Our Relationship With the Mirror
There is a great benefit to using a mirror in your practice. Actually, there are benefits on more than one level.
You might be familiar with using a mirror in your practice to observe various aspects of yourself while you sing. The obvious things we can use this for are checking on our posture, mouth position, jaw opening, lift in the face.
The reason we want to do this is because these are important details in our coordination but they are difficult to sense if we aren’t already used to doing them.
So observing in the mirror to give us more accurate feedback can help make sure we are keeping these aspects well balanced.
For instance, keeping an uplifted posture with an open ribcage and slender waist is challenging for most of us. It tends to sag after some time. But with the ability to observe this in the mirror we have definite feedback on our success in keeping this condition which can stimulate us to keep it up.
Or we may be having difficulty keeping the combination of a slight smile and relaxed forward lips that optimizes the resonance form. With the aid of the mirror we can watch to make sure we are keeping the combination without letting it turn into only one or the other or become some kind of unnatural expression.
This is a fairly obvious benefit to using a mirror in our practice. The less obvious benefit is we get used to observing ourselves. This is more of an issue for some of us than others.
As singers these issues apply to not only the visual observation of using a mirror, but also the aural observation of using recordings.
It is a well established principle that we don’t hear ourselves the way we actually sound to an outside listener. So recordings are a great tool to allow us the same perspective to accurately assess the effectiveness of what we are doing.
The problem is, those benefits of being able to observe ourselves visually and aurally are only available if we actually look in the mirror and listen to the recording.
This may not be an issue for you. If that is the case, then congratulations. You are better than me. If this is an issue for you, maybe this discussion will be of help.
I actually was inspired to write this because today is Valentine’s Day. The day devoted to love. Generally this is considered to mainly be love towards our romantic partner.
But what I want to focus on is love for yourself. And this has a lot to do with singing because singing, the natural response that becomes singing, comes from love.
Singing is expression, vocal expression. Of course, we express the whole spectrum of emotions artistically with our singing. But the physical act of singing only happens from the need to express positive emotion. And I would consider positive emotion to be love.
I often ask people why they sing. There are many possible answers, but the most simple one that should exist under all of the others is because we love it.
We’ve all heard someone get forced to sing that doesn’t really love it. They seem to be very inhibited. And that is maybe the biggest reason we need to love to sing if we are going to try and do it.
Because we burst through our inhibitions for things we love. When we love someone (or want to) we do things we wouldn’t usually be able to do. Especially if we are normally reserved or shy.
The same thing is necessary for singing. It is quite frightening to get up in front of others and sing. The only thing we can really rely on consistently to fight through the fear is our love of singing.
Now, anyone who has had any exposure to therapy has probably heard something to the effect that we can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves. And I think there is at least some truth to that.
So that leads me to think that we probably will have a hard time singing if we don’t love ourselves. At least we could do a better job of it if we did.
I’m sure we could experience more freedom and less inhibition. Less worry and more sincere expression. So that is why I wanted to talk about loving ourselves.
I recently stumbled on the sales page for a self-help program that is based on what she calls “mirror work”.
It is a little “touchy-feely” for my comfort. You know, the kind that even if you are interested in it you would feel a little uncomfortable telling someone else. Some of us manly types just scoff and move on when we come across this type of thing.
But the thing I was noticing is that these feelings of embarrassment that tend to go along with this type of material is not so much discomfort with the material. It is a sign that we are not comfortable with ourselves. What could be called our true self.
And this discomfort is going to result in some degree of inhibition in our ability to be expressive. Which is at the heart of what singing is. So it has a direct effect on our ability to be a singer. (Really it has a direct effect on our ability to be successful in any activity)
A way we can improve this is to learn how to be more accepting of ourselves. Especially our imperfections. As someone who teaches individuals, and also now as a father, I understand the gradual process of learning.
I understand that improvements come in small steps. Sometimes it seems like we are still doing things wrong when in reality we are making small, but appropriate, improvements.
The challenge is it is often easier to accept this necessary patience when we are working with a child or someone else. But when dealing with ourselves we tend to have unrealistic expectations. We are too impatient. We want it to be correct right now instead of allowing the improvement to happen.
