Musicians' Health Collective

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

Filtering by Tag: feldenkrais

An Interview with Rachel Galvin White of Music and Muscle

Although things have been busy for me as my orchestra in Texas finishes the 2015 Christmas season, I'm excited to have an interview with violist and trainer Rachel White Galvin, founder of Music and Muscle!  Rachel holds a DMA in viola performance, is a Crossfit Coach, and is currently studied the Feldenkrais method (not a typical combination of interests!).  Her work is a good reminder that any movement practice can be safe when taught well, and that strength training can be a good balance to music-making.

Kayleigh: Where do you currently live and what are you doing in terms of teaching, performing, and movement?

Rachel: I’m currently living in Santa Barbara, CA.  I finished my Doctorate in viola performance back in December 2013.  Since then I’ve taken a break from performing.  I’ve been concentrating almost exclusively on coaching athletes and musicians, and learning more about the body.  I haven’t completely stopped playing or teaching music, but I’ve found that focusing my energy on this new venture has been really rewarding both in having more time to truly dive into coaching and also learning more about my own body.  I will begin performing again soon.  I already have a couple of solo recitals lined up for the end of 2016.

K: Where did you study?  Did any of your teachers focus on movement and wellness?

R: I completed my undergrad at the University of Oklahoma and finished a combined masters/DMA at the University of California: Santa Barbara.  Beyond drilling good playing mechanics, not many of my teachers gave much thought to movement and wellness.  In fact, I was often cautioned not to injure myself because of the things I was doing in the gym.  Strength training and movement were things I really had to pursue on my own, which is why part of the reason I became so passionate about them.

K: How did you come to be a personal trainer and eventually a crossfit coach?

R: I got my first personal training certification in 2007 just after finishing my bachelors.  I didn’t really do it with the idea that I would take on clients. I was looking more for knowledge than anything else.  I had already experienced a lot of playing-related problems by that point.  I was frustrated with the lack of information and help I was getting from doctors, physical therapists, and teachers.

I found CrossFit in 2009 after moving to Santa Barbara for grad school.  It was the first time that I had seen so many different types of movement modalities combined.  The constantly changing daily workouts really piqued my interest.  I started to get stronger and that helped my playing.  I don’t think I would still be playing today if it weren’t for CrossFit.  

I started personal training and coaching CrossFit just after I finished my Doctorate.  I was looking for what I wanted to do next.  I had learned so much about how to help myself that it seemed pretty obvious that blending my passions for music, movement, and helping people was the way to go.  

K: Some might see personal training and music as incompatible; how have you managed to respect your limits, prevent injury, and improve athletic performance?

R: When people ask me this question, I always respond with the truth: that I’ve experienced far more injuries from playing the viola (herniated cervical disc, tendonitis in both arms, nerve impingements, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, subluxing ribs, and so forth) than I ever have doing anything in the gym.  Anything can hurt you if you do that thing incorrectly.  

That being said, I definitely eased into CrossFit when I first started.  There were days, much to the annoyance of my coach, where I would refuse to lift anything more than a PVC pipe because I was nervous about being able to play later that day.  However, I soon got hooked, started to understand my limits, and got more daring about weight and intensity.  Even getting to the point where I wouldn’t feel right before a performance if I hadn’t done something physical just before.  

As a personal trainer, I’ve really tried to take what I’ve learned about myself to my musician clients to help them learn their limits.  On the flip side, I’ve also learned from my coaches’ frustrations to respect my client’s understanding of their own body.  

K: Tell us a bit about Eric Goodman's Foundation training and how you got interested (and eventually an instructor) in that methodology. 

R: Foundation Training is a method of posture correcting; teaching people how to successfully hinge at the hips and decompress the spine.  We all spend so much time sitting, that Dr. Goodman’s work seeks to rectify how much time we spend in spinal flexion.  In a nutshell, the goal is to turn spinal flexion into proper hip flexion while simultaneously counteracting the effects of gravity on the spine, improving back pain among other ailments in the process.  

I found Foundation Training in my search for “what is good posture.”  It’s an interesting examination of posture, and has served to lead me further down the rabbit hole of movement.

K: You've also recently begun Feldenkrais training in Oregon, I believe.  How did you get interested in that?  I find that many athletic trainers are not as interested in refining quality of movement in such a detailed, slow, and creative manner-how has Feldenkrais affected your coaching/music/athletic endeavors?

