Asahi Nordic provides the ideal choral warm-up, because it increases sensory awareness, social bonding, muscle strength, mental clarity & flexibility.
(FinnFest 2023 Symphony concert. The choir did Asahi warm-ups before every practice during FinnFest. This choir was just voted ExPat Finn of the Year by the Suomi-Seura! Congratulations!!)
ASAHI HARMONIOUSLY - FOR CHOIRS
Choir rehearsal is about to start. Most of the singers are in the practice room, at least physically, but their thoughts and emotions are far off somewhere else. The last stragglers rush into the room breathless. Some of those already there are talking to each other, and the chatter is bothering the others who want to get started. What is the quickest way to turn these individuals into a single-minded harmonious instrument ?
The director asks everyone to stop what they are doing and stand up. Breathing slowly and effectively, the choir imitates the director’s gentle movements. Without interruption they follow through three relaxation exercises, three moves for the shoulder and neck area, three for the hips, and finally, three simple balance movements.
Each of the sections concentrates on a specific part of the body, but the whole body is moving in each exercise. Transitioning from one section to the next there is a movement to even out the breathing and to recalibrate. Concentration is focused solely on the breath and body sensations. The director gives as few verbal cues as possible. Even someone who has come to practice for the first time can follow along easily. Each movement is repeated a few times before moving on to the next one. In this way the exercises form an unbroken chain of breath and movement.
Without noticing, the “monkey chatter” inside the singers’ brain starts to slow down and fade out, the tightness in their shoulders loosens up, their breathing deepens, and they start to stand up straighter. In just a few minutes of doing Asahi they are warmed up and activated from head to toe - including their larynx, and their attention is focused on the director.
(The Northern Michigan University Choral Society in Marquette, MI, USA, in Sept. 2022)
Asahi was developed in Finland
Even though it has a Japanese name, Asahi was actually developed by four Finnish martial arts experts to be a health exercise and a self-rehabilitation practice. These experts were concerned about the risk of injury in martial arts. Looking for a solution, they took movements from a wide array of Eastern mind-body practices and ran them through a tight sieve of modern medical science and sports medicine. In the process they eliminated any difficult or physically harmful moves and at the same time removed any religious, cultural or political connotations.
This research which began in 2004, resulted in three simple movement series: Asahi Series I, II , and III, which boost the wellbeing of its practitioners in many ways. The series are safe for people with weight issues, circulatory disorders, osteoporosis or other joint and back issues. Asahi is even safe to practice during pregnancy.
Many choir directors have a warmup routine at the beginning of each practice, such as breathing exercises, side bends, or shoulder rolls, for example. These same movements can be found in Asahi, but doing them the Asahi way has many additional benefits. Here are just a few:
BREATHING: The moves are done slowly and peacefully synchronised with the breath. Some stressful event at home or at work may restrict your breathing and stay with you the rest of the day without you even realising it. This can happen to a choir member or to the director. If the director starts the practice in a stressed state, the tension ris absorbed by the choir members, and soon everyone is tense. All it takes is a few synchronized breaths and movements to loosen the tightness and start lowering stress levels. By breathing and moving together, individual choir members are transformed into a living instrument - a choir!
PUMPING MOVEMENTS: For the duration of the whole exercise, the knees are gently bending and straightening in rhythm with the breathing. In this way the whole body participates in each movement - the body begins to function harmoniously as one, with each muscle working in cooperation with the others. Strength in the legs increases in a very subtle way. It also stimulates blood and lymph circulation throughout the entire body. The pumping action of the knees keeps the legs from cramping or going numb, even though you have to be on your legs a lot during the practice or during a performance.
STRESS RELIEF: During Asahi we keep our brain engaged by using mental images and concentrating on body sensations. This is a way to calm the mind. That keeps performance anxiety and distracting thoughts from clouding your mind. With practice, the mental peace and physical relaxation created by the Asahi warm-up will carry through the rehearsal and also into performances.
THE FLOW: Practicing Asahi’s flowing movements develops the same kind of drive that is necessary to sing long phrases and even long compositions. The arm and hand movements resemble those of choir directing and this makes the choir members more sensitive to the choir director’s conducting. It also improves choral directing technique. When directors are well-grounded and move from their physical center, their directing has much more depth and credibility. They can convey their musical interpretation to the choir with much more subdued gestures.
BALANCE AND PROPER POSTURE: When the body is in alignment and the weight is distributed evenly on both feet, standing becomes a lot easier. It is possible then to relax any muscles that are not needed. This increases overall body control, reduces the chance of injury during rehearsals and at home, and means fewer absences from practices.
SILENCE: Asahi doesn’t have any background music that you have to keep up with like Zumba, for instance. Instead, you are free to listen to your own internal rhythm and the rhythm of your breathing. You can practice Asahi just by following the leader’s moves. There isn’t much need for verbal cues. This allows the brain to shift over to its creative side. Everyone who has gone to preschool music learns that music is born out of silence. Silence is also a good way to start choir rehearsals, setting the stage for the music to come.
SIMPLICITY AND ADAPTABLITY: Once you learn the moves of an Asahi Series, then you always have it with you. There is no need watch a video or read the instructions from a book or a print-out. Choir members can do the exercises at home as a part of their daily routine.
Asahi was designed to be done standing up, but all the moves can be adapted to a sitting position. For instance, during a choir trip it is very practical to go through an Asahi series from time to time while sitting in the bus or plane to prevent the risk of poor blood circulation and blood clotting. Asahi can even be done in bed when recovering from an illness or injury. There is no need to wait for the physical therapist to come. You can gently start doing Asahi moves on your own to speed up recovery.
AWARENESS: In Asahi we practice expanding our field of vision to take in the whole field at once. Even though our gaze is straight ahead, we can see the movement of our hands as they circle to the sides, above our heads, and down in front of us. We also purposely exercise the eyeballs, because sight is a very important factor in balance. And in modern life, our eyes don’t get enough exercise when they stare at a small screen many hours per day. As a choir singer, it is important to be able to see the conductor and the music in your folder at the same time. Another important part of Asahi is sharpening our sense of hearing and touch. As we train our senses to become more acute and we release tension that blocks them, this helps us become an open channel to receive the musical communication from the director and to pass it on through our personal instrument to the listeners.
(A general Asahi practice at FinnFest 2023 in which many singers took part)
Tips for choir directors
The Asahi series doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can break up a long practice session by interspersing a few Asahi moves here and there. This refreshes the choir better than taking a regular break for several reasons. First of all, it doesn’t take as long, and secondly, it refreshes and brings the singers back into focus instead of turning them and their brains loose for ten minutes.
One way to bring variety into the practice is to do some of the Asahi movements in pairs. Doing this practice in silence builds bonds of wordless communication between choir members and sharpens their ability to react to the subtlest gestures of their partner.
The Asahi warm-up could be delegated to one or more of the choir members. This might be a very satisfying role for some of the singers. Of course, even if someone else is leading the practice, it is best for the choir director to participate. Otherwise they go in front of the choir “cold” without the integrative effect of the Asahi practice.
Asahi goes global
Asahi began in Finland, but now there are more than a 1000 Asahi teachers around the world, in countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Greek and the USA. Asahi is a simple practice to learn, and becoming a beginning teacher is also relatively easy - only a 12-hr program, which includes Series I & II, lectures on Asahi’s principles and medical science, tips for new teachers and how to get your own group going. You can check out our website for possible teacher training courses near you: or online course offerings: www.asahiworld.com
Let Asahi Move You!
Categories: Asahi Nordic for All