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 am going to be a guest instructor at a performance class at NYU(New York University) next week so I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve been thinking. This is a continuation of what I’ve written previously so you might want to back up and read my posts on Somatic Experiencing(SE) if you’re new to my blog.
Sitting comfortably, sensing into your back in the chair, your feet on the floor, let yourself wonder about what you’re doing when you feel most yourself-let it come to you, wait for it to appear. Stay with it, let it expand as you sense it in your body. Let this felt sense grow; not thinking but allowing yourself to listen to the sensations that grow in your body.
Feel how this place, whatever it is, affects your inner body. Maybe you feel an internal warmth growing, maybe you feel more settled in the chair-let it grow. You are now in your reptilian brain(brain stem), a place of instinct. A place that can lead you to clarity, instinctual power and fluidity-what an important place for a performer to be able to inhabit. Enjoy!
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.
I’ve returned from my SE training and although I’m quite tired-four very long, very intense days-I am thrilled! I learned a lot, had meaningful experiences and thoroughly enjoyed the group of 32 practitioners. I will be weaving in what I learned as I assimilate it.
Let’s pick up from last week; if you are new to this blog, it might be a good idea to read from the beginning or at least from the last few posts.
So you’ve been practicing sitting in a chair and being present to your activation and to your relaxation. You’ve tried to simply follow the sensations in your body by bringing awareness to them. This is good-let’s take the next step.
Let’s now try to apply this to your instrument, to your singing or to your acting. To simplify, I will write in terms of a string instrument; apply it to your own situation.
Before you pick up your violin, just stand and notice. Start with your head and slowly go down to your feet. Notice where there’s activation-maybe you feel stirrings in your chest, maybe a heaviness in your neck. Notice where there’s comfort or grounding(a little more difficult when standing.) It’s good to focus on your feet here-feel them on the ground.
Now pick up your instrument-if you previously felt a heaviness in your neck, as you play something easy-a scale is preferable-does it increase? Do your feet stay planted? Again just notice and remember-being truly present while you perform requires embodiment; a sense of your self, your body, your mind.
I haven’t had the time to sit down and write for a few weeks-so good to be back!
Thought I’d share the resources I gave to the parents and students after my presentation at Juilliard Pre-College; they are all very, very helpful.
1. WALKING MEDITATION-Many musicians have no sense of their feet and legs and don’t realize how crucial this connection is to their well being and to their sound-
Walk 12 paces (can be less) slowly across the room with your eyes closed, if possible. Return. Focus all your attention on the soles of the feet or lower legs. When the mind wanders, refocus on your feet. Set a timer, as in sitting meditation, start with 5 minutes, work up to 20, walking back and forth. IMPORTANT-your mind will wander, of course, take that as a given. This is not like practicing music where you are striving for perfection. Only strive to be present for these few minutes, gently quieting your mind when necessary
2.BREATHING-The New Science Of Breath, www.coherence.com
I highly recommend this CD; I use it all the time. It is engineered to modulate the autonomic nervous system and it does.
3. Neuroplasticity-The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegal
I love everything this incredible scientist, psychiatrist, therapist has written. His books give me hope, wonder and a desire for more.
Consistent meditation helps to restore resiliency; makes it easier to let go of tension, to maintain self-regulation. When we are stressed, the hormone cortisol is released. This has an important impact on blood flow; the heart rate goes up, and blood is moved away from the brain’s highest cognitive center. It’s a time when people make more mistakes; they are distracted and the ability to recall important information diminishes. Processing information becomes more difficult.
We all know this place. I see musicians and actors who perform in this state all the time and have seen how important a daily meditation practice is to them. It doesn’t eliminate stress, of course, but enables them to recover from difficult situations, to self-regulate.
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.
Last Saturday, Dec. 5, I gave a lecture at Juilliard Pre-College and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It took place at Morse Hall, where the students give many of their recitals and it is quite lovely. I was joined by Conrad Tao who literally helped me teach; what an incredible young man(15) he is.
I asked him questions about the work we’ve done together and he answered verbally and on the piano and violin. We discussed the mainstay of my technique, whole body consciousness, and I think the audience got a real sense of what this is about. Many seemed to understand, as demonstrated by their questions, that chronic pain and/or discomfort, must be looked at as a whole body issue. Pain in the lower arm, for example, is often referred from the lower back-it is crucial this is understood.
The musician walks into my office, we say our hello’s and she proceeds to open her violin case, revealing not only her precious instrument and bow but a bit of her inner life as well. The instrument case is often adorned with photographs, lucky knicknacks and children’s drawings.
At times I feel like a voyeur as I take a surreptitious glance, at other times I am invited to look and feel as if I’ve gained initial entrance into her special world.
She takes out her instrument and bow and first-always-tunes it; if the weather is at either extreme this may take a bit longer than usual. Then she plays for me and suddenly, amazingly, my office is filled with the sounds I have loved since childhood, sounds that filled the American Ballet Studios where I began my love of dance and classical music. Sounds I couldn’t bear to listen to when my dancing was cut out of my life in my adolescence. And finally, sounds I could again embrace when I returned to dancing in college. As I listen to her play, I sometimes recall all of this in a flash and feel gratitude and wonder at where my life, and my work, have taken me.
This musician-she may be a student, performer or teacher-is playing for me because she has a problem. Perhaps she has been sent to me because she has chronic neck or back pain or arm and finger discomfort. Perhaps she has come because her teacher has noticed her musical voice is somehow locked in her body armor.
Whatever the issue, I begin by observing many things, some of them prior to her playing a note. I notice how she approaches her instrument, how she uses her body to pick it up and her set-up. I then bring my awareness to her breathing and how she holds her head and uses her arms. I continue to scan her chest and lower back and, no less importantly, I notice the alignment of her feet and legs. And then I know and we can begin our work.
I call the work I do with musicians Body/Instrument Technique with a focus on whole body consciousness. After the initial evaluation I design a program to bring awareness to the whole body and how and where the it absorbs daily stress. The intention is not only to eliminate the presenting problem but to enable the musician to be present in her entire body, from head to foot and back again.