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Protect yourself with integration (and prunes)

February 28, 2007 at 3:20 AM

Greetings,
Recently a friend of mine asked me to make some suggestions or give her my impressions of her piano playing. Although she was a graduate of Gedai University and has performed with many wonderful musicians over the years I somehow felt she was not really expressing all her gifts. Her playing seemed to be angry more often than warranted with little moments of rest in between. She answered that that was pretty much her on going mental state and that she suffered terribly form headaches and a feeling of being out of control a great deal of the time. Music was in essence, the only thing keeping her on the planet. I had nothing more to offer but suggested she visit my doctor. As I was introducing them he winced and immediately said `You were a forceps delivery weren’t you?` She vehemently denied this but asked he mother about it and found out it was true. My doctor then told her she had been living with twisted facial bones that were putting a huge amount of stress on the front of her brain. She began receiving treatment for this but then stopped.
I am not surprise that she stopped. People do have trouble facing less socially accepted problems; we are allowed to have influenza but not have mental problems kind of thing. What was very striking was that to compensate for the twisted skull structure she had distorted her whole body resulting in one leg effectively being shorter than the other. This leg shortening , actually a misalignment of the pelvis, is commonly seen and corrected in Alexander work.
It is this last aspect of a very tragic case that really interests me. Many people write in to v.commie asking for help with playing related injuries and always get very solid and helpful recommendations in many fields of health care. (Haven’t seen much looney stuff here at all apart from me). However one thing all this very accessible advice can obscure is the fact that the pain or injury is often the result of misuse of the body and could have been avoided in the first place.
It starts at a cold rehearsal three Christmases ago... The chair is wonky. You play for three hours with your neck at a funny angle. That micro mm change is not explored or release and creeps into next days practice. The body twists and adapts like my friend’s without us realizing. The problem builds and gradually even just playing a slow bow leaves one wanting to cry with the pain. Then one goes for help.
These things need not always happen if we recognize that we must protect ourselves by maximizing correct sensory awareness before, during and after practice. If we do this then risk of injury is reduce dramatically and the bonus effect is that high sensory awareness practice is very much more effective than what we normally do. What do we normally do? We rush to our beloved instrument with heightened breathing, gotta get it done, gotta get it done. We bend over badly and grab our instrument without saying hello and stroking its neck. We stand will nilly, chuck the damn thing up and start playing scales because they are good for us, and all the misuse of the body which we call `not warmed up` is nicely integrated into our scales which we mysteriously cannot play for our teacher next lesson.
We could do this.
Sit quietly. Check out all the sensations of your left foot on the ground, from the left shoe and so on. Then do the right. Then compare both. Now do the left calf followed by the right calf. Compare. Repeat with thighs. Compare both legs in unison. Do the lower back, left side, right side, upper back. Have you got it? In essence you are saying hello to your whole body and in the process integrating it. Once the body is integrated it will automatically change and adjust what isn’t needed and is potentially injury threatening. It isn’t the complete answer but it’s a big part of it. If you aren’t together you will break things.
Surely five minutes a day is worth it?

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 5:45 AM
Buri,
I'm sitting on a ball as I'm typing and reporting to you that I got it!!
BTW, I had my 4th AT lessons yesterday and I need all the help I can get to keep up the progress I've made so far. And once again, a big thank you Buri for all the goodies that you've brought to us!
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 5:53 AM
Greetings,
sitting on a baseball is not recommended. What`s bugging you about AT? Maybe I can write a non verbal answer...
Cheers,
Buri
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 6:33 AM
LOL! Absolutely no baseball to be found here.

AT is not bugging me but certain parts of my body are dumber other parts. For instance, my neck, back, shoulders, hip joints and knees know how to get loose when my mind attend to them, but my elbows, wrists and ankles are not responding to my thinking. Also, when I’m play violin, I don’t know how to stand in balance even though I know when I’m standing without doing anything with my hands.

Another thing that I'm wondering about is that, when my AT teacher is working on my body, I don't always feel much locally, but the overall feeling is loosening and lightening. But I can feel this way when I'm relaxed and with someone pleasant any time. Surely there's more going on that I haven't detected so far. I'm sure she was working very hard and when I got it, we simultaneously and clearly bursted out "yes"! But I wonder what she is doing or perceiving when she holds my elbow or ankle and talks to me. I wonder if she can sense the suble changes of my muscles or bones that I can't. I wonder if I (or my body) can learn to do the right thing through her touch and talk without consciously notice the changes happening to my body.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 1:37 PM
Great post, Buri. Fascinating story. I'm all with you on the "get to know your body again" - I'm a huge advocate of yoga for that very reason. Staying in touch with where everything is at is half the battle, isn't it?
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 4:19 PM
Buri,
Somehow this post struck me as very positive. Even though the experience and person you describe are not such positive in their own light, the overall idea and message leaves me feeling good.
There is hope, yes?
It also helps to have very big ideas and solutions broken down into actions that can be done with minimal mental examination. That is why, I think, we like to beat scales and technical practices to death without being in the correct pace or state to learn from them. Because it is straightforward, logical, has the lure of making us better violinists, and can be done repetitavely and become habit.

