Some Thoughts on Yoga for Musicians
Many of you know me as a violist/yoga teacher, which often leads people to think that I want everyone to do yoga. This is not true, and here's why: Yoga is not a magical therapeutic movement modality, as many people seem to think it is, and many "traditional" poses can be quite injurious. Yoga still has the power to be a transformative and amazing modality, but all yoga practices and classes are not equal, nor are they all beneficial for musician RSI issues.
Yoga asana, as taught in the west, is undergoing a revolution of thought, in that for many years, teachers and students have perpetuated the notion that "any pose is possible if you practice diligently." This is simply not true, nor is it a helpful notion if you're working with restriction or past injury. If you're not a hard-core musician yogi, or if you're someone who's just an off and on student, you may have heard comments in a classroom like "find your edge" and "push your limit" juxtaposed with contradictory statements like "listen to your body." What the heck does that even mean? If you're a musician with wrist issues or shoulder issues, those comments are not helpful, and don't help to find individual limits. In addition, a majority of traditional yoga poses will put extra weight on the wrists (in extension, no less), and put the shoulders into extreme ranges of motion. There is often a praising of people who can do the "hard poses" which often demand a lot of flexibility, which shouldn't really be the "goal." I've been in many a yoga class in which a difficult backbend series was called out, and the most bendy person was used as an example for what You or I might achieve if we work hard. Not necessarily true, and not necessarily in line with my goals as a movement practitioner. For that reason, I've been re-evaluating my yoga practice and changing how I teach movement and yoga. I no longer seek out intense yoga classes, and rarely take dynamic and hot room classes. I love slow, down-regulating practices, that allow me to mindfully move with my body. I also do other movement practices besides yoga, and don't expect yoga to be a complete body workout/movement plan. Here are some considerations for starting yoga or just rethinking your yoga practice.
1. If you're interested in trying yoga but have a history of RSI, look for a class that has gentle, hatha, yoga therapy, therapeutics, etc. in the title. The more dynamic styles (flow, vinyasa, ashtanga) are difficult to start with, and often don't offer a range of accommodations for traditional poses (such as plank, chaturanga, DFD).
2. Doctors often tell patients to practice yoga if they have back pain, or tell them to strengthen their core. There are more direct and efficient ways to target this issue than attending a general yoga class. Meeting with a teacher one on one, working with a yoga therapist, working with a Yoga Tune Up® teacher...these will help more than a general class. Group classes are not always a great way to get specialized attention, and one on one is infinitely more helpful, especially if you come in with injuries.
3. Read the biographies of your teachers or possible teachers. Look for teachers with anatomical knowledge and experience who can tailor movement to you. The last thing you want is a teacher who can't help you with form or modification, or who has no experience with shoulder or wrist injuries.
4. Try not to think of yoga as your workout. When we think of yoga in this way, we often gravitate towards hot room/hard poses/move fast, which can often cloud our integrity of movement, especially if we're vulnerable physically. If you're healthy and have never had a problem with hot room vinyasa/bikram, that's great, but for a beginner or sensitive person, I would say start slow and at room temperature!
5. Ask yourself why you're doing yoga, what you like about it, and what your goals are. (To be more flexible, to learn how to breathe better, to combine mind and body, whatever). Make sure that the class you're attending serves that goal, and if not, try a different class, or a different movement practice.
6. And lastly, only do as much as you can with integrity. This is something I try to apply to most movement practices (crossfit! weight lifting!), but only do as much as you can with integrity of movement, good alignment, and feeling like you can breathe. If a teacher or class is pushing you to a place you're not comfortable or able to go, don't do it. I've skipped MANY a teacher cue, and done just fine.
At the end of the day, I like many things about yoga, and I dislike many things about yoga. (That's a rant for a different day and a different blog). I also like walking, swimming, jumping, lifting weights (yes), and trying different movement practices. As a teacher, I also want my students and colleagues to be strong, mobile, and pain-free. If another movement practice takes them there, that's great. It doesn't have to be yoga.