Never Stop Learning!

It was so exciting to watch an adult flute student integrate new movement ideas in his playing yesterday afternoon. Changes to sound, technique, comfort and expression all resulted from clarifying his conception of how the body is designed to move.  We updated his body map with this new information, and  restrictive tension released that allowed him to move air through his flute with ease.  It was thrilling to hear his flute tone suddenly ring out in an expressive phrase.  WOW!

This reminded me again that we have the capacity to learn throughout life.  At any age we can learn to play the flute more beautifully, move more fluidly, even learn a brand new skill.  This is why I love what I do.  Virtually every day I learn something new about movement or  my own potential, or I assist someone else in discovering that they too can learn to move more fluidly, play more beautifully, more comfortably.  We are so lucky to be able to enjoy the gift of learning throughout life.  The next time you think you are too old to move with poise and ease, redirect your focus.  Learn about the body’s design for movement, find the movement within yourself (often,) and be aware of yourself from the inside using the kinesthetic sense throughout the day.  Your body will thank you and your flute playing too!

Hanging & Playing!

Hanging & Playing!

Move well & never stop learning!

“Let Me Down!” or Facing Mental Roadblocks

My climbing coach, Corinne is in the middle

My climbing coach, Corinne is in the middle

“Let Me Down!” I called down to my belayer.  My belayer was also my 11 year-old daughter, a skilled rock climber. and my rock climbing coach.  I was climbing up the project she assigned me, a 5.7 rated climb with an overhang (imagine that, an assignment from your child?!)  I had just reached the 1/2 way point of the climb and wasn’t sure how or if I could make the next move.  I could feel the forces of gravity pulling me down at the same time I was attempting to climb higher.  At this point, a voice in my head began saying: “Give up, the next move is too hard, you are not strong enough!”

Was it too hard?  Was I really not strong enough?  For a fleeting moment, a different voice also spoke, contradicting the first.  This second voice was being logical, it knew I was strong and that I could make the move.  It was challenging but within my reach, literally.  This mental road block that the first voice presented held me back, I succumbed  and let go of the wall.

Why do we let that doubting voice deter us?  Listening to the negative commentary in our mind, we avoid opportunities to take chances, to be our best.  This robs us of the opportunity to learn what we are truly capable of and experience the joy in the process of overcoming a challenge.  At these moments, what we really need is to continue to move, to go for it!  Rock climbing is the perfect opportunity to practice shifting focus from the doubtful voice and consider a realm of  possibilities that includes success.  If you have done your practicing/exercising you can do it!  The “it” may not come in the first attempt, but the “it” is within reach.  Find the movements you need and GO FOR IT!  The more often we face doubt head on, the easier it becomes to move beyond the negative words, and be your best!  It’s all about movement, both physical and mental!

Instead of calling, “Let me down!”  Go for it!

“It is a question of time, patience and intelligent work” -Marcel Moyse

Occasionally, I enjoy reading bits and pieces of lay neuroscience in attempt to better understand the musician’s learning process.  I often felt throughout my early training career, that I was learning slower than my peers; so when I read an excerpt about slow and fast learners, it caught my attention.

The excerpt describes a study by a very famous neuroplastician, Pascual-Leone, who studied (and continues to study) how people learn new skills by using TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation).  Pascual-Leone was one of the first to confirm that when humans learn a new skill, plastic changes occur in the brain.  That means that every day when we practice our flutes (or whatever instrument you play), we are literally producing changes in our brains.  Better practice intelligently ;-)  One of Pascual-Leone’s experiments mapped the brains of blind subjects learning to read Braille.  The participants studied Braille for one year, five days a week, two hours a day in class, followed by one hour of homework.  Using TMS to map the changes in the motor cortex,  Pascual-Leone found that the maps for participant’s Braille reading fingers were larger than the maps for their other index fingers (and were also larger when compared to non-Braille readers).  As the number of words per minute increased for the readers, so did their motor maps (they grew larger!).  I wonder how a flute player’s motor map would measure up to a regular person?

