self-hugs are the new face masks

“Try giving yourself a hug in times of suffering several times of day for a period of at least a week.”

LOL - okay, sure.

After many weeks of listening to my woeful tales of self-disappointment and self-criticism, my angel therapist recommended that I read Dr. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion. Let’s be honest: I trust my therapist with my life, so I ordered the book immediately from Amazon. But in chapter THREE, Dr. Neff decides to tell me to … hug myself? Nah.

I recoiled. It made me squirm so hard that I almost put the book down for good. I thought I’d never heard of anything so lonely, so silly, so juvenile, so pathetic as a self-hug for comfort.

… Can you already see where this is going?

Let’s fast forward one week. For reasons unimportant to this story, I became very, very upset. I got in the car to drive myself home, but I couldn’t stop crying. Guess what came to mind immediately as a technique to self-soothe… 🤦‍♀️

Sheepishly, I wrapped myself in a hug. I cried. I said, “This is so hard. I’m so sorry.” I repeated it to myself over and over in a public parking lot.

And if you’re wondering, YES, I looked really cool and really confident at that moment. One of my proudest.

But you know what? I felt deeply comforted. I’d looked my pain right in the eye and survived it. I hadn’t needed anyone else to be there for me. I hadn’t wished for it to be anything it wasn’t. I took care of myself. I calmed down enough to drive.

“Okay - Maybe this works.”

Annnnnd… Since that day, I’m a believer. Like, a big believer. Like, I even designed & taught a yoga class around the power of your own touch to heal you.

I used this technique as recently as a few days ago: Walking through an antique store, I saw an item that reminded me of my late Papaw. Tears filled my eyes. I folded my arms, hands to biceps, and began to gently pat myself. “It is so hard to miss him. It’s hard.”

There is power - deep power - in staring hurt right in the face. There is power in wrapping your arms around that hurt instead of shoving it away in an attempt to feel the way that you think you should. There is power in knowing that you are strong enough to comfort yourself. There is healing in nurturing yourself.

As Dr. Neff says, “there is more to you than the pain you are feeling. You are also the heartfelt response to that pain.”

Today, on Instagram, I shared a one-minute self-hug video. Go somewhere really private (like a public parking lot), check it out & let me know how it feels for you.

I love you. Group self-hug!
Claire

p.s. Not trying to tell you how to live your life, but you need this book. Click here for the amazon link.

3 (Small) steps to healthier practicing

It’s so easy to decide how I want my semester to look while I’m curled up under the Christmas tree in my fuzzy socks. I love to journal, set goals, create action plans, design a fancy bullet journal spread… But when classes start again and I’m thrown back into the world of real socks and fluorescent lights, things don’t ever unfold as planned. The goals that I meticulously set in December shift on my list of priorities, as they must.

In the past few years, I’ve made an effort to turn my goals into bite-sized daily choices. Instead of working to establish world peace, for example, I may choose to be smile at someone in the hallway. Or instead of reading 20 books in a year, I may choose to read a few pages instead of scrolling on my phone as I drink my coffee. Thinking of my goals in this way - in easy-to-make, guilt-free choices throughout my day - has really helped me to stick with them.

This year, it occurred to me: Could this apply to practicing, too? What if I entered the practice room with the intention to make a series of beneficial, small choices to support my wellness and productivity?
And then, like all type-A people do, I made a list. Here’s what I came up with, friends:


1. Set goals. Accomplish them.

In the beginning of my undergraduate career, I remember listening to my fellow musicians brag about how many hours they’d spent in the practice room. My jaw often hung open, in disbelief that someone would spend SIX hours in a tiny room fluttering their fingers around. I thought to myself, “This is how I become good!” I skipped into my practice room, determined to spend at least four hours working, becoming good. Two hours in, I thought my eyes were going to bleed. I looked at my phone. I stared at the mirror hanging on the wall. I sighed a lot. And I pushed through MANY unfocused, unproductive practice sessions like this.