We need to learn to treat ourselves with the same loving patience we would show our child. In short, we need to love ourselves.
Tony Robbins has a quote that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in five years. This is absolutely true.
The key is to make small, gradual, but continual improvements. But in order to do this we have to be accepting of our imperfections. Because for a while it might not seem like we are making improvements. And if we can’t accept the gradual nature of it we will be overly critical and risk the possibility of improving at all.
I learned an interesting thing from the promotional material for that self-help program. They talked about our relationship with the mirror.
They said that from birth to 18 months we don’t seem to really notice the mirror. They don’t really know for sure why. I would guess it has to do with the limited visual awareness that babies have.
Then from around 18 months to 7 years kids are obsessed with the mirror. They stop and look at their reflection whenever they see it. Whether a mirror, window, water. They love to look at themselves.
Then starting around 7 years and on they start avoiding the mirror. This shows up also as not wanting their picture taken. For many this continues into adulthood. Simply no interest in observing themselves.
I think it is obvious that for those of us that gravitate in this direction our avoidance is a manifestation of our limited acceptance. Our limited acceptance of ourselves, the reality of what and who we are.
I hope that it isn’t difficult to make the connection that this situation is limiting. When we avoid and can’t accept what we really are we aren’t being honest. And when we aren’t honest we can’t be honestly expressive.
Growing up I didn’t have much of a problem with the mirror. Plus, my Dad was an amateur photographer so I was very comfortable having my picture taken.
Except for during my early elementary school years. I developed a strong belief my ears were too big. I suppose there were kids that were helpful enough to tell me. So I insisted I had to have my hair cover my ears to my earlobes.
I grew out of that. But as an adult in relation to singing I have had an aversion to listening to my recordings. (I almost always record lessons/coachings.) Not always, but at times I have caught myself avoiding listening because I didn’t want to confirm that it was as bad as I thought.
You see, once you look in the mirror or listen to the recording there is nowhere to hide. You have to face how things really are. We no longer get to live in the bliss of ignorance and fantasy.
And shattering that illusion is no fun. But what we need to realize is we can’t make actual improvements while still living in the illusion. We have to work with things as they actually are in order to make positive changes.
And to be able to accept our imperfections and be open to whatever we are at this moment requires us to be caring and loving to ourselves. Being a hard taskmaster to ourselves serves very little benefit. (And fortunately we sometimes realize that things were better than we thought because of the recording. And we need to accept that as well.)
Of course we need to do the things necessary. Being loving doesn’t mean just letting things remain unchanged. We can see that in children that are allowed to do whatever they want. That is not a loving act by the parent.
The same applies to our situation. Give yourself permission to be imperfect so you can be free to move forward. Resistance to that will only cause you to stay stuck and not make the progress you desire.
We have to get over our fear of our reflection. Whether that is the reflection in the mirror, our recording or the reflection our teacher is giving us.
Those we work with to improve basically accomplish that by mirroring ourselves back to us. Then if they are good they can point out where our limiting actions are and how to improve them.
It is the same with therapy. The therapist is mirroring back what you are doing. So in a way we can be our own therapist or teacher through the use of a mirror and recorder so we can observe our reflection and see and hear what we are actually doing.
I think this is probably at the heart of why some people don’t make much progress. It takes work to assimilate what the mirror is telling you. Even if that mirror is a teacher we have to process the reflection.
Just like I said about not wanting to listen to my recordings. If we don’t look, if we don’t listen, if we don’t take in the reflection and process the lessons from it we won’t learn and improve.
Is that the teacher’s fault? Is it the mirror’s fault? Of course there are other elements involved, like is the feedback accurate. But we must never give up responsibility for our own improvement.
So in a nutshell, your relationship with yourself will influence your relationship with everyone and everything else in your life. This includes other people, but also your body, which is what we use for our singing.
There is much more that can be explored along this line of thought, but I’ll leave that for you to do on your own.
So happy Valentine’s day. Go tell someone you love them, but then make sure you go to your mirror and also tell yourself.