Imagine for a moment what it would be like to stand in a pitch black room. Would you be able to walk? As long as there were no obstacles in your way, like a coffee table, you’d probably be able to walk just fine. Right? Why is this? When we are walking through the dark, we rely on our sense of balance, and sense of where we are in space (i.e. we know if we are standing up or sitting down). This is known as our proprioceptive sense.
There are millions of proprioceptive receptors in every muscle, ligament, and tendon of our bodies. These receptors are firing non-stop, but we tend to ignore their messages in favor of our other senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching) which feed us information about our relationship with things external to us. It is important, particularly for musicians, that we train ourselves to become sensitive to this sense because it has a direct impact on the quality of our music-making.
Just as I practice my scales every day to help improve my technique, I also practice being mindful of my body. The more aware I am of my body, the more competent I am at expressing my musical ideas. I find it most effective to practice developing this body awareness away from my instrument, before I even play my first note for the day. It is my warm up for my flute warm up!
One of the most effective exercises I’ve found to work on body awareness is remaining still, as if meditating, for 10 minutes, and observe myself. Observe yourself now, as you continue to read. Do you notice yourself fidget or wiggle? Or, do you remain quietly still as you continue to read down the page? Do you shake your leg or foot incessantly, bite your lip, hold your legs or jaw unnecessarily tight, tap your finger? Upon careful observation, you will likely find that you are doing something which isn’t really necessary.
If we are constantly moving and adjusting all the time, it can distract us from experiencing our underlying condition. Some would say that this is our way of trying to get away from ourselves—getting away from feelings of discomfort or agitation.
Can you stop these activities/movements, remain quietly still, and watch yourself? For what length of time? What is your physical and emotional reaction? When you notice an urge to move, observe it with indifference, decide to not make the movement, and instead remain quiet and still within your body, accepting the conditions as they are.
If we want to be able to get away from discomfort, we must first know where we are starting from. We must first come to accept ourselves, with all our “imperfections”.