One of my biggest musical lessons in the past few years has been this: Efficiency matters more than hours logged.

Maybe it did take those musicians six hours to learn a passage, but if I could do it in two, why wouldn’t I? Making a choice to reframe practicing in this way has allowed me to celebrate small victories as I check each goal off of my list. Having a specific goal in mind increases my focus, decreases “what-should-I-do-next” time, and prevents strain on my body by minimizing long hours.

2. Take breaks.

Jolene Madewell’s blog, Practice Room Revelations, was my introduction to the Pomodoro Technique of productivity. Jolene explains the method flawlessly (click right here to read!), but here is my summary: Set a timer for 25 minutes. Focus only on the task at hand until the timer goes off. Take a little break. Set another timer.

This method works hand-in-hand with my first point; most of my goals are easily accomplished in the 25 minutes allotted, and if they aren’t, I have a moment to breathe, readjust, and set another timer. Even better, it’s completely cured my phone anxiety. When I disappeared into a practice hole for four hours, I often worried that my mom would call about something important, I’d miss her call, and she’d think I’d died (any other only children out there?). Practicing in super-focused chunks allows my mind to rest: Whatever might come my way can (probably) wait 25 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique is also perfect for sprinkling movement in to your practice time (cough cough - Practice Room Yoga videos!!!!). When my timer goes off, I set my flute down, stretch, go for a walk, do the dishes, set my next goal, drink water. It’s a reminder to check in with my body, mindset, list of intentions, and … phone. Ha!

3. Move your body every day.

Minus the gym membership and the body-image baggage that often comes with intentions like this. I don’t mean work out - I don’t even mean get sweaty. Just. Move.

Have you ever considered what a still profession we are in? We wake up. We stand in the practice room. We sit in ensemble rehearsals. We sit in classes. We go to sleep. Maintaining one (often asymmetrical) position for many hours of the day can cause stiffness, discomfort, and, for some, eventual injury.

I am here to tell you that mindful movement can be comprised of small moments in your day. Here are some suggestions:

  • Watch a 10-minute yoga video first thing in the morning or right before bed.

  • On a practice break, walk a lap around the building.

  • Squeeze in a 10-minute walk after lunch.

  • While playing scales, walk to the beat.

  • Stretch or roll around on the floor while watching Netflix.

  • Turn on your favorite song and dance in your room.

  • Watch a Practice Room Yoga video on a practice break ;)

Moving your body enhances body awareness (and blood flow). It helps you tap in to the physicality of your existence - you know, the big skeleton covered in muscle that holds your instrument up. Connecting in this way gives me an opportunity to ask my body what it needs, how I can move in a way that supports that need, and most importantly, how I can practice in a way that creates the most ease.

Friends, I hope this brief list of small changes can impact your practicing and your day. Do you have anything you’d like to add? Any ideas about any of my suggestions? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Love,
Claire

Positive Self-Talk in the Practice Room

“The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.”
—Sophocles

Last semester, during a partner flute lesson, my beautiful & talented colleague became frustrated with herself. She couldn’t play a passage just like she wanted to, and with each attempt, she grumbled under her breath, culminating in an exasperated shout. I smiled a little out of empathy - I think every musician in the world knows what that feels like, right? Been there. I expected my professor to laugh a little, too.

Instead, Dr. Garner Santa asked an odd question: “Do you have any pictures of yourself as a little girl?”

My lesson partner looked confused. “I think I do.”

“When you’re practicing at home, tape a picture of yourself to your stand. When you make comments about your own playing - good or bad - look at the picture. Give your feedback to that little girl instead of grown-up-you. Notice how it impacts what you say and how you say it.”

——————————————

Today, on Instagram, a super-star yoga teacher shared a picture of herself as a little girl. She captioned the photo, “Be tender to your original spirit.” I was immediately reminded of Dr. Garner Santa’s lesson.

