Have you ever felt pain as a result of playing your instrument?
I did. For years!
During the early part of my study and career, no pain – no gain was the common belief. We were meant to tough it out, and play through the pain. Now of course, we look at that as a very damaging philosophy in a number of ways.
Being the diligent person that I am, when I was instructed to push through, I did. Until I couldn’t anymore. Not only did I practice many hours each day on two instruments, but I also used my hands extensively in my day job as a bookkeeper.
I was walking home one day with three bags of groceries. I realized I wasn’t going to make it. I put two bags down, and walked one home. I repeated the process until everything was on my kitchen counter. I then attempted to rub my forehead. My arm made it halfway up and fell. I tried again. This time, it didn’t even make it that far before it fell at my side.
I thought a bit of rest would take care of it, so I took it easy for a couple of days. As soon as my arm began to function “normally,” I jumped right back into practicing. After all, you have to sacrifice for your art, right? Not exactly.
As a result of overuse and abuse, I ended up without the privilege of using my dominant arm for a year. A year! Just imagine that for a moment. You can bet there was a lot of bargaining going on with the universe. I promised I would no longer work outside of music, if I could just get my arm back.
I did a lot of mental practice during that time. I did everything I could to support my music that could be done without using my dominant hand.
What I discovered was that, if I wanted to be the best musician I could be, I had to first be the healthiest person I could be.
What that meant for me was to educate myself about the methods of Moshe Feldenkrais and Alexander Technique, along with other movement practices. I continued with my yoga habit, but in a more forgiving and, shall we say, flexible way. Incorporating disciplines that support a balanced posture and supple musculature was very important to me, as it gave me a strong foundation from which everything else would flow.
I had always been careful about what kind of fuel I put into my body. I became even more careful, knowing that we truly are what we eat. I was especially grateful for a kind gift of a food processor from a friend who thought I would starve if I couldn’t chop vegetables!
While I relied on some fabulous physicians to help me regain the use of my arm, I researched non-traditional methods that would supplement their work. Even though this was many years ago, I was quite lucky to find a neurologist who incorporated these methods into his practice.
I’m very happy to say that, after applying every tool possible, I was able to return to a full career in performance and teaching. I knew that if I wanted to maintain my performance health, I would need to continue with everything I learned during the injury.
I also found that I needed to consider factors beyond my body, in order to stay strong and supple.
What happens if you don’t fit your instruments?!
More on that next time!
PS I find this stretch particularly helpful to keep my chest open and my arms free. Please seek the assistance of an experienced yoga practitioner to be sure that you are stretching in a healthy and supportive way.