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.