In an effort to quickly and effectively remedy problems in the practice room (or in our lives!), we often cut to the chase. We use tough love, speak in harsh terms. This process is born out of a desire for efficiency and ability to quickly self-correct. Yeah, it’s understandable, but… Have you ever considered that you are the person who speaks to yourself the most? Read that sentence again, if you need to. No matter what external factors may be, the voice that shapes your life lives inside of your own head. Whoa.

So, what percentage of your internal monologue is positive? If the voice that is shaping your life is speaking to you in a way that you’d never talk to a friend or family member (or baby-you), it might be time to re-evaluate your methods. How can you be more tender with your original spirit? How can you cause yourself less grief?

Only you can answer these questions, friend. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious lately, maybe it’s time to write a few of the above questions down and journal it out. Talk out loud to yourself in the shower. Re-read my last post on creating positive and affirming statements. Check in with the voice inside of your head. Drag out the baby picture. By increasing awareness around your own self-talk, you can make the practice room a more positive place to be.


Love,
Claire


the power of positive affirmations

I used to make crappy New Year’s Resolutions. (After much thought - yes - crappy is the most effective word to use here). I’d start by thinking of all of the things that made me feel not good enough in the world, making a nice little list, and then, from my self-created world of guilt, resolve to become an entirely different person. I don’t think I need to tell you that I almost always failed to keep these resolutions, which added to the guilt, the not-good-enough-ness. It was truly effective. Beautiful to watch.

In spite of this crappiness, I’ve always loved the promise of a fresh start. To me, New Year’s Day is the perfect time to re-evaluate, a chance to ask myself what I’ve gained in the past year and be honest about what I’d like to change. In the past few years, learning about the nuances of languaging (thank you, yoga teacher training) has taught me about the power of my thoughts. Countless studies have shown how our thoughts program our cells, our actions, our lives. Beginning the year by focusing on the ways that I’m less-than was only setting me up for a year of feeling less-than. So, what to do instead? Good question.

Positive, affirming statements.

If you’re a methodical, formula-loving, type-A person like me, you’re gonna love this. Ready?

I + present-tense verb + affirmative goal.

Here are a few examples:

  • Limiting statement: “I want to stop eating all junk food forevermore.”

    Affirming statement: “I nourish my body.”

  • Limiting statement: “I’m going to exercise every day.”

    Affirming statement: “I move my body in ways that make me feel alive.”

  • Limiting statement: “I’m bad with money.”

    Affirming statement: “I budget carefully.”

Instead of a resolution/goal/something you can succeed or fail at, these statements can become a mantra for you. A reminder. A shift in perspective. Instead of setting rigid, black-and-white goals, these statements also provide wiggle-room. Maybe a big order of fries would feel nourishing to you today. Maybe dancing around the living room with your dog makes you feel most alive. These goals are not dragging you toward a number or specific achievement, but supporting your ability to make decisions that connect you to your higher self.

This year, I encourage you to sit down with a journal. Write about what you learned in the past 365 days. Ask yourself the tough questions: How can you better align with your purpose? How can you better care for yourself? What shifts can you make to support your happiness? From that space of reflection, craft your positive, affirming statement.

I love you all so much. May your new year be filled with every possible blessing and heartache that leads you closer to your purpose.
Claire

P.s. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how deeply the Kripalu School of Yoga and Dr. Lisa Garner Santa have taught me on this subject. All that I know and understand about affirmative mantras is because of the opportunities they created for me to dive deep. Thank you.

My favorite stress-reducing yoga pose

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Merry Gigmas, y’all. Tis the season to practice incessantly for juries, eat granola bars in your car between Christmas gigs, and wear that reindeer sweater four days in a row. I like to call the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas the “sprint to the finish.” This period of time is so brief, but jam packed with performances and finals to keep you on your toes.

In the spirit of the season, I want to give a gift to you: My favorite stress-reducing, circulation-balancing, low-back-pain-helping pose. This one is easiest to do at home, but can be worked out in a practice room if you’ve got a piano bench to help you out!

