that hold you back from freedom and joy on stage?  First, you need to simply be aware of the state you’re in; then manage it if you’re not in a positive one. Particularly when used alongside an energizing or relaxing physical activity set, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) offers some useful tools to get you in the state you want to be in. If you want to practice consistently getting ‘in the zone’ (or in an optimal state) before singing, try the NLP exercise called Anchoring or Anchors.

The individual study of each of these components culminated in my development of a mind-body stage preparation program for singers called Fit for the Stage.

In addition to the tips mentioned prior, here are a few of my singers’ favourite check-ins and resets that can be done anywhere relatively quickly to get you in the optimal state to sing; feeling grounded but energized, connected and present. I hope you will use them and enjoy the magic that follows.

Tune into your body. Do you need to fire it up, or take it down a notch? If you need more energy, go for a brisk walk or try my energizing set. If you are feeling overwhelmed, slow down with a few stretches or use my relaxing set.

Adopt a meditation practice. It will help you clear your mind more effectively and efficiently whenever you need to. There are some great free apps that guide you in only 5 minutes a day.

Or contact me for singer-specific meditations and mantras.

Make sure you’re nutritionally nourished. On the run? Try a smoothie with greens, berries, healthy fats and protein. It will help balance your blood sugar, and subsequently regulate your nervous system, all part of a healthy singer. Particularly if you’re drinking it right before you sing, avoid substituting in dairy, coffee, anything ice cold, acidic tropical fruits, or spicy foods.

And happy singing!


Leigh Graham is a Canadian vocalist and fifteen-year Health, Mindset and Fitness Professional. She is an NLP Practitioner and Fitness for Mental Health specialist.  Her education, passion and experience in  Kinesiology and Music Performance led her to create a singer-specific mind-body training protocol that she is sharing with the world’s vocalists so they can maximize their impact in, and joy of, performing.

Follow Leigh on IG at www.instagram.com/fitforthestage/ for more singers’ tips. See fitforthestage.com to sign up for her next full-day workshop in October in Toronto, Canada or to arrange one in your city.

In the Zone Every Time

In the Zone Every Time

When you’re on stage singing, you can have a lot of information coming at you. Bright Lights. Blurry Faces. Smoke Machines. A loud band or orchestra. Other performers on stage with you. Moving props. Each of us is unique in how we process this stimuli, and it is important as a singer and performer to be able to focus on certain things and not others while we’re up there.

What are some things we need to aware of on stage?

Well, once we’ve practiced our vocals and interpretation to the point of mastery, at the very least we have support, breath, stamina, posture, memory, and portraying the story to think about. For some of us singers, there may also be spoken lines and choreography to rock.

To do all this effectively as a singer and performer, we need to be in a certain state. When we are, we have access to awareness, confidence and joy, which allow for the audience to feel, and to connect deeply with our music.

Ask yourself these four questions before you step onto that stage:

  1. Am I able to take a deep breath? (Exhaling at least on a 4-6 count)
  2. Can I be aware of my body, noticing how it feels?
  3. Do I feel grounded and able to focus on one thing?
  4. Am I also energized?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, you are ready to get out there.

If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may like to take a minute with one or more exercise below to take you to an optimal state for your best performance.

Some Fit for the StageTM  approved hacks to optimize your singing state:

If you’re hyper-energized/anxious or unable to take a deep breath before you get on stage, reduce overstimulation and practice singular focus with one or more of these:

  • Do a body roll. From standing, hang down from the waist like a rag doll. Inhale at the bottom, and as you sllllowly roll up, stacking the spine, with head coming up last, exhale with the movement. Perform three times.
  • Sitting upright, close your eyes and do a meditative body scan from head to toe to light up your awareness of your body, and summon that grounded presence.
  • Take one minute to sift through each of your senses (sight, sound, touch, smell) one by one, and see what you can notice with each. You may like to close your eyes when you’re not using sight.

If you’re feeling bored or tired, get in the zone with one or both of these:

  • Practice visualizing your ideal performance. Imagine the audience participating with joy and excitement. Imagine YOU in full immersion, sharing your talents. What would make it feel wonderful and impact the audience immensely? Notice the details. What do you SEE? Smiling faces? What do you HEAR? Cheers and laughter? What do you FEEL? Energy pulsing through your veins? Have fun with it.
  • Move your body in a way that is silly, fun and playful for you. Bust out a ridiculous sexy dance for a few bars. Something that loosens you up in body and spirit. Something that makes you laugh. Watch the tension fly away. And watch those stage hands thank you for the pre-show…

What are some of your backstage ‘get into the zone’ hacks? Love to hear them.

The Fit For the Stage story

The Fit For the Stage story

As a seeker of top level performance my whole life, in both sport and in music performance, I became drawn to the psychology behind it, eventually curating simple tools to use in order to be optimally prepared for each event, on stage or on the field. 

I have a tendency toward anxiety and hyper-stimulation, and from a young age created little hacks to manage this.

During my studies in both Kinesiology and Music in University, I began to draw links between these my two great loves; applying Psychology of Exercise techniques such as visualization to my singing practice, and infusing the musical elements of rhythm and presence into my Dance and other Sport electives.

While nerding out with Psych texts was fun for me, I recognized that in order to integrate the learning, I’d need to practice the techniques over time. Truthfully, it wasn’t until I felt the difference in my mind and body before and during performances over subsequent years that I realized just how useful these practices were. I found my musical and sport performance to be both more personally enjoyable, while also being more effective. Huh.

Little did I know at that time, that I would also one day have a full roster of willing and hardworking fitness clients to share these principles with, and to develop and hone them further with practice.

