It’s so clear to me that technique, although very important, is not the whole picture. Whether a musician; actor or singer, connection to one’s body is crucial. And not just to the outer body; the sensations of the inner body lead the performer to genuine connection first to oneself and then to the audience.
I often think of two well known violinists who are brothers. They often perform together and are widely admired for their spectacular technique. One brother is also admired for the feeling he pours into his playing, for the soul that shines through. He draws people to him; to my ear there is a world of difference between them.
I know both musicians and was pleased to count one of them as a client for a few years. His body mind connection is evident in everything he does and he brings this to his music. He can engage his body from the inside and let it lead his playing. His unique creative voice is evident and brings to his audience much joy.
Thank you again for your comments; I do appreciate them.
My time at NYU was just great; a wonderful group of aspiring-and clearly very talented-actors/singers. This was a performance class and their teacher works with them on bodily expression; this was good to see.
My model of whole body consciousness mixed with Somatic Experiencing and neurobiology works as well with actors as it does with musicians. Here’s why:
1. No matter how you express yourself artistically, turning inward to find your unique voice is crucial. Somatic Experiencing (SE) is based on tuning into the sensations of your inner body (felt sense). This is where-I believe-the artistic soul is, where you’ll find your essence.
2. Again, no matter how you express yourself, it must be done with the whole body. If you are standing playing the violin, if you are singing, if you are sitting playing the piano or acting, you must know where your feet are. Literally. And your legs, pelvis and on up. Every bit of you.
3. The way you use your body in everyday life is reflected in the way you perform; if you don’t move your arms from their connection to the shoulder blade and from your back, for example, you won’t have the power you need to express yourself. An arm not connected can not express feeling strongly and genuinely. If you are not grounded as you walk down the street, you won’t be grounded on stage.
I hope you were able to spend time bringing your awareness to your inner and outer body. It’s important to remember that mindfulness includes the inner body, not just the strength and flexibility of your muscles. So what does this mean?
As I type, I am aware of the muscles in my arms contracting; I notice some familiar discomfort in my neck and I feel my feet on the ground. If I give myself more time, I become aware of my breathing; it feels a little shallow. If I like, I can wonder about that. This awareness leads me to the slight drawing in of my shoulders-it seems to go along with the restricted breathing.
Now I have an image of myself sitting here-an inner image; no one looking at me would notice these inner workings. If I choose, I can stay with this image; I can amplify it. What other sensations do I feel in my body as I stay with this image? Do they feel activating or relaxing? Is there affect connected to it? If there is, how does this effect my body?
I hope you find the time and inclination to sit with yourself in this way. Let me know how it is for you.
Maybe you’ve been bringing more awareness to your feet this week; if so, good for you! Now let’s add to what I posted last time.
As you sit in your chair at your computer, read this and then move your chair away for a bit and try it. To bring mindfulness to your actions, you must take the time.
Begin by noticing your feet-how do they feel, what sensations are you aware of when you focus? Maybe you feel them firmly on the ground, maybe not. It’s just important to notice. Now let your attention wander to the rest of your body. What feels settled, resting comfortably in the chair? Maybe the back of your legs, maybe your arms or hands, maybe your butt. Just notice.
When you’ve found what feels most settled, stay there and breathe. Allow your attention to go where the grounded feeling is and just breathe as you notice. Maybe you’ve selected your arms; as you focus you may notice the feeling in your arms is spreading to your fingers, maybe into your shoulders. Let it move-your job is to simply follow.
I’ve written a number of posts around the subject of feet; so important to so many aspects of life but often only noticed when they ache.
Try today to bring consciousness to your feet-not judgement but awareness. What are they doing as you sit at your computer? I just noticed mine were perched on my toes and decided to put the whole foot on the ground. Sometimes, depending on your chair, this isn’t possible but right now just notice.
As you walk down the street, notice. Are you more on your toes? Heels? Do your feet roll outwards, inwards?
If you’re a musician, and you play seated, bring your awareness to your feet before you start to play and during. Are you grounded-do you feel your feet firmly in the ground? When you’re playing a difficult passage, do your feet lift off a bit or stay the same?
If you play while standing, you can also notice your feet; it’s the beginning of whole body and mind consciousness.
