Musicians' Health Collective

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

Filtering by Tag: eyes

Your Phone is Trying To Kill You (or at least prevent you from ever practicing)

Last week I drove to Dallas at 5 AM in the morning, and while this is not recommended, I made it safely with the help of Amy Poehler's audiobook, "Yes, please."  The final chapter is entitled, "The Robots Will Kill Us All: A Conclusion," and it details the ways in which phones have taken over our lives.  Few would disagree that phones are a distraction for any person- you try to do work and it pings and zings, but for a musician trying to practice or accomplish anything, it is like a spoiled child constantly wanting food.  Poehler writes, "My phone sits in my pocket like a packet of cigarettes used to.  I am obsessed and addicted and convinced my phone is trying to kill me."  I totally agree, and here are some of my reasons of why my phone is trying to kill me (and possibly all of us):

I don't remember where I saw this, but it makes me laugh.  I am guilty of being obsessed with the phone like everyone else.

I don't remember where I saw this, but it makes me laugh.  I am guilty of being obsessed with the phone like everyone else.

1.  Text message sounds: you can't do anything without the pinging of the text sound.  It's ubiquitous and can kill any practice session in seconds.  I love being able to reach people, but sometimes I just turn everything on airplane mode so I can actually get something done.

2.  Every app now gives updates, including Facebook which then pings to tell you that someone commented on your status/your friend's status/your mom's status/your friend's baby photos.   More pinging/zinging/bells sounding.

3.  We carry our phones everywhere because they still act as watches.  I am completely embarrassed to say that I don't wear a watch and I just bring my phone with me.

4.  We have tuners and metronomes on our phones, which then justify keeping them on the stand.

Smartphones invite us to slouch our spines and bring our heads forward to look down.

Smartphones invite us to slouch our spines and bring our heads forward to look down.

5.  We interact with some people less in person, and more via text.  I know more than one colleague who is incredibly awkward in person, but a very verbose texter who uses abundant emojis (something I only recently discovered).

6.  Musicians now bring phones onstage, in rehearsal, to lessons, and everything in between.  In my day (10 years ago), people turned their Nokia phones off or got in major trouble for disrupting rehearsal.  Now, everyone thinks they've turned their phone off and then a phone goes off in rehearsal or a concert every few weeks, and it's so normal that few people react.  We don't need our phones with us all the time.

7.  They breed comparisonitis.  You can essentially stalk people and see if they win auditions, went to auditions, music festivals, etc., and

8. We check it all the time, as though something interesting and exciting is happening.  67% of cellphone owners check their phones even when it isn’t alerting them to incoming information, according to a recent Pew study. 

See how this person is lifting his shoulder to talk on the phone?  It can be super painful!

See how this person is lifting his shoulder to talk on the phone?  It can be super painful!

9.  We overuse our eye muscles by keeping the object the same distance from our face, giving us the tunnel vision effect.  Then we slouch our spine and bring our head forward to text.   We sometimes lift our shoulder or contort our body in other unpleasant ways to use the device.

10.  We have no idea what the radiation/cellular waves will do to us, especially since so many people keep phones in pockets and on their person.  The electromagnetic waves are no joke, but since the influx of cell usage is new, we don't know the long term consequences.

11.  They invite us to be more distracted drivers, more distracted practicers, more distracted everything.  I know so many people who can't have dinner or drinks without their phone on the table, despite being with other people.  *Please don't text and drive.  It's stupid.*

12.  Lastly, they contribute to our inability to focus on tasks for long periods of time.  (Obviously, the internet is also to blame).  It's so easy to get distracted while practicing, writing, listening, studying, watching TV, or anything.  We just so rarely do one thing, and do only that thing. 

A few suggestions:

1.  Unless you have to be reached for some reason, try turning your phone off or into airplane mode sometime.  I usually do this for walks, practicing, and runs, and find I'm less distracted.  See if you can practice better free of that distraction.

2.  Don't carry your phone in your pocket.  Radiation+proximity to genitals=a curious and possibly dangerous mix.

3.  Don't drive and text/facebook/whatever.  Tell Siri to do something and if she doesn't do it (she's a righteous robot sometimes), pull over and get thingsworking.  I'm terrified when I'm driving near someone  (or in their car) fiddling on their phone.

