The Musician's Yoga
by Dr. Abraham

Introduction:

Yoga — embraced by master musicians for thousands of years...

And music — embraced by master yogi for thousands of years...

There is an ancient love shared between these intimate forms.

 

The earliest documentation of yoga appears in the Rig Veda, c.1,250 BCE three times. All three times, it is practiced by musicians.

 

Patanjali, credited author of the Yoga Sutras (c.500 BCE) was a musician upon many instruments, including strings, winds, and percussion.

Yoga requires the same physical-balance, emotional-awareness, and mental-focus that musicians train with daily.

It is a powerful medium supporting the emotional, mental, and physical states required for every instrument, repertoire, and audience.

It is accessible to all ages, genders, demographics, and levels of ability.

The difference between music and yoga exists only in our understanding, and how we choose to use our senses.

 

The intimate practice of music is yoga, and vice versa.

And this is why I encourage all fellow musicians to learn, use, and embrace its ancient forms.

Violin Kirtan Yoga

Finding Balance

Professional musicians today are marathoners.

We practice individually for hours at a time, often to repeat it with an ensemble the same day.

We’re challenged with the asymmetrical use of our bodies.

We work muscles otherwise rarely used in such ways and forms.

(Think of violin/viola hand pronation and supination.)

Mentally, we process large amounts of data simultaneously:

• perpetual dividing and multiplying of time

• maintained posture and form

• intonation, ensemble intonation

• emotional appropriation, control and expression

• always existing that millisecond ahead in time to respond to what comes next

Performing itself creates anxiety for many, which is harmful if the process is unbalanced.

This impacts heart rate, breath quantity, and self confidence beyond music.

Yoga supports musicians by opening doors of love and care to find our individual balance.

Its practice recalibrates the mind, allowing us to breathe stress away, and sing in our optimal space.

 

The asanas (postures) allow us to scan our entire bodies, find what needs recalibration, and encourages body, mind, heart, and spirit to play together as a symphony. 

Group Yoga Is Like The Symphony

The experience of yoga class is, in every way, like the symphony. We participate as part of a whole, but also very-much engaged in our own practice. Aside from those leading, our chairs, mats, and where we sit do not matter. Our bodies occupy a few square feet of space, and we work within the knowledge of our own strengths and weaknesses.

 

We aim to bring ease and awareness to motions that challenge us in those areas.

We work in the space of knowing that progress comes through consistent practice.

We recognize that even 15 minutes per day yields more profound benefit than cramming 5 hours at the end of a week's hiatus.

Yoga is a quiet activity, where the loudest element is often one’s mind. We’re encouraged to slow down, accept where we are at the moment, stay in a challenging pose for just a few more breaths, and focus on “I can” rather than “I can’t.”

All of this impacts our overall focus and facilitates concentration, patience, and a positive mental attitude under stress. As musicians, this is vital to our work in the practice room and on the concert stage.

Asana (yoga poses) for our Hands, Wrists, Shoulders, Necks, and Backs

Neck and shoulder pain can be caused by tension in our lower back, hips, and hamstrings. Everything is interconnected and your neck will feel better when you have worked all the way up from your feet through your fingertips.

Think about trying to stay warm on a cold winter day. You might wear gloves to keep your hands warm, but you’ll also put on warm socks and boots, and layer up from bottom to top, including an insulating jacket and hat. Any “weak” spot will impact your level of comfort and warmth.

For those of you who are familiar with yoga postures, here are a few of my favorites for hands, wrist, neck, and shoulders:

•  Child’s Pose: ("balasana") a relaxed kneeling motion with forehead contacting the floor. In my variation for musicians, grasp the heels gently to incorporate an arm stretch as well.
•  Cat and Cow: ("marjaiasana" and "bitilasana") in a hands-and-knees crawling posture, alternate the back and neck together in concaving and convexing arcs.
•  Seated head-to-fingertips stretch
•  Thread the Needle
•  Seated Spinal Twist: gentle twisting motion upon our back led by one arm pushing against its opposite knee)

•  Resting Spinal Twist: gentle twisting motion led by our leg weight while lying on our backs)
•  Mountain
•  Finger Interlace: 
fingers interlace, palms facing away from our body, and we push up towards the sky and/or straight out from our chests.
•  Rag Doll
•  Tree Pose
•  Downward Facing Dog (Note: this one may take some getting used to before you develop the ability to balance your weight equally in your fingers and are able to avoid excess weight in your wrist)

Your Musician's Consistency

Consistency will yield the best results in Yoga. It can easily be part of your daily routine when you link it together with your practicing. As little as a few minutes to warm up, cool down, or as a stretch break will be helpful.

If you can incorporate a class even once a week – at home with a video or in a studio – the extended practice will make a difference to your posture and health. Try it 3+ times a week for best results.

Some Initial Guidance

Through practice, you will get to know your own edge. There’s a difference between finding a good stretch, and taking a risk with an advanced posture without preparation. The latter may cause pain or injury, and should be avoided.

Even in a class with a teacher where you receive suggestions on how far to take a pose, check in with yourself. Technique and alignment are more important than trying to impress, and you need to know your own body and allow it to progress in a gradual manner.

It can be fun to aspire to some of the arm balances and inversions, but for our purposes, they are not any more effective than the easiest postures.

I recommend that beginners gradually build a repertoire of basic postures, establishing alignment and awareness of their breath.

How Important is A Teacher?

There are many online resources offering beginner tutorials and yoga flows.

That said, similar to music lessons, it is helpful to seek guidance, as you may pick up habits that won’t serve you.

Beginners: seek out a studio that focuses on alignment and postural awareness, and one that offers classes specifically geared toward beginners. The Iyengar and Kripalu styles of yoga are known for attention to detail and are great for beginners. From there, you can explore a range of other styles and paces.

For deep backbends, arm balances, and inversions, it is important that you have a realistic sense of your strength, balance, and flexibility. You want to truly understand the posture and how to come into it and get out of it. This is where a teacher is helpful. These are postures that you want to be well warmed up for before you attempt them, and it’s important to go slowly (not using momentum or speed).