But here’s where it gets really interesting…  Measurements of participants motor maps were made on Fridays (at the end of a week of training), and Mondays (after resting for a weekend).  Friday maps showed quick sudden growth, but by Monday the maps returned to their baseline size.  Friday maps demonstrated continued growth for a period of 6 months, but after six months the growth slowed.  Monday maps, by contrast, didn’t begin to change until six months into the training.  After six months they increased slowly and plateaued at ten months.  It was noted that the subjects Braille reading speed correlated with the less dramatic, but more stable Monday maps.

So daily practice can lead to dramatic short-term changes during the week that is likely strengthening existing neuronal connections.  The slower, more permanent ‘Monday changes’ are likely the formation of brand new neuronal connections and synapses.  So, making a new skill permanent requires slow, steady work.  I HOPE MY STUDENTS ARE READING THIS!  So if you’re frustrated with going into the practice room and not being able to play the bit that you were able to play just the other day, don’t fret!  If you just learned a new skill and were not able to reproduce it perfectly in a performance, this is normal!  It’s all part of the learning process.  Keep at it!  So here we have scientific confirmation of what Marcel Moyse shared with ‘us’ (flutists) long ago: “It is a question of time, patience, and intelligent work.”

Stretches & Exercises Part 1: Foot & Leg

How do I warm-up my body, and stretch for playing and exercise?  I use a variety of movements to encourage muscles to lengthen and joints to move easily.  I am going to post a series of the stretches/exercises that I use that I find particularly helpful.

I like to start at the bottom, foot, ankle & leg.  We don’t always think about the relationship of the lower half of the body to movements in the torso, i.e. arm & hand movements.  There are strong relationships between torso and legs.

The feet are our connection to the ground.  When they are balanced they support the body so that we can move in many different ways.  Tension held in the feet and ankles results in imbalances that emanate throughout the body.  I learned these stretches through Katy Bowman’s book, Alignment Matters.   Improving my connection to the ground enhances everything I do.

The 1st two exercises use a 1/2 dome foam roller.21OpJ6UXRqL

Before you begin balance your body, organizing through the middle.  When I am in balance I notice that the contact of the balls behind my big and little toes and the middle of my heel are equal.

1. Back of calf – using a half dome (a.k.a. a foam roller sliced in half)

  • Place the toes of  left foot up on the top of the 1/2 dome.
  • Check to see that the foot is aligned – toes pointing forward, outside of the foot parallel to the outer edge of the 1/2 dome.
  • Align the body above both feet – knee joints, hip joints, pelvis, ribs and head.
  • Step the right leg forward 1/2 – 1 step, allowing the pelvis, ribs and head to continue to be balanced.
  • Feel the stretch up the back of the calf.  I feel it very clearly just below the knee.
  • Hold for  30 seconds to 1 minute
  • Repeat on other side.

2. Achilles Tendon – using the 1/2 dome

  • Place the toes of one foot up on the top of the 1/2 dome.
  • Check to see that the foot is aligned – toes pointing forward, outside of the foot parallel to the outer edge of the 1/2 dome.
  •  Align the body above both feet – knee joints, hip joints, pelvis, ribs and head.
  • Bend at the hip, knee and ankle joints as if you were beginning to sit down. The torso will pivot forward.
  • Feel the stretch in the lower leg and heel.
  • Repeat on right side

3. Front of calf – no 1/2 dome

  • Balance the body above the feet.
  • Step left leg back behind the body so the top of the foot is on the floor.
  • Straighten the left leg – feel the stretch up the front of the calf.
  • I recommend doing this on a rug or mat, the top of the foot can be sensitive.
  • Repeat on other side.

Fitness & Music-Making

It is very clear to me how fitness training enhances performance on the trapeze.  Core strength, range of motion, micro- & macro- movements are integral to coordination in flight.

What do I think of when I think of fitness training?  To me, fitness training is the opportunity to train or build strength in a muscle or group of muscles while at the same time refining movement precision.  In order to access a specific muscle(s) attention to how the movement is performed is essential.  Without accurate movement, the effectiveness of the exercise is diminished.  Take the bicep curl for an en example.  To access the bicep you simply need to flex/bend the arm at the elbow bringing the hand toward the shoulder joint.  Maybe you have observed this simple exercise being performed using a combination of bending the arm, and at the same time shifting the upper half of the torso back in space (usually because the weight in the hand is too heavy for just the bicep.)  Is this really training the bicep muscle? or  Is the bicep being bypassing, as strength from other muscles are enlisted to perform the exercise?

