Part of being a musician is having a busy life. It’s what we signed up for. From having mandatory piano lessons at a young age, to maybe being in marching band, to pursuing a music career, busy is our middle name. Being busy isn't a negative aspect of life; it means that we care to do all that we can to pursue our dreams. But with a crammed schedule, we tend to also comprise many other aspects of life like sleeping well, relationships, and oftentimes our health.
But hey, no pain, no gain… right? Well, maybe not. Sure, a few calluses on finger tips and maybe some sore back muscles don’t seem harmful, but be careful, because musicians are susceptible to long-term, permanent injuries that can prevent them from making music. Upper-body injuries are extremely common for musicians; studies show that 35 to 60 percent of musicians had career-damaging injuries and 20 to 40 percent of conservatory students experienced similar injuries.
My own journey in music was halted when I started to feel intense, sharp, and continuous pain in my thumbs, wrists, and elbows. I was playing classical clarinet for hours at a time and my (poor) posture began to take a toll. I was unable to play for more than 20 minutes without popping ibuprofen and wincing.
I tried working with a neck strap and that alleviated the pain slightly, but still not enough to play pain-free. The thought of surgery was brought up, but with pressure from student loans and other school expenses, it just wasn’t feasible.
But I found hope when an occupational therapist, who also happened to be a musician, came and spoke to my peers and me about yoga and how it would keep our pain at a minimum. Thereafter, I fell in love with what yoga did for my pain, my body, and my mind. (Cue the hippy-dippy BS.)
Seriously, yoga is beneficial in so many different ways, for so many different types of people. There are several forms and practices of yoga, and it's a practice that's thousands of years old. Beyond the physical health benefits, it also does wonders for stress, concentration, and even performance anxiety.
Starting yoga may seem intimidating. But you don’t need to be able to make yourself a human pretzel to do yoga – every pose can be modified for what you're comfortable with. These poses can be done lying or sitting down and are beginner level. So fear not! Here are a few yoga exercises to ease common pain that musicians experience.
Cow Face Pose or Gomukhasana
Best for: Upper back and should pain, instrumentalists who play one-sided (guitar, violin, etc.)
Reach your right arm up and bend your elbow so that your fingertips point down your back, palm side down. Reach your left arm behind your back with fingertips pointing up, palm side up. You can choose to interlock your fingers or use a belt, strap, rope, etc. to bridge the distance between your hands. Begin the stretch. Then eventually switch sides and repeat with the left elbow pointing up.
Eagle Pose Arms or Garudasana Arms
Best for: Upper back tension
You can choose to sit or stand with this pose. To begin, cross your right arm under your left. Wrap your forearms around each other. Then, gradually raise your elbows to about shoulder height. You can gently press your elbows into each other to increase the stretch, as well as drawing your arms away from your chest. Remember to switch sides with your arms.
Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana
Best for: All-over back pain after standing for a long period of time
Lie down on your stomach, with your legs straight back and the tops of your feet facing down. Place your hands under your shoulders on the floor with fingers spread out. Hug your elbows back and into your body. Press the tops of your feet, thighs, and pubis firmly into the floor. Inhale to straighten the arms to lift your chest off of the floor. Remain relaxed, but maintain firm shoulders. Release back to the floor on an exhale.
Hand and wrist stretches
Best for: Being gentle with pain-stricken wrists or tendonitis after practicing for long periods
Sit cross-legged while resting your hands, palm side up, on your thighs. Make fists with both hands. Begin to slowly bend at the wrist, drawing your fists toward your body. Hold the pose for about 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat as necessary.
These exercises are meant to help you with pain that might be preventing you from playing music comfortably. Yoga goes far beyond helping us out physically; it can be a practice that's life changing. If you're interested in practicing yoga further, I'd recommend checking out Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube.
Let us know how yoga has helped you out with your music in the comment section below!
Rachel Bresnahan is an editorial intern at Sonicbids.