Legs Up the Wall

Yep - That’s the technical name for this pose ;) And it’s just as simple as it sounds, too. This posture is a gentle inversion that increases circulation in the lower body and allows the lower back to release. It’s impactful for the breath, too - lying on the floor makes it easier to feel your back and ribcage expand as you breathe. I like to set a timer on my phone for a few minutes, lay back, and just notice. Making time to put my legs up the wall on practice breaks (instead of staring at my phone) helps me to remember to breathe, decreases my heart rate, and gives my low body a break from constant standing and sitting, too.

Want to try it? Let’s do this.

  1. Find a spot with a blank wall and cozy carpet.

  2. Sit on the floor with your right arm pressed up against the wall. Scoot your right hip as close to the wall as you can.

  3. Place your left hand on the ground to support you. Draw a rainbow shape across the wall with your right leg, extending it up the wall. Let your left leg follow your right as you bring your back to the floor.

  4. If your hips aren’t right up against the wall, scoot them closer. If that feels too intense, scoot your hips away from the wall.

  5. Once you find a cozy spot, place your hands on your belly, close your eyes, and breathe. After a few moments, your legs might start to feel static-y. That’s okay! Just notice what that feels like. Stay with your breath.

  6. When this posture feels complete and you’re ready to get back to the real world, reverse rainbow your legs down to the ground (that’s a technical term too, okay?), roll onto one side, and press yourself up.

Et voila! If you want an awesome how-to video, Yoga with Adriene has one here. Check it out and let me know what you think, my awesome friends!

Love,
Claire


how to love your tension

“Just let go.”

Has anyone ever said this to you, as if you’ll dramatically be able to lay down all of your burdens, release your entire body’s held tension, and immediately transform like a relaxed-butterfly from a tension-cocoon?

Same. “Letting go” of tension or anxiety is not that easy. It’s actually physically impossible (How would you read this right now if your heart wasn’t tensing regularly to keep blood pumping in your body?) AND it’s not really necessary, either. Tension gets a bad rap, but it often works in our favor, not always to our detriment. For example, can you imagine a movie that had no tense scenes? Without tension in music and movies and our hearts, life would be lame.

HOWEVER, too much tension is not cool. To use the same example - What if every single scene of a movie had some intense, anxiety-inducing drama? Nah. That’s the reason I don’t like action movies, y’all. I’m already anxious enough as it is. To create something truly interesting, a balance between tension and release must be created. Maybe the movie should only have two car chases, not twenty five.

The same rule applies to our bodies. Releasing all tension from the body while playing your instrument may leave you feeling too loosey-goosey, out of control, and disconnected. For some people, trying to release tension makes them even more tense with effort (I see you, type-A perfectionists). Conversely, tensing every muscle in your body makes you completely immobile. Where is the middle ground?

Listen, here’s where you start: Notice. Love your tension like you love your friends - without judging it and without trying to change it. Notice where it exists without labeling it as good or bad, or without judging yourself for having it. Before you begin practicing, take thirty seconds to scan your body for pre-existing tension. If you feel like you can move it out with a little stretching, shaking, or a Practice Room Yoga video, do it. If it isn’t bothering you, leave it alone. As your practice session develops, notice how that tension shifts. You can do this in a few ways:

  1. Set a timer on your phone for a random amount of time. When the timer goes off, freeze exactly as you are and take note of the places in your body that feel rigid.

  2. Video yourself playing a short section. Watch for rigidity in the shoulders, rounding in the back, tension in the feet, flailing fingers, etc. Take notes as you watch, and watch as many times as you need.

  3. Practice in different positions and notice how they feel different. Here are some of my faves: Laying down, squatting so that tension shifts to my legs, in boat pose so that tension shifts to my abdominal muscles, laying on a piano bench with my shoulders hanging off of the side so that my head is upside down, standing on one leg.