Moshe Feldenkrais 1904–1984, founder of the Feldenkrais Method.

Moshe Feldenkrais 1904–1984, founder of the Feldenkrais Method.

R: Yes!  I’m a year into the 4-year program.  I first encountered the Feldenkrais Method back in 2003 with cellist Uri Vardi at the Musicorda Summer Festival in Massachusetts. (Side note- I had a few Feldenkrais lessons with Uri and his wife and they are terrific!)  I thought it was great, but I was 19 at the time.  I had forgotten about it until a few years ago when my mother started to get into it.   She decided to pursue the teacher training, and having just finished school I thought that it would be a great way to further my knowledge base, so my mother and I are taking the training together.

The Feldenkrais Method is in some respects the complete opposite of what we think of as CrossFit.  Slow, Mindful, and Experimental v. Fast, Intense, and Non-Feeling.  While this can be the case at some CrossFit gyms, I’m fortunate to coach at a gym that is serious about proper form and work with athletes that are open to trying new things.  It’s hard to fit a whole Awareness Through Movement lesson into an hour-long CrossFit class, but I try to sneak some Feldenkrais ideas in under the radar to get people flinking (thinking and feeling).  I really enjoy watching people learn new things.

I will say though that the Feldenkrais program has already given me so many more tools to draw from in seeing, correcting, and explaining movement.  It’s really made me thinking about everything in terms of movement as opposed to exercise.  

K:  That's definitely how I feel these days- it's about movement over "exercise," and how to refine movement patterns. Also, "flinking" is an amazing word.  How have all of these different somatic practices affected your teaching and personal music performances?

R: That’s a good question.  For the last two years, I haven’t done much performing.  I perform with an Irish band for a couple of hours every week, and aside from the occasional wedding or event, that’s about as much playing as I do.  That’s way scaled back compared to before I finished school.  Some people might cringe to hear that I haven’t actually picked up my viola to practice in 2 years.  This time off has been really interesting though. I’ve been able to maintain my basic chops with the Irish band, but I have developed a keen sense of my body.  The vast amount of Feldenkrais lessons I have done in just the first year of my training program (roughly 100, I think) have transformed how I connect with my body.   I can suddenly feel how certain playing habits have not set me up for success in maintaining a sustainable technique.  Now that I’m just starting to practice again, I’m discovering holes that need addressing, whereas before I couldn’t even perceive them as problems.  

As for affecting my teaching, my knowledge of body mechanics is way more intricate than it used to be, as well as my understanding of the mind and its workings.  This all helps to understand how both my music students and athletic clients need to move and think to be successful in their endeavors.    

K: As a musician/music educator/movement educator, how do you blend these different modalities into your career?

R: Another good question!  I’m constantly asking myself that question and working/reworking the results.  Musicians’ health is still such a new area and a lot of what I do scares musicians.  I’m hoping to make strength training and movement less intimidating.  I want people to see how increased strength and body awareness can really help their playing.  I want them to understand that while their fears are absolutely understandable, musicians tend to let that fear drift them further and further away from the ways we were meant to move and that is why they are in pain.  I want to make the gym a less intimidating, more accessible place for them.  

I have a small group of musicians that I have been working with in Santa Barbara for the last 2 years.  It’s been a pleasure watching their breakthroughs and learning from their ups and downs.  I’m now looking to expand what I’ve shared with and learned from them to a larger community.  I’m working to develop some projects that will bring my ideas to a wider audience of musicians.  


K: What are you most fascinated with right now in terms of movement/anatomy/etc?

R: Wow!  So many things…  In terms of anatomy, I’m fascinated with the mechanics of the body.  I love analyzing patterns and finding breakdowns in form.  The Feldenkrais Method is all about asking questions of the body.  I’m in love with that shift in the way to view problems.  We’re not trying to solve anything.  We’re asking questions and observing the outcomes.  Helping someone is a matter of asking the right question and watching the body respond.

Ido Portal is an amazing movement instructor and natural mover- definitely worth checking out.

Ido Portal is an amazing movement instructor and natural mover- definitely worth checking out.

In terms of movement, I’m constantly trying new things.  I was a ballerina back in another lifetime, and I’ve dabbled in yoga, swimming, Pilates, boxing, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, kettlebells, and more things that I can’t remember at the moment.  Right now, I’m playing around with gymnastics, the Ido Portal Method, and Aikido.  I love learning new things from other disciplines.  It doesn’t matter how small the nugget of information.  I’m always looking for new information that I can use for myself or bring to my clients.  

