How Can Yoga Help Musicians?

Integrating the mind and body.

I love movement and music. These are only a few of the many parallels that can be drawn between music and yoga. You will undoubtedly notice this on your own and this will motivate you to continue practicing both!

One concept that translates between yoga and music is prana. Prana is a way to say “life force,” and can be understood as energy. In yoga, we use the breath and movement to direct the flow of energy in our bodies. Today’s yoga practices incorporate Breath of Fire, which is a pranayama that makes you feel really energized afterward! Your energy goes where your attention goes. Besides the physical energy, if we set attention on putting energy into our sound we will project better. One of my biggest struggles has always been to project in large spaces, particularly in orchestral settings. I recently had a great lesson with my teacher's husband, who really encouraged me to focus way more attention than I usually do on engaging my intercostal muscles. It took a huge amount of concentration and I felt physically exhausted at the end of the lesson but I was so amazed at the difference in tone! It is one of those concepts that we are always told to focus on but when you REALLY focus on it the difference is huge.

Attention is obviously a huge factor while playing an instrument. Sometimes if we get distracted we can end a practice session and not remember what we did five minutes ago. Of course, there is no point in practicing if we aren't paying attention! This is how we practice mistakes and form bad habits. Sometimes if I am feeling really distracted I will keep a tally on a piece of paper of how many times I catch myself losing focus during a session to get back on track. If you practice this tally consistently you start to notice that the number of times you lose focus goes down which is nice. It is important to not be angry at yourself for losing focus but to assess why you are distracted. What you are practicing may be way too easy or way too difficult, or you may be overextended from other tasks done that day. Tasks that are new and difficult require more attention and are usually more effective when practiced in shorter duration.

Stability is very important for both the mind and body in yoga and music. Stability means “ firmly established” and “ not likely to change or fail.” Stability in our body while playing comes from consistently practicing technique (how we play the instrument, not scales, but you can certainly use scales to practice technique!). To me, stability means to build a strong foundation, which results in consistency and being able to play something exactly the way I want it as many times as I'd like. Sometimes, to create stability we also need to provide ourselves with support. We are often guilty of being too stubborn to provide ourselves with a modification that will make something more successful and comfortable. For example, sometimes we are very insistent that we or a student perform a passage at the written tempo when we may not have cultivated enough technical ability. The passage would sound clean and consistent a click or two slower but we continue to practice haphazardly and with tension at the written speed without creating a strong foundation. We can eventually play really fast if at first, we take the time to play slow and consistently.

It may sound weird, but the musical element I noticed improved the most dramatically after practicing yoga was rhythm. Rhythm is more than just note values, as every movement has a rate of change and therefore rhythm. A small list for clarinet includes: fingers, tongue, inhale, exhale, embouchure (actively opening mouth and pushing back of tongue up), hands (actively pushing instrument up and forward). For example, when our embouchure rhythm is not aligned with our fingers, our tone quality does not remain consistent when changing registers. When our fingers and tongue do not have the same rhythm, it creates a stuttering effect and makes it difficult to play fast passages. A lot of people have the misconception that to play with rhythmic precision is unmusical. But when these are all aligned we are actually able to play with less rigidity! Movements that are linked together are able to slow down and speed up in sync. My very wise teacher always says the expression is in the rhythm and it is so true!  

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How Can Yoga Help Musicians?