Recently while exercising it became blatantly obvious to me that fitness training relates in the same way to music-making.  Fitness training is the perfect time to tune into  training  both small and large scale movement.  It is also an opportunity to identify movement precision or movement confusion, and to use this information to fine tune movement along with one’s perception of movement.  The more we do this in the gym or on the trapeze, the more easily we can do this in music-making, coordinating just the right movements to create the sound, phrasing and expression we desire.  Fitness and music-making – yes!  It’s all movement.

Muscle Up

Sometimes trying to execute a challenging passage or trick on the trapeze, I  find myself “muscling up.”  An instinctual reaction, tightening muscle(s) to brace myself for the challenge.  The resulting tension of this reaction emanates through the body limiting all movement, interfering with performance.  As I watched the beautiful ice dancing performances last night, I imagined what would happen if the skaters chose to “muscle up.”  I imagine the flow between the two performers would disappear, connections missed, and the performance sabotaged.  The skaters know that movement is the foundation to their performance, and spend time studying movement to identify precisely the movements they need.  Musicians can benefit from examining performance from this perspective too, asking themselves the question, “What are the movements I need to play this?”   The answer to this simple question identifies exactly what is needed to execute a passage, and can be the key to overcoming the “muscle up” instinct that interferes with performance.   The next time you face a challenge answer this question for yourself to uncover exactly what your gold medal performance requires.

Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Not yet!

Moving beyond one’s comfort zone allows you to…

  • experience failure, and learn from it.
  • experience fear, and learn to respond to it.
  • immerse oneself in the learning process.
  • learn to laugh at yourself.
  • engage your senses.
  • learn to move in new ways.
  • realize the limits your mind set for yourself are not real!
  • live fully and purposefully.



Training for Patience, Compassion, and Presence

When Vanessa and I first embarked upon the Flying Flutistas Project, we decided our tagline should be “Learning to Learn Again”.  There are wonderful stories about how we came to flying trapeze, but a large part of the reason we continued to return to the rig over and over (now branching out to static trapeze), is because we had found a way to reignite our creative flow at our flutes.

Trapeze has provided an opportunity for us as individuals, and as an ensemble, to once again become observers and an explorers, rather than judges.  It can be difficult to recognize during the day to day ‘grind’ of practice, how that constant flow of mental critique can be stifling to the creative process.  I have found myself at different times feeling as though I wasn’t doing my job properly if I wasn’t running a constant critique of my playing.  My self identity and my ability to make a living are both attached to how well I play, so of course I want to play my best every time.  But expecting that I will play my best every single time, and trying to very directly control the quality of my product through constant critique have only ever led to results that I was less than happy with.

At the trapeze bar I very naturally have a lot more patience and compassion for myself.  I regularly feel that what I’m trying to execute at the bar is completely ridiculous, so I never have expectations or worries, and I never walk away wondering whether what I just did was good or bad.  Instead, there is an atmosphere of exploration.  I simply observe what I am doing, and compare that against other possibilities that I could try.  I might try to execute part of a trick differently, and then ask myself, “Was that easier?  Was that more fun?!”  There is an atmosphere of joy and excitement in finding possible new ways of doing things.

This sense of joy and exploration (which seems to neutralize my negative self talk) is something that I am able to carry with me into my flute playing.  Seeing how well this mind set or atmosphere works in another activity gives me the confidence to try it with music making.  It trains me how to be in the moment, without any expectations.  It trains me to have patience and compassion for myself.

You don’t have to fly from a bar 30 feet up in the air to reignite your own sense of joy and exploration in the learning process.  Many musicians find these same benefits from activities like yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, Gyrotonics, or maybe cooking or painting.  Have you found similar benefits from another activity?  Please share your own experiences with us below in the comments section.  Have you made a New Year’s Resolution to try something similar?  I would love to hear about it.  Namaste.



“The Perfect Gift!”