In practice with clients, we work from a place of focus and awareness. We aim to be optimally stimulated. We aim to be relaxed and energized. We aim to have body awareness, feeling which muscles are initiating or stabilizing in each movement. We aim to cultivate singular focus. When I work with clients, I don’t always talk about these principles in depth but rather create an environment and set of cues that will immerse us in an arena of enjoyable and effective movement as a team.

Throughout my career, the learning has continued. I enjoy expanding my comfort zone by continually stepping outside it. Truthfully, it was pretty small to begin with. Everything scared me. Most things still do. Haha. Books, podcasts, courses, certifications, retreats, they’ve all contributed to my self-awareness and my ability to share, as a coach and as a human being.

One such adventure was a 10-day silent meditation retreat. Among so many other things I gained including understanding how my mind directly impacted my body, improving my ability to meditate (duh), learning how to sit still (lol), and learning how to shut up, I experienced singular focus on a deep level.

I have never before enjoyed the taste and texture of an orange so much.

I had never before noticed the deep and profound beauty of a droplet on a leaf. 

I had never been so delighted at the sound of anything as much as those glorious woodpeckers. 

I have never been so in tune with the deep and undeniable sensations in my body.

I had never noticed the subtle smells in the forest. The soil, the fresh air, the sweetness of the moss.

On that retreat, sitting still for ten hours a day cross-legged for ten days, many thoughts and sensations came up. I noticed things that had previously been in my ‘blind spot’. I became aware of some low-level anxiety. I noticed I woke up with it! I never knew that before. Maybe you can relate? With a little morning meditation, my mind and body relaxed, and I felt clearer, lighter, and less overwhelmed. I attribute it to acknowledging ‘what was’ within me. In other words, my body and mind relaxed when I paid attention to its signals without trying to change them. Who knew? Over time, I became slower to react, and less prone to overwhelm, frustration and anger. This is because I could recognize subtler messages in my body, and could take steps to mitigate them before they got out of hand. As I have been practicing meditation for years every day now, I also require less time to be get to my desired state, one of grounded energy. That optimal level of arousal. I want to share this with you!

Try it! Mini-Retreat:Walk through the woods and acknowledge and use each sense on its own for a few minutes each. Cultivate your ability to differentiate between them. It’s seriously fun. Not that serious. 😉

Your Optimal Level of Arousal on Stage

Your Optimal Level of Arousal on Stage

If you’ve ever studied Sport Psych, you may have heard of the Yerkes-Dodson Law. If you are like me, though the knowledge stuck with you, you can never remember those guys’ names. 

Anyway, the law describes ‘optimal level of arousal’ and states that: ‘increased levels of arousal will improve performance, but only up until the optimum arousal level is reached’. 

When arousal levels are very high or very low, performance tends to be worse. There is an optimal level for focus, memory, and coordination. Let’s look at how the law applies not only to athletes, but also to singers.

Have you experienced this yourself on stage or in studio? Feeling overstimulated to the point where it was hard to focus on the lyrics or the music? Or feeling lethargic, sick, or just flat, not sure you’ll have the stamina for those high notes ahead? 

Think about a time when you were most ‘in the zone’. How did it feel? In addition to feeling amazing, I’m willing to bet it also had the greatest impact. How did the audience respond?

In general, overly high levels of stimulation affect performance using two main channels. 

First, they increase muscle tension and negatively impact co-ordination. Secondly, arousal affects attention levels. Excessive arousal can lead to anxiety, and feeling too nervous to concentrate. Both can be detrimental to one’s singing performance.

Drawing comparisons between the preparation for sports events and for musical performances allowed me to develop similar and effective tools for both. I didn’t want to ‘reinvent the wheel’ each time I prepared for something potentially stressful or challenging (usually in front of a whole lot of people). 

When my vocal coach in University used sports references (like ‘keep your stick on the ice’ to represent ‘singing on the breath’), it seemed funny at the time as he knew I was a Kin Major and hockey fan, but it encouraged a more playful and creative approach to my visualizations, which have become an essential part of my stage preparations. 

Do you feel like you have strategies that you can sometimes use to success, and otherwise forget about? Do you feel as though you could be more consistent with your physical and mental preparation for your vocal performances? You’re not alone. I want to share some strategies and tools that work for singers physically and mentally, summoning us to a focused, alert, relaxed and energized state. 

Doesn’t that sound appealing? To feel and look amazing on stage, and to bring out your best voice? Life is busy and we don’t always make time to feel our best and set our intentions firmly. But if you’re reading this, it looks like you are ready to make a habit of it.

So how do we find the ever-elusive optimal level?

The basic assumption of the Arousal Theory is that environmental factorsinfluence the brain’s level of arousal. We engage in actions to attain an optimal level of arousal by either decreasing or increasing the amount and type of stimulationreceived from the environment. Makes sense. The great thing is, we don’t have to let our environment be decided for us. We can choose environments that support our ultimate goals.

  • Using a combination of physical exercise tools, including either an energizing or a relaxing series, you can balance energy to your advantage. 
  • Examining your food plan can be beneficial to ensure that you have balance in other ways such as blood sugar, and hormonal balance. 
  • Your nervous system and immune system may also need support to promote your best top-level performance. 
  • Finally, body awareness, and most importantly listening to your body’s cues, is essential for joy and confidence, and inevitably, impact on stage.

An optimal level is important for singers in particular as there are many moving parts to a vocal performance. While some nerves (or excitement as we like to call it) can be energizing, we need to have direct access to attention and focus in order to summon the lyrics and interpretation of the material, to be present and connect emotionally with the audience or other performers, and maybe even nail some choreography…!