4.  Notice if you hold your cell phone by lifting your shoulder up.  Please don't do that- switch sides, hold it in your hand, or get a headset. 

5.  Don't forget to be alive in the present, not just on the internet.  I find myself occasionally obsessed with checking my emails or looking at blog stats, and I have just to remind myself to get a life and do something better.




Your Overtaxed Eyes and What to do About Them

Generally, we think of overuse as applying to large muscle groups and in relationship to pain sensations, i.e., I played too much this weekend and my forearms/shoulders/back hurt.  But what about our eyes?  Just as our larger muscle groups can be overtaxed, our eyes can as well, especially when we're constantly engaged in work close to our face.  Most of us are looking at sheet music, books, computers, and phones for many hours a day, which keeps the ciliary muscles contracted and our eyes engaging in things close up all of the time.

As a side point, I am a fortunate person in that I have perfect vision.  My dog, however, has cataracts and has dealt with glaucoma, so I've had a crash course in canine opthalmology courtesy of her treatment.

As a side point, I am a fortunate person in that I have perfect vision.  My dog, however, has cataracts and has dealt with glaucoma, so I've had a crash course in canine opthalmology courtesy of her treatment.

*Quick time out, the ciliary muscles are the middle layer of eye muscle and change the shape of the lens of the eye.  Here's a more science-rich quote from David Darling in response to the role of the ciliary muscles:

When the ciliary muscle is relaxed the ligaments are taut, and the lens is stretched thin enabling it to focus on distant objects. When the ciliary muscle is contracted the suspensory ligaments become less taut, and the lens becomes rounder so that it can focus on objects that are nearby.

The contraction and relaxation of the ciliary muscle is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Sympathetic nerve fiber stimulation (see sympathetic nervous system) causes relaxation of the muscle, whereas parasympathetic stimulation (see parasympathetic nervous system) causes muscle contraction. The ciliary muscle is part of the ciliary body.
— David Darling

  When most of us use our eyes only in a close distance (2-20 feet), our eyes never have a chance to relax.  Add to that dubious lighting either for reading music (in a pit, in orchestra, etc.) and no wonder your eyes are tired!  Our eyes thrive on seeing both near and far, and in order to see objects far away, the ciliary muscle must relax fully.  So what can you can do to facilitate an eye reset?

1. Try to go outside and truly observe the landscape, both near and far, side to side, etc.  See how much you can allow your eyes to move without moving your head to facilitate peripheral viewing.  In addition, walking outside (as opposed to treadmill walking) changes the impact to the eyes (optic flow) because you are moving in relationship to objects, with objects starting far away and coming nearer.

2.  Notice if you're overusing your phone, i.e., doing emails and substantial work on your phone.  The small text, the bright light, and the proximity to your face isn't helping things, especially if you're on it more than necessary.

If you're always engaging with sheet music from one side of the stand (AKA. sitting inside or outside) your vision will also change. 

If you're always engaging with sheet music from one side of the stand (AKA. sitting inside or outside) your vision will also change. 

3.  If you're in an ensemble rehearsal, take a moment at breaks or before rehearsal to look into the depth of the hall or rehearsal space and then come back to the music.  If your eyes are feeling particularly overworked, spend more time looking into the seats or outside into the landscape. 

4.  If you're desk bound for most of your day, take a few moments to look out of a window every hour or so, not only to get in some natural light, but also to give your eye muscles a chance to change the loads and stresses placed upon them. 

Also take note- can you see better from one eye or from one side of the stand (if you're a string player) than the other?  Do you have one sided headaches, jaw pain, or neckaches after playing that correlate to vision distortion?  Poor alignment can certainly contribute to vision strain, so be mindful of your position seated and standing.  If you're a wind player or singer, also keep in mind that your eye pressure (aka. intra-ocular pressure) may spike in response to your instrument, so if you're receiving treatment for cataracts or glaucoma, do tell your opthalmologist about your occupation. 

To read more about overtaxed eyes, check out Katy Bowman's

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