As I sat at the mall this week, I took in all of the hustle and bustle of the space. I watched people walking by with hands full of bags, listened to the sounds of giddy children, looked at the sparkly holiday decorations, and read the sale signs meant to entice shoppers into the store to purchase the “perfect gift.”  As I did this, I started thinking about all of the things I could buy for my family.  Would these things really make them happier?  Would they remember these gifts next year? I quickly realized that the perfect gift isn’t available in a store.  In fact, it doesn’t cost money and is always with us.  It can also bean important part of overcoming movement related injury!

The perfect gift is learning to tune into the joy of movement.  What is the joy of movement you ask?  It is tuning into the rich sensory feedback from the physical movements we use each day.  Special sensory receptors in almost all of our muscles, and at every joint provide us with this gift.  Thanks to this sense, the kinesthetic sense, we have the capacity to perceive movement throughout the body. Kinesthetic perception helps us to recognize poor movement, refine performance, and simply enjoy every moment. I utilize these sensations as I exercise, fly on the trapeze, type, bush my teeth, and to fill the time when the activity at hand isn’t necessarily my favorite.  As I type this post, I am also tuning into the playful movement of my fingers on the keys, and the movements of my breath.

Even better than giving this gift to someone, is finding it in yourself!  Try this:

  • Close your eyes
  • Wiggle the fingers of your left hand
  • Notice you can feel the movement of your fingers without seeing it
  • Next, open your eyes and notice that you can still feel your fingers moving (from the inside) as you see all that is around you.
  • Practice tuning into movement quality as you move through your day.

Tuning into movement is simply fun!  Challenge yourself to enjoy the playfulness of movement, and uncover greater ease and fluidity.  You will not only improve how you move, you will promote wellness and refine movement precision!  Merry Christmas!  May your holiday and the year ahead be filled with the joy of movement.


Finding my Split a.k.a Liberating the Hip Joints! – (part 1)

I want to do a split!

I want to do a split!

I want to do a split!  Never in my life have I done a split. It’s time!  The more I learn on the trapeze, the more I know I am not too old for this enviable adolescent pursuit.  It’s time to release the tight hip flexors that hold me back, it’s time to liberate the hip joints.

What exactly are hip joints??

hip joint xray pic

These powerful ball and socket joints connect the legs and torso. They are the mid point of the body from top to bottom.  The ball is part of the the upper leg bone, or femur. The socket is located on the sides of the pelvis, facing outward, like the ears.  The joints are located several inches in from the outside of the upper leg, the region commonly referred to as “hips.”  The hips are not things, but rather they are amazing joints that enable walking, running, bending, lunging and of course, performing trapeze tricks.

Now that I understand the design of these joints, I need to locate them.  These steps will help you find your hip joints too…

  • First, place your thumbs on the top of your pelvic bone, with your finger tips pointing down to the floor, as they rest on the side of your legs (middle fingers on the seams of your pants.)
  • Next, move your legs as if you are marching, as you press your fingers into the sides of the legs.  Feel for a bone moving beneath your fingertips.  Note that what you feel is not the hip joint, but the greater trochanter of the femur.
  • Next, place your thumbs on the greater tronchanters, and lay your fingers on the front of your pants, approximately over the pants pockets.
  • Again, move your legs to march in place.  Feel for movement between the ball of the femur and the socket on the pelvis.  ( You will find the movement approximately on the line of a bathing suit, or where you would see the creases in a baby’s legs.)
  • Congratulations you have found your hip joints!  With your fingers on the front of the joint, walk around. Notice how the leg swings from this joint as you walk both forward and backward.
  • Take a look in the mirror or take a video on your camera to see just how far in the hip joints are from the outside of the leg.

Liberation has begun!  From the hip joints, the legs can move in front of the body, behind the body, out to the side, as well as rotate.  At the gym I explore these movements through my favorite Pilates exercises, including single leg circles, bridges, and teaser.   The torso can also pivot in relation to the legs from the hip joint.  This is an important part of squatting.  One way to explore this movement is in a seated position.  I practice pivoting the whole torso forward and back to balance from the hip joints.  Movement originating in the joint is so much easier, more precise and efficient.  Exactly what I need to find my split!

In the next post, I will share some gentle movements that assist in releasing tight hip joint muscles, and increasing range of motion (i.e. doing a split)

P.S. Freedom in the hip joints enhances freedom in the arms – an added bonus for my quest!