The excercise you describe can be viewed the same way in my mind. So I'm printing it out and taping it to my practice notebook so I'll see it every day and remember.

When I finish chowing down my oats :).

Sals,
Jennifer

From Charlie Caldwell
Posted on February 28, 2007 at 10:57 PM
A kind lady in the Atlanta Symphony taught me how to "properly" hold a violin last summer. She did this in front of all of the musicians present so that I should not forget. Anyways, once I figured out how to be comfortable, I was able to fill in all the little gaps in my technique. This really helped my sight-reading.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 1, 2007 at 12:06 AM
Greetings,
I shall now attempt to answer a s much a s I can in one post....
>AT is not bugging me but certain parts of my body are dumber other parts. For instance, my neck, back, shoulders, hip joints and knees know how to get loose when my mind attend to them, but my elbows, wrists and ankles are not responding to my thinking. Also, when I知 play violin, I don稚 know how to stand in balance even though I know when I知 standing without doing anything with my hands.
One interesting thing for me is that the body is a constant source of –visual – feedback. That is, one can see some of it and notthe rets, so we have a stronger mental construct of the former. This can create problems so it does help to run your hands over your whole body, especially the parts you cant see and `find yourself.`
What does being loose mean? Is that what we really want? I think Alexander was asking us to get away from these kind of traditional ideas. He wa s saying that if your primary control is okay the rest will follow. If you are tyring to get a lot of secondary results then it may be that you are end gaining.
>Another thing that I'm wondering about is that, when my AT teacher is working on my body, I don't always feel much locally, but the overall feeling is loosening and lightening. But I can feel this way when I'm relaxed and with someone pleasant any time. Surely there's more going on that I haven't detected so far. I'm sure she was working very hard and when I got it, we simultaneously and clearly bursted out "yes"! But I wonder what she is doing or perceiving when she holds my elbow or ankle and talks to me.
It takes time. Perhaps you want to feel things too much. This would also be endgaining. Its possible you are desensitized to change becuas e of constant misuse. Welcome to the club!
Does your teacher do a lot of table work IE lying down?
>I wonder if she can sense the subtle changes of my muscles or bones that I can't. I wonder if I (or my body) can learn to do the right thing through her touch and talk without consciously notice the changes happening to my body.
Yes. Notice that you are using our standard thinking to evaluate what is going on when you say ` I wonder if I (or my body) can learn to do the right thing` AT is about non-doing. The body has nothing to learn. This is not a question of semantics. It gets to the core of what you are striving for.
From Terez Mertes
>Great post, Buri. Fascinating story. I'm all with you on the "get to know your body again" - I'm a huge advocate of yoga for that very reason. Staying in touch with where everything is at is half the battle, isn't it?

For me its being in the moment because =there is nothing else- This is the place where pure and unconditional love exists. Unfortunately humans live fundamentally in either the past of the futre which actually don`t exist.


From jennifer steinfeldt warren
> Somehow this post struck me as very positive. Even though the experience and person you describe are not such positive in their own light, the overall idea and message leaves me feeling good.
There is hope, yes?

Life is beautiful now! What do you need hope for? ;)


>It also helps to have very big ideas and solutions broken down into actions that can be done with minimal mental examination.

I agree with the first part. Not always so sure about the second bit.

>That is why, I think, we like to beat scales and technical practices to death without being in the correct pace or state to learn from them. Because it is straightforward, logical, has the lure of making us better violinists, and can be done repetitavely and become habit.

You said it!

Cheers,
Buri

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on March 2, 2007 at 4:11 AM
Buri, thanks for answering my questions. Everything you said makes perfect sense to me and is helpful, especially the part about end gaining. Being generally a quick study, I tend to be so focused on getting clear signals of learning-in-progress that I always looking for constant and various physical, mental and emotional feedbacks. I want to KNOW what I’m doing all the time. This type of intensity works very well in school and many other ‘result-oriented’ fields, but it is an obstacle for other type of learning, such as TA. And yes, my teacher is doing table work about 80% of each lesson.

Yes, Jennifer, I feel solidly positive and full of hope reading Buri’s post and putting the last paragraph of it into daily practice. It is actually more than hope. It’s a bit like finding truth, which is in itself so simple (indivisible and elegant) and so profound in its affect, but so hard to obtain. That’s why I believe nothing great will come out of minimal mental examination. The hardest thing, for me any way, is not merely dong the mental work, but to learn what type of mental examinational skills I need to develop in doing AT and in playing violin.

Cheers.

Yixi

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