Noticing is the first step. Once you are aware of the places that you’re holding tension, it’s important to recognize what is necessary and what is unnecessary tension. Necessary tension is the muscle engagement needed to play your instrument, like tensing your abdominal muscles to maintain breath support during a long passage. Unnecessary tension is tension held in places that will not benefit your music making, like lifting your big toe during a technical passage. Imagine that your body has a limited supply of energy for each practice session. It isn’t worth it to expend that precious energy on squinting your eyes during a technical passage when you could be using it to move your fingers more quickly.

This process of noticing without judgment takes time, friends, but after some practice, you may be able to expand your awareness and find more ease in the practice room. I invite you to take time to experiment without any expectations. Let me know how it goes!

Love,
Claire

P.S. A few years ago, Dr. Terri Sanchez wrote a wonderful article on this very topic. It is linked here. Dr. Sanchez provides five reasons that trying to relax can detract from your practicing, and five tips to help you find your happy medium. It is so worth a read!

The Alternate Nostril Breath

“So, is that like, when I have a cold and can only breathe out of one nostril?”

No. Well, kind of?

Alternate nostril breathing is a yogic breath technique that brings balance to the body and mind, increases focus, decreases mental chatter, and is an anxiety WARRIOR. (If I’m about to give a big performance, you can always catch me backstage, hiding in a corner, doing this breath and hoping that no one thinks I’m picking my nose.) If you want to know how to do it, please check out this video! If you want to learn more about the history of this breath, keep reading, my friend.

This breath practice is much older than any of the yoga postures you’d do in a modern yoga class. It began with ancient yogis whose yoga practices consisted of primarily exploring breath in a seated position. In-depth scientific knowledge was lacking in these days. These yogis had no clue how blood flowed through their veins or air filled their lungs. They tried to make sense of the world in the best way that they could: They made educated guesses based on sensation in their bodies.

Have you ever hung upside down for a long time and then stood up? Or held your breath for a long time and then taken a big inhale? Sometimes, there’s a tingly feeling, an increased awareness of blood rushing through your veins, a rush. These yogis believed that this pumping, rushing substance in their bodies was the energy of life, or prana, which they believed traveled through the body in channels called nadis. Some texts from the time insist that there are over 800,000 nadis in the body: ranging from tiny, capillary-sized channels to huge columns of energy. Two of the most important nadis run parallel along the length of the spine, from the tailbone up to crown of the head. These are called the ida nadi (left side) and the pingala nadi (right side). The ida nadi represents a calming, serene, feminine, moon-like energy. The pingala nadi reflects an energized, powerful masculine, sun-like energy. Yogis believed that one of these channels is blocked or somehow impaired, the other becomes overly stimulated, causing an imbalance in prana’s flow. The alternate nostril breath (nadi shodana is its Sanskrit name) is intended to balance these energies: After several minutes of this breath, the body is no longer overly energized or overly lethargic, but at more of an equilibrium.

I’m not here to convince you that any of this is true or real, my friends, just to keep you as well-informed as possible about the history behind this practice. However, in my experience, when I feel like my energy is imbalanced, this breath has been a life-saver. Maybe it’s because my pingala was overactive? Or maybe just because it felt good to take some slow, deep, focused breaths? Who knows. Regardless, as you experiment with this breath, I invite you to notice the subtle shifts in prana that you experience. There may be more to this ancient yogi wisdom than you think. ;)

Love,
Claire

Why do musicians need to learn how to breathe?

When I tell non-musicians that I’m studying flute performance at the graduate level, they generally reply with a semi-confused smile. I clarify, “I pretty much play the flute all day, every day. It’s so much fun.” They light up. “Oh wow! That sounds like a blast!”

It is an absolute blast - especially if you take into consideration that “blast” can also mean “to blow up or break apart,” because that’s exactly how it feels sometimes. Creating music involves a lot of self-study and self-criticism. You must be analytical of your tendencies, judge them as beneficial or not-so-helpful, and then be willing to change them without blowing up or breaking apart on the inside. I deeply believe that this ability to self-evaluate makes musicians more accepting, thoughtful, kind humans. But sometimes, when we get stuck in that hyper-aware loop, it can make us really, really anxious humans.

