Editor’s Note: I asked Nicole, a NYC yoga instructor to discuss the background story to why she started her Yoga for Musicians program. As a Juilliard-trained musician, I never realized how the hours of daily practicing could have caused the 30 degree scoliosis on my back and the constant back-pain I struggle with. Her story and her passion for yoga as a healing method inspired me to change my own way of life. To join the Untapped yoga series, which is aimed also towards computer users to prevent repetitive strain injuries, please contact [email protected] . The small-group sessions will be $15.
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” (John Muir)
Nicole was introduced to yoga in 2000 and has practiced Ashtanga since 2006. She received her Yoga Alliance certification from Alison West’s Yoga Union and continues her daily Ashtanga-Vinyasa practice under the guidance of Eddie Stern. She teaches members of the New York Health and Racquet Club, a class for NYU students affiliated with the Bronfman center, and will be working with the New York Youth Symphony on their kick-off retreat this September and with their chamber group in October.
Dedicated to sharing the transformative science and art of yoga, Nicole emphasizes the cultivation of vinyasa, the synchronization of breath and movement. Learning to control the breath calms the mind and presents an opportunity to develop a deep, personal practice.
Nicole is a Juilliard-trained classical flutist, who earned a B.A. in Psychology from NYU and an M.A. in Education from Queens College.
Common Problems & Challenges for Musicians
Fruitful practice requires the ability to move consciously from a state of distraction to one of deep concentration
Repetitive stress injuries (RSI), such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and tendonitis, are complex soft-tissue diseases that affect muscles, nerves and tendons. These disorders are often attributable to “holding pattern” injuries, as opposed to repetitive strain. A holding pattern is when one or more groups of muscles tighten, creating a cast around other muscles. Chronic holding patterns obstruct the circulation of blood, lymph, nerve impulses and bio-energy (i.e. prana or qi), which are vital to the body’s ability to self-heal.
A highly competitive environment, performance anxiety, demanding repertoire and years of solitary practice can take both a physical and mental toll. Musicians are like athletes. Every sport has its own subset of injuries. Musicians need to develop a keen intuitive understanding of their body, which is ultimately the instrument that makes the music.
Solution (The Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga Method: A Symphony of Breath)
Ashtanga is a breathing practice to quiet the mental static and focus the mind.
Health is nothing but balance and yoga is the science of preventative medicine. Yoga releases the body’s holding patterns, enabling it to freely dance with the music.
The practice re-teaches what a relaxed state feels like by using the breath to find the balance residing in imbalance.
A more detailed explanation:
Adapt the teachings of the Ashtanga-Vinyasa Method of Yoga, a whole-body and mind approach, to heighten physical and mental awareness, improving the body’s relationship to the instrument. The two most important tenets in Ashtanga are tristhana and vinyasa. Tristhana refers to the union of the three places of attention and action: posture, breath and looking place. When performed in conjunction with one another, the body, nervous system and mind function with greater efficiency.
Through the implementation of tristhana, the mind is trained to come back again and again to the increasingly subtle phenomena of nuanced movement, sensation and feeling, laying the foundation for a state of relaxed concentration and presence. Students learn to pay attention to the relationship between emotions and movement.
The magic of the practice arises through engagement in conscious, disciplined repetition of the postures within the Ashtanga series at least three days per week. The hidden nuances and harmony of the postures surface, much in the same way as they do when a musician listens to a symphony countless times. Realization comes through repetition with increased awareness. It’s like discovering the correct sequence of numbers to open a combination lock.
1. Posture (asana)
Asana is the method for purifying, strengthening and internally aligning the body. Practitioners learn to work energetically (instead of muscularly), engaging in the yogic dance of opposites, simultaneously releasing, yet exerting just the right amount of effort. The poses are seamlessly strung on the breath.
Each pose serves as a gateway for greater awakening within the body and mind. Asana facilitates the ability to access the body’s innate wisdom instead of simply occupying it the way a snail occupies its shell. Yoga helps equalize the opposites felt in the body (e.g. when one hip is more open or flexible than the other). Advancement in the practice is not in the posture itself, but in one’s awareness and in the extent to which one can carry that awareness over into daily activities, such as musical performance.
Every muscle fiber is connected to a nerve.
Every nerve is connected to the brain.
The brain is influenced by controlled breathing.
Breathing calms the mind.
The mind creates change.
Vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” In Ashtanga, the breath is placed in a special way by pairing each movement with an inhale or an exhale. Ashtangis use the ujjayi breath – breathing through the nose with the epiglottis slightly constricted, which results in an ocean-like sound. Synchronization of breath with movement heats the blood, improves circulation and relieves joint pain and muscular tension. The sweat generated from this heat removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. Over time, the body becomes healthy and strong, yet imbued with a sense of lightness or buoyancy. As senior Ashtanga teacher David Williams asserts, “Opening your body is like opening an envelope. You can rip it, or you can steam it open without a trace.” Proper breathing technique, coupled with proper alignment, enables practitioners to safely open the body “without a trace.” A neuro-muscular and breath re-patterning takes place.
The breath is the bridge from the body to the mind. It is a tool to explore different places from which to initiate movement in asana. The breath enables the practitioner to go inward and feel how to move from the inside out, fully inhabiting the body through a cultivated awareness, thereby transforming the practice into a moving meditation.
3. Looking Place
Each posture has an assigned gazing point. There are nine gazing points: nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, feet, up, right side and left side. A deep state of concentration is developed when the mind focuses solely on a steady breath and gazing point. The mind follows the movement of the breath and the trajectory of sight.
A consistent asana practice, over a long period of time, employing correct tristhana and vinyasa, cultivates clarity of mind, steadiness of body and purification of the nervous system.
This method is a process of dynamic observation and listening. The challenge of mastering tristhana and vinyasa heighten awareness. Both are effective meditation techniques built into the Ashtanga system, giving musicians the tools to move from a state of distraction to one of concentration.
Contact [email protected] for more information on the Untapped yoga series.