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The Mind-Body-Instrument Connection – Yoga for the Arts

in YD News, Yogitorials

YD ‘Yoga and Life’ Profile

By Nicole Newman, founder Yoga for the Arts

Imagine it: You are a concert pianist, performing for packed auditoriums in exotic international locales, reveling in the roar of applause, returning to the stage again and again for much-deserved curtain calls. You’ve worked tirelessly, countless hours each day for years to earn a place amongst the best in your profession. This moment belongs to you, a reward for the lifetime of dedication you have shown to the art of music performance, and to the craft of practicing. It is a moment to be relished.

And then, suddenly – it’s over.  Razor-sharp, shooting pain. Debilitating muscle spasms. Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. Tendonitis flare-ups. All of the interventions, including a wide variety of therapies, exercises and steroid injections have provided only short-term relief, without any long-term, sustainable solutions.

You are forced to retire from professional performance before turning thirty-two.

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon narrative for professional musicians.

Yoga for the Arts was founded out of a need for musicians to further develop the indelible mind-body-instrument relationship. A shocking 75% of orchestral musicians are afflicted with pain that impacts performance.# Proactive prevention and rehabilitation of debilitative performance-related injuries is imperative. Static postures, highly repetitive quick motions, faulty body maps and ergonomically unsound instruments predispose musicians to a combination of Repetitive Strain Injuries (Cumulative Trauma Disorders), Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Focal Dystonia, Scoliosis and Performance Anxiety. This epidemic of musicians’ maladies has paved the way for Performing Arts Medicine. There is even a journal, Medical Problems of Performing Artists, to document research from this highly specialized and burgeoning field.

Musicians are always in danger of injury. Overworked muscles are ripe for pain. The sheer number of repetitive movements is astounding. A violinist bows 740 times in two minutes during a movement from Handel’s Messiah! A snare drummer repeats a 24-note pattern throughout Ravel’s 14-minute Bolero for a total of 5,144 arm strokes!# Mindful repetition is essential to developing healthy practice habits.

Yoga for the Arts advocates preventative maintenance for the musical athlete. Musicians work with the breath to move freely with a relaxed, yet focused concentration, improving health, technique and musicianship. Attunement to the body’s proper weight distribution, proprioception and balance is integral to avoiding pain and injury. Yoga is an insurance policy. It aids in the circumvention of physical ailments and the alleviation of performance anxiety.  Through this breathing practice, the musculoskeletal system is realigned and the nervous system is soothed and toned, contributing to a calmer state of mind and presence.

Practicing flute for many hours each day over many years, without any physical conditioning to sustain such an athletic endeavor left its scar in the form of scoliosis, a three-dimensional deformity of the spine. The integration of strength, flexibility and endurance were never discussed during music lessons. Education took place from the waist up. Ironically, my movements became increasingly unnatural in an attempt to achieve performance perfection. I felt like a disjointed marionette. I had no idea that an infinite number of movement choices to achieve stability without rigidity were accessible.

Through yoga, I learned how to practice without, instead of through pain. This afforded me ease in performance and a nuanced musicality I had not previously experienced. I further expanded my awareness by monitoring this newly discovered kinesthetic freedom the way I would monitor my sound for intonation. I cultivated healthier muscle-recruitment patterns. For example, I enhanced the volume and quality of my breath by finding the sweet spot of widening between the shoulder blades while simultaneously broadening across the collarbones. The accumulated layers of muscular tension began to peel away and my posture was imbued with a floating, easeful balance, replacing my habitually guarded posture. The pronounced physical asymmetries in my upper right rib cage and shoulder blade began to even out. I felt liberated.

I speak so vividly about this practice because yoga healed me. The careful placement of breath and movement, a keystone of the practice, was the catalyst for the discovery of my unique natural alignment and the movements that best support it. A consistent yoga practice significantly diminished my scoliotic curve. I am no longer encased in a straight jacket of tension. The adrenaline from a steady undercurrent of fight-or-flight (the result of an overactive sympathetic nervous system) abated, dramatically decreasing my anxiety.

The best part is that anyone, regardless of circumstance can reap the benefits of a consistent yoga practice. Osho articulates this beautifully, “Yoga is existential, experiential, experimental. No belief is required, no faith is needed – only courage to experience. And that’s what’s lacking. You can believe easily because in belief you are not going to be transformed. Belief is something added to you, something superficial. Your being is not changed; you are not passing through some mutation.”

Yoga for the Arts’ mission is to help musicians live happier, healthier, more musically productive lives through the experience of short, simple yoga sequences and breathing practices tailored to meet the unique needs of the individual. I warmly invite you to contact me if you would like to develop a personalized yoga practice to complement and enhance your musical practice, or if you have any questions: nicole@yogaforthearts.com

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2 comments… add one

  • Glad to hear about your work. Yoga is very helpful and my favorite form of releasing tension and building strength. I see you’ve read my book? You refer to statistics I counted and include in my book, Playing (Less) Hurt. Hope it was a good source for you.

  • Hi Janet. Thank you for your comment. I actually found the stats from an article, which cites your book as a source (http://www.jaapa.com/a-review-of-the-unique-injuries-sustained-by musicians/article/127406/). I look forward to reading Playing (Less) Hurt.

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