Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians (and normal people)

Filtering by Tag: anxiety

We're Going to Vagus!

This picture is from the Cranial Intelligence blog, with Ged Sumner and Steve Haines.  I wish that I had the photoshop skills to create this image.  The blog is also excellent! 

This picture is from the Cranial Intelligence blog, with Ged Sumner and Steve Haines.  I wish that I had the photoshop skills to create this image.  The blog is also excellent! 

If you follow health and wellness blogs, even if only halfheartedly, you've probably heard of the Vagus nerve (pronounced like Vegas).  The Vagus nerve pair is the largest of our cranial nerves in the somato-sensory system, running directly into the body,  acting as the leader of our parasympathetic nervous system.  They connect to the stomach, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, female reproductive organs, neck, ears, and tongue (and probably more things I've forgotten).  Our sympathetic nervous system is our "fight or flight system," priming our body to take action under pressure, and our parasympathetic nervous system is our "rest and digest system," encouraging the body to return to normal functions while decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, and encouraging digestive processes (and many other physiological processes). 

Image from  AutismCoach , in regards to an interesting article about the Vagus nerve and autism.

Image from AutismCoach, in regards to an interesting article about the Vagus nerve and autism.

You may have also heard that the vagus nerve can be low functioning, "low vagal tone,"or working optimally, "high vagal tone."

Low vagal tone is correlated with such health conditions as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and epilepsy.
— Angela Wilson, Institute for Extraordinary Living at Kripalu

Because of its many connections to vital organs, the Vagus plays a significant role in digestion by increasing stomach acidity and increasing histamine production, affects heart rate and blood pressure, regulates glucose balance, affects female fertility, as well as play a role in the mind body connection.   Now back to a low functioning vagus- how does one improve vagal tone?  Although there are many ways of contacting the vagal nerve, there is research to support meditation, massage, restorative yoga, and deep breathing as part of maintaining vagal tone.  I've also read a wide range of other possibilities for contacting the vagus, from chanting, singing, splashing cold water on your face, lovingkindness meditation, positive social relationships, and regular movement and exercise.  What does it mean for you right now?  Downregulation is ESSENTIAL self-care for your nervous system, whether that means a mind-body practice, meditation, getting a massage (or regular self-massage!), walks, or social interactions.  Living in a place of constant stress taxes your nervous system, and affects all of your body's vital functions.

To read more on the study about yoga and the vagus, click here.

To read more about the Vagus nerve and autism, click here.

Talking with John Beder about Beta-Blockers and "Composed"

As some of you may know, John Beder, a classically trained percussionist, is beginning a documentary project on the use of beta-blockers in classical music, focusing on auditions.  I think this is a fascinating project, not only reflecting how classical music may have changed in the last 50 years, but also how performers view perfection and the attempt to achieve audition perfection.   I asked him a few questions in the midst of his kickstarter launch to fund the documentary, "Composed."

K: What's your background in classical music and where did you grow up/study/etc? 

JB: My formal introduction to music started at the Boston Arts Academy where I’d transferred for my sophomore year of High School. It was Boston’s first public arts high school and the only option as far as I was concerned. I wasn’t planning on pursuing Classical Music at first but my instructor at the time forced me to audition for the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (GBYSO) now known as BYSO. I somehow got in, was way over my head, but managed to keep up and found a serious passion for classical music. I continued down that path and attended Boston University where I was a percussion performance major. During my undergrad I also did a study abroad program at the Royal College of Music in London and participated in the Round Top Festival.

K: What's your interest in creating this documentary and what do you hope to show through the filming of the documentary? 

JB: My interest in this documentary comes from my own personal experience with beta blockers back when I was actively auditioning for festivals and regularly finding myself in stressful situations. I never really took much time thinking about why my love and passion for music had turned into fear and anxiety, but before I really gave it much thought I had already left to pursue film. With "Composed," I hope to elevate that conversation surrounding performance anxiety while also paying homage to what classical musician go through to pursue their dream. People experience anxiety on a regular basis it seems but don’t really enjoy talking about it. This film, I’m hoping, will open up that conversation for not only musicians but other people struggling with anxiety while pursuing their passion. That said I’m in the early stages of filming and am still discovering the path this film will take in its final form.

K: Who have you interviewed thus far? Have there been any surprises in terms of interviewing musicians? Have there been refusals?

JB: So far I’ve interviewed some great people and am always surprised with each interview. Everyone has something interesting to say about the topic and many times I’ve felt a sense of sadness that I didn’t have these conversations during my own struggles with performance anxiety. Here is the list of participants so far.

Diane Nichols, LICSW formerly of the Juilliard School Night Division
Dr. Noa Kageyama, Ph.D The Juilliard School (AKA. Bulletproof Musician)
Matt Decker, Assistant Principal Percussion North Carolina Symphony
Brent Edmondson, Principal Bass Lancaster Symphony
Max Michael Jacob, Freeland Bass, NYC
Tim Genis, Principal Timpani Boston Symphony

Others who’ve recently signed on include

Teddy Abrams, Music Director Louisville Orchestra
Emi Ferguson, Flute Soloist, faculty with The Juilliard School
Zoya Tsvetkova, Violinist Rhode Island Philharmonic, Vermont Symphony

As far as refusals are concerned I’ve had quiet a few. Some big names and others just acquaintances or former colleagues but though some are just not comfortable in front of the camera, many are hesitant to make any statements one way or another about the topic. 

K: Why is your documentary important and relevant to musicians today?

JB: Musicians in general though seem to express some sincere relief at the idea of talking about their struggle with performance anxiety and raising this discussion to a bigger platform. There are tons of people out there who want to talk about this subject and just don’t realize they can with this project. Many of my participants spend time thanking me for choosing the subject, while I’m simultaneously thanking them for participating in a subject that can be extremely personal. 

K: Lastly, how can people support your work and find you on the internet?

JB: If there are musicians or professional health experts out there wanting to participate, they can do so by backing my Kickstarter project or by contacting me directly at I still need participants and would love to talk to anyone willing to talk on camera. The Kickstarter project is mainly to help with travel costs that I severely underestimated for the film. Most of the funding comes from myself, but offsetting some necessary costs will make this project take shape a lot faster and allow for more voices to be heard. 

*Fact: as of 2/1/2015, the project is almost half funded, so let's spread the word!*

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