Notice your feet while you’re eating, reading-whatever! Just begin to take in, physically and mentally, that your feet are there and they can support you, are meant to support you.
I am preparing for a workshop, Reaching The Inner Musician, I am giving on Saturday, Oct. 30, at Juilliard. This will be for Pre-College students and their parents and I am looking forward to it. In the next few weeks I will be sharing on this blog what I presented; today I will write briefly about the adolescent brain.
We all know adolescence is a very difficult time; I know of no adult who would like to repeat this particular time of life. Between emerging sexuality; which for many is overwhelming; the search for a separate identity,;new and complicated relationships; academic demands and stress at home; negotiating this period can be difficult.
At the same time, the adolescent brain is in flux; it is exposed to serious hormonal changes and, more importantly, the prefrontal regions don’t fully mature until the mid-twenties. This makes the important middle prefrontal functions unpredictable. They include regulation of heart rate, respiration and digestion, attunement to others and emotional balance.
Many studies have concluded that consistant meditation effects this area of the brain, making life easier. Even five minutes a day can make a difference.
I have had the pleasure of working closely with many classical musicians- young and old, students and well known professionals- and have had many opportunities to observe them and their colleagues in practice and performance. All too frequently I see musicians who are clearly playing in pain, musicians who are dangerously unaware of their bodies and musicians whose sound is compromised by layers of tension and stress.
Many musicians, regardless of their instrument, play from the mid-chest up, oblivious to the fact that their sound and technique is affected by the placement of their feet and legs, the stress in their lower backs, their shallow breath. It is important to understand-mentally and physically-how one part of the body effects all other parts. Often a practitioner’s diagnosis comes as a surprise; the presenting chronic pain felt in the neck is often manifested by chronic holding in the middle back.
When a musician developes tendonitis in her elbow and seeks help, it is crucial the goal be not only to become asymptomatic but to find the root cause. Once this is determined, one should pay as much attention to that part of body, and surrounding areas, as is paid to the original pain. Common issues, such as carpal tunnel, cumulative trauma,and tendonitis can be greatly decreased by using this whole body approach.
There are some ‘body issues’ that are generational, they come and go. One of them is the enormously heavy backpacks students have become all too accustomed to; I don’t believe they were in fashion twenty-five years ago. Although things are beginning to change, packs on wheels seem to becoming more acceptable, the majority of students still carry their books on their backs.
I want to talk today about what happens when one is not carrying a backpack. I’ve noticed when students are sitting-be it in a chair, on the bus, in a car-that their back assumes an ‘as if’ shape; as if it still has a backpack attached to it. They are slumped, their spine is shortened, their neck is tight. This is not good. This collapsed posture effects all of the body, from the alignment of the head and spine, to the breath, to the sense of groundedness.
It is also carried over to the way the young musician stands or sits while playing their instrument-yes, how you sit on the bus is reflected in the way you approach and play your instrument.
So notice-when you don’t have a load on your back, try to feel the base of your spine touching the back of your seat and your spine long. Notice your chest and your breathing. And when you play, before you lift your arm, feel your long spine in the chair.
The lynchpin of my work rests on two crucial factors; awareness of one’s body in all aspects of life and ‘whole body consciousness.’ The way a musician uses his/her body in everyday life is reflected in all aspects of technique and musicality. It is not possible to have a solid body/instrument technique without daily body awareness. As you read this, do a quick body scan-notice your feet, legs and how you’re sitting in your chair. Then bring awareness to your spine and neck-just notice what you notice. How about your shoulders, your jaw, your eyes? Notice the parts of your body that feel comfortable in the chair; maybe your back supported by the chair; maybe the backs of your legs on the seat; your feet on the ground. If you have a few minutes, continue to focus on these ‘grounded’ places and breathe in for a slow count of 4 and out for a slow count of 4. Notice how the grounded or comfortable places feel.
Whole body consciousness means an understanding of the relationship between, for instance, the feet and neck or the lower and upper back. The pain you feel in your wrist may well come from weak abdominals, fallen arches or a compressed chest. It is not enough to fix the part of the body that is tight or painful- healing can only occur with whole body integration.