What is Yoga for Musicians?
Yoga is an ancient practice which can be translated as 'yoking' the mind, body, and spirit. Anyone can practice and benefit from yoga - I'd encourage that! However, as I taught students when I was a graduate student in piano performance and pedagogy, it became clear in my interactions with students - they need yoga! After receiving my 200 hour Yoga Teaching Certification (2011), I offered free yoga classes to music students & included their observations in my Master's Thesis Project (2012):
"Cultivating Awareness in the Piano Student"
There is a physical importance to practicing yoga, like releasing arm weight and finding the balance of tension and release in your body. Not all tension is bad - otherwise we would not be capable of making music on any instrument! However, unnecessary tension can often be identified and eliminated through a physical yoga practice and carried over into our instrument practice.
Breath is one of the 8 limbs of yoga. When most yoga is practiced in the West, only the Asana (posture) and Pranayama (breath) limbs of yoga are addressed. Our breath as musicians is more significant than allowing oxygen to get to our muscles or helping assist in calming any performance adrenaline. How can a musician create a beautiful phrase without being able to breath with it or even sing it?
As we dive into the deeper levels of yoga (Yamas & Niyamas), our place in the universe is brought more into the practice. The Yamas and Niyamas have to do with our ethical interactions with the world and ourselves. From a young age, I have never known a concert pianist I admired who was only interested in classical music. Glenn Gould was fascinated with the North (He was Canadian) and animals. My own teacher, Joanna Hodges, was constantly learning about new topics from different dog breeds to studying Russian. Our work as musicians is enriched when we engage the outside world and are fascinated by things outside of music. Other topics and interactions with people inform our playing, performing, arranging, composing, and practice habits in a palpable way.
The last 4 limbs of yoga (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, & Samadhi) are deepening states of meditation. Because I teach my class for people of all faiths/non-faith, I allow the more spiritual component to be open enough to serve people of a specific religion or no religion. However, as musicians, I don't think that many people would attest to never experiencing music in a spiritually deep way.
So, Yoga can impact Musicians through:
- Noticing and assisting in eliminating unnecessary tension
- Focused breath work to calm nerves or create more musical phrases
- Intentionally interacting with the world
- Meditation or a calm, focused mind