What does anxiety have to do with breathing? Well...

Your breath and your anxiety are directly linked.
I don’t mean that you are anxious because you are breathing the wrong way, or that your clinically diagnosed anxiety can be cured with breath! I simply mean that there is a correlation between the fight-or-flight response of anxiety and the calming effect of slow breath that is worth investigating in your body. There is scientific evidence to back me up, too!

  1. In 2006, this scientific study showed that mindful breathing slowed the breath rate, the heart rate, decreased blood pressure, and gave participants “the experience of alertness and reinvigoration.”

  2. Harvard Medical School recommends deep abdominal breathing and complete oxygen exchange to slow the heart rate and battle anxiety. This article also mentions meditation and yoga. Just sayin’.

  3. Most exciting of ALL!  In 2012, a study of 46 musicians found that ONE 1!!!!111!! single thirty minute session of slow breathing could reduce performance anxiety.

Taking deep, slow breaths in the practice room, backstage, or even first thing when you wake up can help to break the hyper-aware loop and bring your brain back to reality.

Your breath and your musicianship are directly linked.
As you exhale, your heart rate decreases. Extended exhales over a long period of time are recommended to slow the heart rate and help you chill out.

If you play a wind instrument, think about this: You take a deep breath, put your instrument to your mouth, and exhale for maybe ten seconds. You’re already doing a breathing exercise, my precious angel friend!!! Just like mental practicing can improve musicianship even while you’re away from your instrument, practicing deep breathing away from the practice room can make your phrasing and breath support more efficient when you get back in there.

If you don’t play a wind instrument, have you ever started a phrase by taking a deep breath? Have you ever been in the middle of a passage and realized that you were holding your breath? Deep breathing causes relaxation which causes clearer thought processes which causes quicker muscle movements which causes better musicianship. I’m sure you get my drift at this point, right?

Have I convinced you yet?
By practicing mindful breathing, you can improve breath support and control and manage your anxiety (and your body’s responses to it). Developing a breathing practice is like rubberizing your insides to protect them from the eventual blast, you know? Yeah, you know. Let’s take some deep breaths together. CLICK HERE for the first video in my brand-spankin-new three-part breathing series.

Love you!
Claire

Note: If your anxiety is debilitating, frequent, or severe, I highly suggest that you take a deep breath - and then call a therapist/counselor. Go to your school’s counseling center. Breathing can absolutely help you in brief situations, but it is not a medical treatment. You deserve life outside of your anxiety. I love you!

 

Why Yoga?

Welcome to my inaugural blog, friends!
To really kick off Practice Room Yoga's blog, I thought I'd tackle a subject that makes me both flush with excitement and cower with anxiety: Why is yoga helpful for musicians? I flush with anxiety because I have so much to say about this, but I cower with anxiety because I HAVE SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT THIS! I've been practicing yoga for 19 years. How can I possibly distill its benefits down into one blog post? Well, I can't. Sorry, y'all. I've narrowed my list of approximately 10,000 things down to TWO points, but I can only share with you what I've experienced, invite you to share your own experiences with me, and direct you to the Resources page for more info. Deep breath. Let's dive in. 

Yoga increases body awareness, and body awareness prevents injury.
If you've ever been to a yoga class (or watched any of my videos!) you may have heard a lot of this: "Notice what you feel. Notice how that sensation changes with breath. Notice notice notice notice." Whether you thought to yourself "please stop saying that word" or "what does that even mean?", I promise that it's the reason that you leave a yoga class feeling buzzy and relaxed. Don't tell your yoga teacher that I told you, but... It's the key to yoga. 

