Namaste: A Hindi word used as a greeting and a goodbye: It means "I honor the light in you, I honor the light in myself." It is spoken with palms pressed together. It is part of the centuries old tradition of a yoga practice.
Playing any instrument is a physical, emotional, and logical endeavor. We use our body, our imagination and our brain at all times for optimum performance. We always schedule consistent time for practice and study of our instrument but sometimes in a busy life, scheduling time for physical activity takes a back seat on the ‘to do’ list. I have found that by making physical activity a big priority and working consistently in a yoga practice, my flute playing has reaped many benefits, often in unexpected ways.
What is yoga? It can be defined as “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.”
There are many different styles of yoga,(over 14) from Bikram yoga (or hot yoga, practiced in a room close to 105 degrees and 40% humidity) to restorative yoga, which focuses more on stretching and relaxation, and power yoga, which is more athletic and demanding. You will be able to experiment with different styles once you try out the discipline, and it really helps to know which kind of class you will be taking before you go. Now, some of you out there are more of the solitary exercise types who use videos: nothing wrong with that! However, you will miss out on the experience of community in a face-to-face class, bonding with other students and having a knowledgeable instructor there to answer questions and help you with correct alignment in poses, or asanas. If you go to a gym or yoga studio, ask which kind of class you will be taking, what kind of equipment you should bring (your own yoga mat and a towel are usually all it takes) and if this class is appropriate for you as a new student. If you decide to try hot yoga, please make sure to hydrate REALLY well before you go! There are also classes which combine styles of yoga or have target audiences (maternity yoga) for example so it helps to look at the specific kind of class you will be taking.
Flute playing is asymmetrical by it’s very nature: since we hold the instrument across our bodies from left to right, we are shortening muscles on the right side, and lengthening them on the left side. This natural imbalance from holding the flute hours each day over the years can be helped with many gentle stretches of the arms, upper back, neck, and torso. Sitting for long periods of time in orchestra rehearsals or when teaching tightens the hips, legs, and back: the stretching in yoga can reverse all this tension by working out the entire lower body. Restorative yoga classes will concentrate on asanas that will work to lengthen muscles and destroy tension. I take this kind of class once a week and I can notice the difference if I need to miss a week…my body LOVES to stretch and relax.
It is HARD to quiet the mind. With an endless stream of self talk, learning to be in command of my “inner chatterbox” is a lot harder than I ever imagined. Some days I can’t get to a place of peace… but many days it IS possible to become focused only on this present moment. Harnessing this power has been incredibly valuable to me as a musician. It’s easier to practice when you have this ability to turn off the noise, and accept musical results without so much judgment and criticism. The practice of ‘mindfullness’, of staying in the HERE and NOW, is extremely important to good music making. In yoga, you learn to concentrate on THIS breath, not thinking of the past, nor the present but only the NOW. It’s a real difference than the usual ‘fretting’ (past worries) or ‘projecting’(future worries) that many of us engage in fairly typically.
As flutists, we are used to taking very quick full inhales, with very long sustained and controlled exhalations. Yoga will connect the breath with motion in a more even, balanced and measured way, as well as use the breath to quiet the mind. This experience of breathing is quite different than our flute inspired breathing. This kind of breathing is restorative, lowers the heart rate, and fully oxygenates the blood. After a typical class, I feel almost as refreshed as after a full night of sleep. Which makes EVERYTHING in my day go much, much better.
As you begin your exploration of yoga, stay flexible and open on the mat and off the mat. Listen to your body, going to your edge, but never past it. Be mindful, be in the present. Namaste.
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