After a visit to Indy Flute Fest (Indianapolis, IN), watching the amazing Jasmine Choi and participating in Fit Flute with Karen Evans Moratz (RYT200) and Laura Dubish (ACSM CPT), I began considering writing a short blog post about yoga and flute playing. A spirited conversation with Vanessa this morning, recounting our amazing experiences with warm/hot yoga sealed the deal for the idea!
Everyone Else is Doing It…
Many of the musicians I know, myself & Vanessa included, enjoy exploring different mind-body disciplines not only for physical fitness, but also as a way to continue improving our musical performance. [Even Lady Gaga and Joshua Bell used to practice at my old studio, Bikram Yoga NYC, on the Upper East Side.] Yoga seems to be one of the most popular, and most readily available mind-body disciplines. When one practices yoga, you are practicing awareness of the breath & movement, awareness of the body & mind (just like we do with Body Mapping). When we practice our instruments, we need to be practicing these same techniques. It is our mind that guides our movement, and the quality of our body movements determine the quality of our sound.
I love this quote that Ms. Moratz & Ms. Dubish shared in Fit Flute:
“Think of your body as a musical instrument, a wind instrument. Your breath, accordingly, is the wind through the instrument. As such, it is the single most important aspect of yoga technique. Traditionally considered the primary carrier of prana—life force—your breathing originates deep inside you, radiates outward and then inward, providing a gentle and steady rhythm for movement, stretch and release. Sometimes you will breathe softly, other times with vigor, but the breathing itself will always be a central and governing focus. Proper breathing brings the poses to life, inspires every subtle shift and movement in every yoga posture, and can help center your awareness in your conscious experience of the now.” -Erich Schiffman
A Yoga Pose for Musicians
The very first yoga pose I learned (from my Body Mapping mentor, Dr. Amy Likar) is one that I continue to return to over and over. It can safely and easily be practiced at any time on its own without warming up. The pose I speak of is know as Child’s Pose. Musicians often find this pose helpful for releasing tension in the back, including along the spine; as well as for rejuvenating or calming the entire body and mind.
In this asana, the body faces the floor in a fetal position. The knees and hips are bent with the shins on the floor. The chest can either rest either on the knees; or, if there is any tightness in the hips, knees or ankles, the knees can separate, allowing the chest to go between the knees. The head is stretched forward towards the ground – the forehead may touch the ground. The arms may be stretched forward in front of the head or backwards towards the feet. As you breathe, notice any movement happening throughout your body. Can you allow your spine to lengthen through the crown of the head, and down through the tailbone? Do you notice any movements through the back? The belly? Or down by the bum? Enjoy the wave-like movement of the breath throughout your body in this position. Begin mapping these movements, because these are movements that we also want to be able to enjoy at our instrument as we play (though some of them may become more subtle as we come to standing).
Modifications for Yogis and Musicians
My yoga teachers always say to us in class, “Yoga isn’t something you do, yoga is something you try. As long as you are trying 100% the right way, you are getting 100% of the benefit, even if you are only doing 10% of the posture.” Just like music making! Take multiple tonguing for example. There is no point in articulating a passage at lightening speed if the articulation is uneven, unclear, or irregular. We must first give our attention to the quality of the movement, the clarity, and evenness before we proceed with speed. Never force anything in yoga or music-making. We must first break down the task at hand into its simplest form until it is very easy. This is where we work from. With that in mind, here are some modifications of Child’s Pose to try if you are experiencing any tightness:
When to Stretch
“When should I uses gentle stretches like Child’ Pose?” is a frequent question. If you have been reading the Flying Flutistas blog for a while, you will know that I strongly advocate warming up the body before warming up the instrument. Tuning into our bodies in this way aids us in avoiding injury, as well promoting facility and possibly shortening our warm up at our instrument. I also advocate using practice breaks as “body breaks” (a term I have taken from Dr. Likar). I stretch and move around in different ways (including enjoying a few breaths in Child’s Pose) to check in with my body throughout practice to be sure there isn’t any undo tension building up that could lead to inefficient practice (or worse, pain & injury). Most medical professionals I know advocate taking a break at least every 45 minutes, and a long break after an hour and half. If you notice tension building up sooner than that, then you may need to take more frequent breaks (and that is absolutely OK). You might find you need to take a break every 20 minutes, or every 7 minutes. Child’s Pose is also a nice posture to practice before heading off to bed (as you might be able to tell from the pictures).
For music and for life: “Breathing and thinking are the two most important processes, one for sustaining life and other for giving it a purpose.” -Tasneem Hameed