As musicians, we are often focused on everything but our body. Our minds are simultaneously focusing on tone production, articulation, intonation, musical line... We have a lot going on. As a result, sometimes we'll leave the practice room slumped and tense and exhausted. We have been practicing focused awareness on our music, but not on our bodies. In fact, our bodies often become a casualty of practice sessions. And that isn't good, because, ya know, we rely on our bodies to do tiny things like ... live. Imagine that your body has a tiny voice: It whispers to you what it needs, but you have to be listening. In the middle of an intense and stressful practice session, the tiny voice whispers, "Hey, I think we need a break..." But your Musician-Brain yells "NEVER!" And before you know it, it hurts to pick up your instrument at all. And before you know it, you have a stress-related injury.

Yoga draws your attention inward, gets your mind quiet, allows you to hear the tiny voice. Your instructor invites you to notice and gives you space to hear and understand your body's needs, and suddenly you have the freedom to explore each feeling, move how you'd like to move, and actually listen. In the practice of tuning in and exploring again and again, that quiet voice becomes stronger and stronger. A few months deep into combining my yoga and flute practice, that voice had cleared its throat. It would shout at me. "HEY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" I'd snap to reality, like I'd been in a trance, and realize that I was hunched over, shoulders to my ears, palms collapsed onto themselves, brow furrowed. "Yeah, you're right, body. What am I doing?" Deep breath. Shake it off. Take a break. Stretch. Back in the game. Yoga gives your tiny voice a megaphone (and this megaphone is super essential for preventing injury).

Yoga decreases tension and anxiety, and musicians are tense and anxious.
"How dare you make that sweeping generalization, Claire. I'm never tense or anxious." Yeah, right. Here are two reasons why I know you (most likely) are:

First, musicians base their worth as humans on how fast they can flap their fingers while blowing air. They flap and flap and then ask someone if they're flapping well. The person says no. They cry a little, flap more intently. Repeat ad nauseum. Because so much of your life is dedicated to building this one skill, it can often become difficult to separate yourself and your inherent goodness from yourself and your musical ability. Seeing yourself in this way can be a blast when you're succeeding (I'm king of the world!!!), but when you face roadblocks, as we all do, it is damaging: For example, losing a competition becomes less about your competitors and more about the fact that you've never been good enough for anyone. Do you see how this could quickly spiral downward into depression, anxiety, and even leaving the field of music forever? I definitely do. I've felt it. You may have, too.

Next, how many professionals have to stand in front of a huge group of people and perform? Especially when, as I said above, performance is like laying bare all of our insecurities and vulnerabilities and exposing our hearts? Not many, my friend. As musicians, we are constantly being called upon to act under pressure. We have to become comfortable being nervous. Some musicians struggle with such debilitating nerves that they feel compelled to medicate with beta blockers. Anxiety is the nature of the beast. 

How does yoga step in? Scientifically (there are studies on this!), yoga takes you out of fight-or-flight mode (a.k.a. anxiety mode) and puts you in rest-and-digest mode (a.k.a. chill out mode). Yoga slows you down and redirects your attention: breath, mind, heartbeat. It creates a safe space for you to reach down into the truest, most blissful and peaceful center of who you are. And somehow, when you come back from that blissful place of attention, you're a little less anxious. These tools - this art of slowing down and tuning in and deepening your breath - transfer from your mat to your life. I promise. I've felt it for myself.

Yoga just changes you.
When I was 18, I did a 21-day yoga challenge with my mom. The classes were at 5am every morning during the summer, so I'd stay up until 3am with my friends, sleep two hours, and then roll out of bed and drag myself to class. (It's safe to say that I wasn't prioritizing this experience.) About 14 days in to the challenge, something happened in my life that would have normally made me angry. I don't remember what it was, but I do remember that, shockingly, I wasn't angry. I could feel the space where the heat usually rose in my chest, but it was empty. Why was I so calm? Now, I know the answer: Yoga was changing my reaction rate, my response, and giving me space to take a deep breath. In the practice room, when I've become frustrated with passages or myself or my instrument, I've experienced this same space-before-reaction. It allows me to give myself compassion, remind myself to breathe, and check in with my body when I'm achy. It makes me less like a tight bud and more like a sunshiney blossom. I hope that it can do the same for you, friends. 

Love,
Claire