Nobel laureate poet Rabindranath Tagore once said: “The singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside.” What if the musical notes don’t come out right? What if something disrupts your perfect tune? What if you were told severe muscular problems could be detrimental to your voice? Singer-songwriter Mathangi Jagadish was in a similar dilemma after she developed excruciating pain in her shoulders. But the pain did not deter her spirits. Instead, it paved way for a rather enriching experience.
Wholistic Vocal Fitness is an interesting collaboration between Mathangi’s brainchild Wholistic Vocalist and sports medicine consultant Dr Kannan Pugazhendi’s programme Fitness Unlimited. Through this initiative, Mathangi discusses her personal experience as a singer, and the transformation she underwent to rescue her passion for singing. While Mathangi interacts from a personal standpoint, Dr Pugazhendi brings in his expertise on physical fitness and its relevance to vocal health.
In an exclusive interview with Soulveda, the duo speak of their vision and what motivated them to take the concept ahead.
How did Wholistic Vocal Fitness come to be?
Mathangi: I had been in talks with Dr Pugazhendi about starting something for singers. In January 2017, I started my platform Wholistic Vocalist, where I speak of eight cornerstones of vocal health. One of them is fitness. I knew the right person to collaborate with would be Dr Pugazhendi. His sound understanding of the mind-body-spirit connection was an added advantage.
Dr Pugazhendi: When Mathangi came to me, she was aware of how fitness was integral to achieving her goals. She bombarded me with information of what was being done in other countries in this area. She was aware of how it could be helpful for vocalists or anybody intending to use their voice to communicate well. I knew it would be an ideal goal to achieve.
Dr Pugazhendi, you specialise in sports medicine. What role does your expertise play in this initiative?
Dr Pugazhendi: Wholistic Vocalist is the domain of a vocalist. My work is to bring to the table the fitness aspect with respect to singing. For instance, the muscles around the vocal chords–internally and externally–should be relaxed, for a singer to perform well. Through regular exercise, singers can maintain their cardio-muscular strength and endurance. Also, relaxation through exercise helps singers manage stress levels. This could enhance their performance.
“Once the outcome of the performance overpowers an artiste, s/he may undergo high stress. To ignore that demand and perform against all odds would require a certain amount of detachment.”
How does this platform work?
Mathangi: This is a platform for sharing stories of transformation and inspiration. As of now, we are planning to stick to workshops. Generally, there is a lot of learning involved. For instance, everybody understands vocal technique. The fact that posture or musculature can affect your voice is rather surprising for most. If you are a person who sits and sings, then you need to be aware that your spine should be aligned. So, the platform creates awareness about the role fitness plays in vocal health.
The mind-body-spirit connection is quite an important aspect of this collaborative effort. Could you elaborate?
Dr Pugazhendi: In any artistic performance, the body-mind-spirit coordination is an absolute must. Primarily, an artiste has to have a relaxed mind to be able to get to the performance and not relate it to the outcome. Once the outcome of the performance overpowers an artiste, s/he may undergo high stress.
To ignore that demand and perform against all odds would require a certain amount of detachment. This detachment can make the artiste relax and not worry about the outcome. This way, the emotional level is taken care of at the spiritual level. And with this, one can go ahead to work on the physical level. After all, the connect made at the spiritual level makes the healing faster.
How do you treat an individual through such an approach?
Dr Pugazhendi: This platform is for people who wish to specifically utilise their voice. Using fitness regimens, yoga, Sujok, and acupressure has yielded positive results in our initiatives. We also intend to explore the benefits of Tai chi and Traditional Chinese Medicine in this regard.
Could you tell us how the physical aspects impact the vocal chords?
Dr Pugazhendi: When singers sing, they take the audience to the parasympathetic mode–a relaxed mode, where your breath rate and heart rate are low, and your muscles are absolutely relaxed. But the singers themselves are prone to be in the sympathetic mode, which causes higher heart rate and breath rate. Even their muscles contract.
Therefore, when singers train or perform, it is ideal to keep them under the parasympathetic mode. Otherwise, it may make the whole effort inefficient. In order to be efficient, singers need to be more relaxed.
Relaxation is all the more imperative if the singers are to move about during their performance. This requires their vocal chords to function in tandem with their breathing. This can be tough. In fact, this kind of a performance would require the singers to train while running, jogging, and walking.
“Our body is a beautiful thing. Drop the idea of ‘I will take care of it when it fails.'”
Mathangi, you have personally experienced the impact of physical problems on your vocals. Has this helped you create awareness?
Mathangi: Certainly. Five years ago, I suffered from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) that led to losing my voice. I always knew that there had to be some underlying physical problem behind my loss of ability to sing. One of the most important things that has happened through this is that I have been compelled to share as honestly and as truthfully as I can with a hope that it might help someone. This is why I created Wholistic Vocalist.
What do you envisage for the platform?
Mathangi: My hope is that it will grow into something where people can start sharing stories with each other. Right now, I am looking to create awareness regarding fitness and vocal health. It is an initiative I hope will grow.
What has this journey taught you?
Mathangi: When a singer loses his/her voice, the identity of the vocalist is wiped out. You are forced to ask yourself “Who am I?” So, I’ve learnt that the mindset–and attitude–is the starting point of the journey. If that is in place, the rest will fall in line. Other factors such as sleep, hydration, nutrition, fitness, breathing technique and vocal technique too play a significant role in a singer’s life.
What advice would you give to an aspiring singer?
Dr Pugazhendi: Our body is a beautiful thing. Drop the idea of ‘I will take care of it when it fails.’ It is vital to understand how to maintain it to the best of its capacity, so that you can augment your performance as well as improve it enough to avoid medical help. This gives you an increased potential to improve your singing technique. It also ensures that you are more relaxed and confident.
This cannot happen overnight. It is a lifetime journey. Exercise regularly, eat what is required for your system, and consciously relax on a day-to-day basis. Most importantly, breathe right.