On a beach on the wild Northumberland coast, a group of ten women stand on their yoga mats in tree pose. They lock eyes with each other, and then they burst into song.
They harmonise together, their voices drifting across the waves breaking on the beach. They finish their gospel song before starting a series of sun salutations. An hour later the women leave the beach smiling and chatting animatedly together.
This is Stretch and Sing, a new type of yoga workshop devised by Sarah Gray, 58, a singing teacher, and Becca Poremba, 35 a yoga instructor, both from Northumberland.
Sarah says: ‘I was Becca’s singing teacher and when I started attending her yoga class we realised that our disciplines were about making people feel good. One day, we had the brainwave of combining the two and created our first ‘stretch and sing’ workshop together.
‘We did our first class in a community centre and everyone reported how amazing they felt afterwards.
‘You don’t have to be able to read music. Sarah teaches the lines of the harmonies line by line – everything from lullabies and sea shanties to traditional Northumberland folk songs.’
A yoga teacher, massage therapist and artist, Becca runs a yoga business, Flow, and is passionate about helping people feel good by connecting to themselves and to nature, not just for one hour a week in a yoga class, but in their everyday lives.
Becca says: ‘One of our participants asked if we would consider doing the class outside so we tried hosting a day long workshops in the hills of Northumberland, with a mindful walk and lunch. We sang in harmony to the sheep! It was magical.
‘Yoga and singing outside in nature must be the ultimate feelgood combination,’ she says.
The combination of yoga, singing, and being in nature add up to a lot of health benefits. Firstly, there are multiple physiological and psychological benefits to yoga – from reducing risk factors of heart disease to decreasing depression and anxiety.
When it comes to singing, recent research has shown that singing communally and synchronising our voices in harmony not only releases the happy endorphins of serotonin and dopamine, but also makes us feel more connected to each other. A study from Oxford University studied adults doing evening classes, sports classes and art classes – the people who sang together felt the most connected the quickest.
And, a multitude of studies show that being in nature lowers levels of poor mental health, particularly lowering depression and anxiety.
And Sarah and Becca say that the classes give people a boost away from the yoga mat too.
‘It’s not just about feeling good for the duration of the class, says Sarah. ‘It’s not just about learning how to sing or hold a yoga pose but rather to help students gain confidence and finding their ‘voice’ in life after the class.’
Jacqui Lillie, 61, a teaching assistant from Quarry House in Northumberland has been to nearly all the Stretch and Sing workshops that Sarah and Becca have hosted.
‘I sing in two choirs because I love singing, but was curious about what a yoga singing class would be like,’ she said. ‘It’s definitely made me more confident. It helped me relax and sing more naturally.
‘When I was young, I wasn’t really encouraged at school. But now I want to try new things. Since I’ve been doing ‘stretch and sing’ I’ve decided to take my Grade 8 in singing, I’ve bought myself an electric piano and I’m going to give solo singing a try in a variety show.”
‘The combination of yoga and singing seems to allow people to feel free’, says Becca. ‘The words phrase people use again and again is that they’re “letting go of tension”.
‘The yoga loosens people up and allows them to let go of their worries.’
But Becca warns, the classes aren’t always relaxing.
‘When you’re outside it doesn’t always go to plan,’ she says. ‘Last month at one of our workshops on the beach, we had a bunch of coasteering enthusiasts jumping off the cliffs making a right racket.
‘So we started singing sea shanties and we found ourselves doing lots of strong warrior poses. I think they wondered what on earth was going on!’
Five benefits of a singing yoga class
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