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…!