K: How can people connect with you and your work?

R: There are a ton of ways people can get in touch with me!

Music and Muscle: musicandmuscle.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Music0Music/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Music_AndMuscle

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/musicandmuscle/

Beginning Self-Inquiry of Movement

by Andrea Kleesattel

      As musicians, we are constantly working with the limitations of our own physical and mental self-control.  Whether we are trying to coordinate our body movements, trying to increase our ability to focus, or dealing with the anxiety of performance, we are always trying to extend our capabilities and self-awareness.  We seek to become more than we are.  

      However, over the course of living and playing an instrument for years, we all naturally establish habits.  Some of these are intentional but others, many others, exist without our even knowing that they are there and can be damaging and limiting.    

      In order to break out of these habits we must exercise our self-awareness and ability to change.  The more we come to know ourselves and the more adept we are at trying and assimilating new ideas, the easier it will be to learn new ways of playing that might be more efficient than the ones we are currently employing.  In so doing, we can mitigate unnecessary stress on the body and hopefully save ourselves from injury, while at the same time opening ourselves to greater spontaneity and more choices for artistic expression.

We carry many movement habits with us, known and unknown, especially in the act of making music.

We carry many movement habits with us, known and unknown, especially in the act of making music.

      One method that can be helpful in this process is the Feldenkrais Method, which exists in two different formats:  Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration.  In Awareness Through Movement, students are verbally guided through a series of slow movements which help them to increase awareness of their body and its integration.  In Functional Integration, students work in a one-on-one session with a Feldenkrais practitioner who uses touch to help guide the body towards greater integrative awareness.   (Awareness Through Movement lessons are available commercially in CD and DVD formats.  One can also find a local Feldenkrais practitioner for Functional Integration lessons as well.)

      Through moving slowly, it becomes possible to redirect a movement before it happens automatically.  We can open a space in our actions that used to be closed to our awareness, allowing it to come within the sphere of our self-control.  In the process, we can cultivate greater awareness of the body.  Through these sessions, students become more aware of how the parts of the body work together as an integrated whole.  And through this awareness, students can begin to move more efficiently and create more options for the movements they make.

Which shoe do you put on first?  Which foot/leg is dominant in walking?

Which shoe do you put on first?  Which foot/leg is dominant in walking?


      You can start to exercise some of the Feldenkrais principles before you purchase a CD or find a teacher simply by observing your habits and slowly (and patiently) starting to change them.  You can do this for everyday actions.  Find a habit that you have in everyday life.  Which tooth do you first start brushing?  When you get dressed, which leg do you first put in your pants?   How do you habitually cross your fingers?  Is the right or the left thumb on top?  How do you cross your legs when you sit cross-legged on the floor?  Is there a specific way that you open your instrument case and take out your instrument?  What is the first thing you do when you sit down to play?  Think of any habit that you have. First see if you can observe it in the context in which it occurs.  Next, see if you can stop yourself before you perform the habit and try doing it in a different way.  

      Try doing this for your playing.  Are there certain physical habits that you have when you play that are independent of your playing?  Perhaps you raise your eyebrows or close your eyes when you are doing something that is difficult.  Perhaps your foot tenses in certain places, or you move your body in a certain pattern.  Go slowly.  Before you perform the habit, stop yourself and try something new in its place.  Have a friend watch you as an outside observer.  As you practice non-habitual behavior in place of the habits you have identified, see if other habits become more noticeable to you and easier to change.

      You can also ask yourself questions about your body posture and usage.  How does the position of your hips effect your neck and shoulders?  If you put your weight on the front part of the pelvis while you are sitting on a chair, what does this do to the spine?  How does this change if you move your weight to the back part of the pelvis?  How is the body affected if you put the majority of your weight on one sitz bone or the other?

      You can try these things with or without your instrument and can try them in different patterns or in isolation.  Be curious, inventive, and playful in your exploration.  Play lying down, or standing on one foot, or looking at the ceiling, and see how this changes things.  Even if you don’t know what changes or how it is different, don’t be afraid to keep looking and asking.  It’s not the answer, but what we learn in the search and the process.

      We will always come up against the limitations of our own self-knowledge.  There is no end to it.  But we can become more and more comfortable with ourselves the more we seek and explore, and this can bring us closer and closer to the full self-expression that we desire.  It is a process to be enjoyed. 

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