Many of us know we *should* be doing some kind of physical maintenance, but injury is still tragically common among instrumentalists. If you aren’t sure where to start, or feel as though you simply don’t have extra time to give, this post is for you.
One friend is an avid yogi, another lifts weights, and your teacher is a runner. You took an Alexander Technique class in school but don't remember what it is. Often having to research our choices is what keeps us from picking anything at all. Fortunately, there is no “right” choice. Everyone’s body responds differently to different activities; What works for your friend or teacher or the principal flutist of an orchestra, may not work for you.
Here are my biggest pieces of advice:
1. Be real with yourself and don’t set unrealistic expectations. If you hate running or know you won‘t keep up with it in the winter, don’t delude yourself into thinking this is the year it’s gonna happen. If you hate mornings, don’t sign up for a 6:30am yoga class. Maybe you’re like me, and the idea of trying a variety of activities to see what you like sounds fun. Maybe you used to participate in a sport or fitness activity that you’d love to resume and simply haven’t focused on it. Or maybe you’ve never had a fitness routine and the idea of starting one feels daunting. Regardless of your circumstance, start by setting small, achievable goals. Stretching for five minutes while your coffee brews is more than nothing. Meeting a friend once a week is better than no times a week. It’s easy to think that starting a routine means you suddenly have one, but this is simply not realistic. Start with what you know feels good, set smaller goals than you think you can achieve, and go from there.
2. Try to frame your physical routine as an opportunity to develop a relationship with your body. Trust that your fitness goals will be accomplished by virtue of you doing the activity, and seize the opportunity to cultivate awareness and learn about your habits. This is a perfect time to begin asking yourself, “How am I feeling today? Where in my body am I holding tension, and where do I feel more relaxed? Can I engage in this activity without clenching my jaw?” We don’t always think about how our bodies feel when we’re practicing music - inviting awareness into your physical practice will give you an achievable goal and strengthen your relationship with your body.
3. Give your physical practice the same dedication you give to your musical one. As soon as your weekly/daily fitness routine becomes something you do when you “have time,” it immediately stops being a routine. Committing to your physical body is one of the biggest gifts you can give yourself, so put it in your calendar and treat it like the very important meeting that it is! Let people know that “No, I can’t meet then because that’s my fitness time.” They’ll respect your dedication and I promise you’ll find another time.
MYTH: “I have an injury and I don’t want to do the wrong thing.”
As an Alexander Technique teaching trainee, I have heard this countless times. Many instrumentalists have nagging injuries from music or other activities, and the fear of doing the “wrong” thing, or god forbid, making it worse, keeps them from doing anything at all. On top of this, everyone seems to know someone with a solution that worked for them, or a horror story about how something they tried either didn’t help or exacerbated the problem. I find this terribly tragic. We also tend to notice injuries when we’re busy and feel like we don’t have time to stop and care for them. This “I’ll deal with it later,” mentality only compounds the problem. The good news is that most people have an idea of what feels good already - start there!
4. If you can afford it or your insurance will cover it, find an expert. Ask colleagues for recommendations, gather information, and when you call to inquire about appointments, specify that you’re a musician and be clear about your needs - don‘t disempower yourself by assuming that the expert knows best. It can take some time, but injury is an area where you need someone with experience to guide you. This is also an area where I’d say that again, it doesn’t really matter which modality you choose so long as you’re consistent and your guide is knowledgeable. An experienced personal trainer, injury-aware yoga teacher, or musician-recommended physical therapist can all be valuable guides on your road to recovery.
(Hint: A good guide will be able to answer your questions and won’t tell you to push through if something hurts. If a professional doesn’t know how to adjust their methods to accommodate your injury, don’t be afraid to find someone else.)
5. If you don’t have money or insurance for classes or private sessions, fear not! There are a TON of affordable options run by highly qualified people who understand the need for accessible healthcare. These include donation-based yoga and group fitness classes, free online videos, sliding-scale acupuncture and massage, and more. You may even be able to get free personal sessions by offering to do a trade, or by reaching out to a training program and offering to let trainees practice on you under supervision - I've had some great massages this way!
The keys to finding a good fit are the same as I wrote above:
-Ask colleagues for recommendations first.
-State your needs and ask whether they have experience working with musicians (or at least with your particular injury, if you know what it is). The answer to this question will usually give you a pretty clear idea of whether you think they’d be a good fit for you.
-Can they answer your questions and explain things to you clearly?
-Are they working to accommodate your particular needs?
"For fast acting relief, slow down." - Lily Tomlin
6. I wouldn't be doing my due diligence as an Alexander Technique trainee if I didn't put in a plug for my favorite and most underrated beneficial activity - NOTHING. Lying on the floor for 10-20 minutes is one of the easiest ways to restore awareness to your body and release tension. There are meditations and breathing techniques you can do if you're feeling fancy, but I guarantee you will benefit by simply setting a timer and napping on the floor.