Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

I'm not in pain...why should I care about this stuff?

by Kayleigh Miller

When I tell people I'm a yoga teacher with an interest in anatomy, postural patterning, and musician health, I generally get a barrage of interesting responses.  Here are some of my favorites, and my answers. 

1.  This stuff is boring.  Ok, well, you're talking to the wrong lady.  I happen to find the study of one's own body truly fascinating, especially since you've been living in it for twenty years and you're just figuring out how things work.  Example:, "if I don't wear high heels like playing, I feel less knee and back pain and my sound improves."  Amazing!    No one can have the same bodily experience that you can, and no medical practitioner will ever tell you how it feels to be you.  Only you can do that, so why not learn as much as you can about how things have been running for the last couple of decades?

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2.  I prefer biking and running to stretching.  Whoah there, folks.  Cardio is a great thing, but did you know that when you sit for 4-6 hours a day, most of the muscles in your legs and hips and back are adaptively shortened?  And then you add muscle shortening high intensity cardio to that?   That's a recipe for pain and potential injury. (And a sad psoas)  That doesn't mean you need to stop running/crossfit/dancing, it just means that mobility work and normal movement patterns are necessary to restore your tissues and keep you limber/

3.  I don't have time.  For most of us, our bodies are our instruments, and the care of our bodies should take priority over nailing Don Juan in a practice room at 11 PM.  Why?  Because injury can sneak up on us when we're not paying attention to our bodies, and that will upset future life and musical plans much more than stretching, mobility work, and ball rolling for 20 minutes a day.

4.   I'm worried about hurting myself, so I don't do any upper body exercise at all.  My first internal response is, "Did you also stop using knives to cut food?  Because you could cut yourself."  I absolutely know that some exercise and movement is detrimental to musicians and that everyone has different histories of injury, weakness, etc.  I am also quite sure that a complete lack of movement in your tissues is more detrimental.  If you have a history of wrist issues, then don't go to a power yoga class, an army bootcamp class, or a crossfit lifting day.  Move slowly, smartly, and with someone who knows about injuries and limitations.  More often than not, activity related injuries are due to misinformation on both the side of the practitioner and the instructor.  (i.e., student not knowing which rotator cuff muscle they've torn, and fitness instructor not knowing what that means.)  As an inhabiter of your own body, it's your responsibility to know what works and doesn't work for your body, so that you can make empowered choices.

5.   I'm not in pain.  Why should I change what I do?  First of all, I'm happy you're not in pain.  But take a look around you-what about your parents, teachers, friends, and students?  Does your family have a history of arthritis?  Hip replacements?  Osteoporosis?  As we age, our bodies change and lose mobility, strength, and flexibility, making us more susceptible to injury.  While you're doing well now, you could be in a place of pain or discomfort someday, or more importantly, your students could be.  When music instructors are ill-informed about the body and its limitations, they can severely negatively impact their student's health, well being, and career.  Most musicians are also instructors, and finding your students bodily and technical blind-spots early can help your student to have a happy health playing career as well.