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March 12, 2014IM -
Editor’s Note: Always check with a physician before beginning a new physical activity, especially if you have an existing injury or are experiencing pain.
According to certified Kripalu yoga instructor Mia Olson, author of Musician’s Yoga: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Inspiration (Berklee Press, 2009), there are many ways that musicians can benefit from yoga. “I see yoga as developing awareness both mentally and physically,” she says.
She points to improved focus and concentration, and awareness of what’s around you. “That helps you better communicate with other musicians in your group or band,” she explains. And she asserts that yoga can prevent injuries. “Playing an instrument or singing is a very physical thing and I think a lot of people hang onto tension,” she says. “If you are a person who is constantly pushing yourself, you could develop overuse injuries. By developing physical awareness you don’t put yourself in compromised positions. Some of the physical exercises, strengthening and stretching, help make your body stronger.”
Olson says yoga can also ease performance anxiety. “When people get nervous, they think about what other people are thinking, rather than concentrating on the music. Yoga helps you to be more in the moment,” she explains. “When you are stressed, you hold your breath, and the nervous energy makes you feel tight, and everything feels ‘up in the air.’ If you take a deep breath with a long exhale, you can actually bring that energy back down and ground it.”
“I think the concept of yoga should be a 24/7 awareness,” she explains. “Awareness of breath and posture are the most important.” Here are a few beginning yoga techniques she recommends for musicians:
Full Yogic BREATHING: Exhale completely, pulling your abdomen muscles toward your spine. Relax the muscles and allow the air to fill the belly and chest fully. Continue to exhale and inhale fully, focusing on expanding the front, back, and sides of the body.
Mountain: Keep your feet hip width apart with toes parallel and firmly planted on the ground. Engage the muscles of the legs, keeping the knees slightly bent, and tuck the tailbone under slightly to keep a straight pelvis. Roll your shoulders back and down, lifting through your spine through the crown of your head.
Neck Circles: Allow your chin to rest towards your chest. Breathe into the back of your neck a few times. Inhale and bring your right ear to the right shoulder and breathe in. Exhale bringing the chin back towards the chest. Inhale bringing left ear to left shoulder, breathing in. Continue with half-circles in front of the body.
Shoulder Release: Inhale the shoulders up to your ears, squeezing the shoulders up as high as you can, holding the breath in. Exhale, dropping the shoulders and relaxing. Repeat two more times. Next, inhale the shoulders up toward the ears, exhale rotating them back and down, opening the chest. Then inhale the shoulders forward, rounding the back, and continue the circles until the shoulders come all the way up to the ears again. Circle back for a few rounds and then reverse directions.
Wrist and Arm Rotations: With elbows bent by your sides and shoulders relaxed, circle the wrists away from each other in front of you. As you are doing this, move the fingers creatively, loosening them up. Repeat several times and then switch directions, circling the wrists toward each other. Pause, then rotate the forearms and hands, first towards each other and then away.
Eagle Arms: Inhale and extend arms in a T position with palms facing down. Exhale bringing the right arm under the left arm, crossing at the elbows. Bend elbows so palms face outward. Draw the right hand towards your nose and wrap it around the left hand, fingers pointing up toward the sky with palms close to touching. Breathe into the back of the body, opening the shoulders. Rotate elbows in one direction and then the other. Then, inhale drawing elbows upward and exhale them down. Release arms, shake them out, and then repeat on the other side.
Standing Yoga Mudra: Start with feet wide apart with toes parallel. Inhale and lift arms in front of you as you inhale, then push the palms away as you exhale and join your hands together behind your back. Elongate the spine, lifting through the crown of the head. If you feel comfortable, exhale and bend at the waist with your head coming down between your legs. Keep your knees slightly bent and continue to draw the arms up and back. Hold for a few breaths, then slowly come back to standing.
Helicopter: Start with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, knees slightly bent, and arms hanging down freely at your sides. Start to turn the torso side to side, with your arms flopping like coat sleeves in the wind. Imagine tension rolling off your upper back, shoulders, and arms, and releasing out your fingertips. Gradually return to stillness.
More of Olson’s yoga poses for musicians can be found online and in her book. She teaches Yoga for Musicians at Berklee College of Music where she is a professor in the woodwind department.