Musicians' Health Collective

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

Filtering by Tag: self-care

Self- Care in Uncertain Times

In the last few weeks I have not been sleeping well, writing, or doing much of note.  Between the political unrest, violence, and the strikes of various American orchestras, I haven't been feeling terribly chipper or useful to society.  With so much conflict and chaos currently going on, it's hard to know how to help, especially as an orchestral musician and movement teacher.  

Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph..jpg

Last week, biomechanist Katy Bowman released a great podcast episode about the importance of movement in uncertain times.  I agree with all of the points made in that episode, but even more so that in challenging times, we must take care of ourselves.  As a movement teacher, I try to help people move better and become more embodied, something that I have to remember to do for myself.  When athletes are training, the notion "work+rest=success" is paramount. In our daily lives, most of us do plenty of work, but are we resting or creating conditions for down-regulation?  The body needs the chance to down regulate daily, whether it be through a movement class, meditation, constructive rest, walk, or massage.  We are better able to be receptive when we are not full to the brim, and our actions will be more intentional and meaningful.  From there, we can begin to take action- whether it is volunteering in the community, calling legislative leadership, teaching, performing at a community venue, picking up trash, or more, we must start from a candle that's not burning at two ends.  If you're wondering how to start, I like to open the question, "how can I be of service?" and that usually leads me to a good place.  Wishing everyone a good holiday season


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.

"If It Hurts While You're Playing, You're Doing It Wrong" and other Confusing Proclamations

I should know better than to read snarky comments on blogs, but sometimes, I just can't resist and read them anyways.  One I read last week was in response to an innocuous interview with an Alexander Technique teacher, and the comment was "If someone hurts while playing their instrument, they're doing it wrong."  This comment had nothing to do with the AT teacher, or her thoughts on pain while playing, but was just a knee-jerk reaction on the part of someone.  I see this idea in so many different disciplines- music, yoga culture, athletics, and more, but it is incredibly short-sighted in light of the many different factors that affect injury.  If someone has pain while walking, running, and completing everyday activities, do we initially assume they're doing everything "wrong?"  Probably not, although there are factors in all of those activities that increase and decrease healthfulness.  What if a professional athlete injures himself (or herself)?  Is the assumption that their form in their sport is "wrong?"  The action of making music and studying music for twenty plus years is a complex process, involving many areas of fine motor control, skill acquisition, coordination, proprioception, and more.  To tell someone after studying for many years that they're doing it incorrectly is essentially are placing a value judgment on someone's health and abilities in music, despite the many different variables that affect injury and tissue damage.

Here's a truth: There are certain aspects of our technique, setup, practice habits, and day to day self-care that can affect our long term health, mobility, and endurance. 

Here's another:  If someone is injured, it's not necessarily their "fault" or because their setup is dubious.  That's not to say that we can't all expand our proprioception, refine our technique, or learn new ways of working around tension and compensation patterns, but that there are also other factors at play in injury management.

One of my movement teachers, biomechanist Katy Bowman, talks about frequency, duration, intensity, and other variables that affect the loads placed on a body.  In terms of music study, factors might be

-size of instrument relative to the person

-frequency of rehearsals/personal practice compared to frequency of breaks

-duration of rehearsals/personal practice

-intensity level of rehearsal/personal practice

-height of chair/stand

-difficulty level of music

-an individual's other non-mudivsl activities (computer, driving, lifting, etc.)

-an individual's self-care practices (massage, strengthening, etc.)

-an individual's tissue elasticity, strength, hypermobility, arthritis, etc.

-an individual's age and gender

-an individual's relationship to pain

And so forth.  Some of these factors include things that we can control, but many of these are beyond our control.  Anyone who's played in an ensemble will tell you that there are many factors you can't control- someone else leads the rehearsal, decides on the schedule, repertoire, repetitions needed, etc.  I've had to play all of Schubert 9 in a dress rehearsal and play it in a concert a few hours later, which was true physical torture.  But I can't control the duration, intensity, repertoire, and rehearsal schedule in that situation.    So what can we do?  We can do our best to identify the factors that we have personal control over: self-care, chair heights (if there are options), our personal practice schedule, our all over health, and our non-musical activities.  We can seek help when we see patterns of dysfunction or pain in our bodies.  We can take breaks when appropriate.  We can work with movement professionals to find new ways of playing our instrument or setting up our instrument.  But if someone is injured, we can't assume it's their fault or that they are fundamentally doing things wrong- there's no one "right way" for everyone.

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