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Classical 101

"Ohm" Monday Week Two: Yoga Helps Young Musicians Perform Better

Yoga Baby flickr photo
Yoga is great for musicians of any age. This week, let's shake it up with more Mozart and some Rimsky-Korsakov. Bring the kids!

Are your children home from school and feeling antsy because of the dreary weather? That might make practicing the viola or piano a little too much to ask today. Luckily, it's "Ohm" Monday and research shows that yoga can help musicians of any age. Let's shake off the clouds and hit the mat!

The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health has released promising research regarding yoga for musicians including a 2008 study from the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, which showed improvement in performance anxiety and performance-related musculoskeletal disorders for young performers.

The young musicians practiced yoga three times a week over the course of a six-week program at Tanglewood, and the research indicates that the majority experienced improvement in their posture, alignment, and level of anxiety onstage.

Everyone can use a little more stage security and better alignment for their instrument, so let's wake up a little with Mozart's March in D Major, KV 249 with an easy Sun Salutation. You can find illustrations and explanations of each pose at Pocket Yoga's website.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Stand with both feet together, hands pressed together as in prayer, and bend your knees rather than locking them for a gentle standing position. Breathe deeply in and out until you are ready to begin. Inhale and raise your arms above your head, keeping your knees gently bent, and bend slightly backward for a gentle stretch. 

Forward Bend (Uttanasana) 
From Mountain Pose, exhale and bend forward slowly from the hips to bring hands as close to the floor as is comfortable. Remember not to lock your knees!

Halfway Lift (Ardha Uttanasana)
While keeping your legs gently bent, inhale and raise your upper body up halfway and keep the spine long and straight before bending forward again with the next exhale. Return to complete Forward Bend.

Erik Satie's Trois Gymnopédiesare not only three of my favorite pieces of piano music, but they are also perfect for yoga and breathing exercises for musicians. It is easy to breathe deeply and keep your shoulders back and relaxed with this gentle, atmospheric music. 

Plank (Phalakasana) 
Place your palms firmly on the mat with fingers spread. Gently hop or step both feet back to the back of your mat to come into a strong plank position. (This is similar to a push-up, except your wrists should be directly under your shoulders.)

Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana) 
If you have the strength for a typical push-up, move through Chaturanga to Upward-Facing dog by lowering your body as if for a push-up and then sweeping up into a crescent shape.

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Curl your toes under and bring your hips up and back to come into Downward-Facing Dog with your next exhalation. I love to relax my neck and shoulders in this pose and shake my head a little since I build up neck tension sometimes when I sing. String players, this can be a great opportunity to actively spread and stretch your fingers, too.

Here is a lovely piece of Rimsky-Korsakov's, "Song of India" from his opera Sadko.

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana) From Downward-Facing Dog, lean forward into plank pose and sweep your right leg up between your hands to come into a low lunge and plant your left heel on the mat. When you are ready, inhale and sweep your arms up to come into Warrior I position. 

Repeat by planting your palms on the mat again on either side of your right foot, step your right leg back to come into plank pose, and repeat the sequence with your left leg. 
 Return to Mountain Pose (Tadasana) After completing Warrior I for both legs, return to plank position and then repeat Upward-Facing Dog and Downward-Facing Dog. Once you are back in Downward-Facing Dog, walk your hands back to your feet and sweep your arms up over your head on an inhalation. Exhale and bring your hands to prayer pose in front of your heart. 
Ready for more music and a bit of a change? Here is a video of cellist Nancy Lesh Kulkarni playing and Indian raga accompanied by Rishabh Dhar on the pakhawaj drum.