According to certified Kripalu yoga instructor Mia Olson, author of Musician’s Yoga: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Inspiration(Berklee Press, 2009), there are many ways that musicians can benefit from yoga. “I see yoga as developing awareness both mentally and physically,” she says.
She points to improved focus, concentration, and awareness of your surroundings. “That helps you better communicate with the musicians in your group or band,” she explains. And she asserts that yoga can prevent injuries. “Playing an instrument or singing is a very physical thing and I think a lot of people hang onto tension,” she says. “If you are a person who is constantly pushing yourself, you could develop overuse injuries. By developing physical awareness you don’t put yourself in compromised positions. Some of the physical exercises, strengthening, and stretching, help make your body stronger.”
Olson says yoga can also ease performance anxiety. “When people get nervous, they think about what other people are thinking, rather than concentrating on the music. Yoga helps you to be more in the moment,” she explains. “When you are stressed you hold your breath, and the nervous energy makes you feel tight, and everything feels ‘up in the air.’ If you take a deep breath with a long exhale you can actually bring that energy back down and ground it.”
- Mountain: Keep your feet hip width apart with toes parallel and firmly planted on the ground. Engage the muscles of the legs, keeping the knees slightly bent, and tuck the tailbone under slightly to keep a straight pelvis. Roll your shoulders back and down, elongate your spine through the crown of your head.
- Neck Circles: Allow your chin to rest toward your chest. Breathe into the back of your neck a few times. Inhale and bring your right ear to the right shoulder and breathe in. Exhale, bringing the chin back towards the chest. Inhale, bringing left ear to left shoulder. Continue with half-circles in front of the body. Progress to full circles, moving gently as the head comes back. Reverse direction after a few circles.
- Shoulder Release: Inhale the shoulders up to your ears, squeezing the shoulders up as high as you can, holding the breath in. Exhale, dropping the shoulders and relaxing. Repeat two more times. Next, inhale the shoulders up toward the ears, exhale rotating them back and down, opening the chest. Then inhale the shoulders forward, rounding the back, and continue the circles until the shoulders come all the way up to the ears again. Circle back for a few rounds and then reverse directions.
- Wrist and Arm Rotations: With elbows bent and shoulders relaxed, circle the wrists away from each other. At the same time, move your fingers creatively, loosening them up. Repeat several times and then switch directions, circling the wrists toward each other. Pause, then rotate the forearms and hands, first away from and then toward each other.
- Standing yoga Mudra: Start with feet wide apart and toes parallel. Lift arms in front of you as you inhale, then push the palms away as you exhale and join your hands together behind your back. Elongate the spine, lifting through the crown of the head. Exhale and bend at the waist with your head coming down between your legs. Keep your knees slightly bent and continue to draw the arms up and back. Hold for a few breaths, then slowly come back to standing.
- Helicopter: Start with feet slightly wider than hip distance apart, knees slightly bent, and arms hanging down freely at your sides. Start to turn the torso side to side, with your arms flopping like coat sleeves in the wind. Imagine tension rolling off your upper back, shoulders, and arms, and releasing out your fingertips. Gradually return to stillness.
- Full Yogic Breathing: Exhale completely, pulling your abdomen muscles toward your spine. Relax the muscles and allow the air to fill the belly and chest fully. Continue to exhale and inhale fully, focusing on expanding the front, back, and sides of the body.
More of Mia Olson’s yoga poses for musicians can be found at miamarieolson.com and in her book. She teaches Yoga for Musicians at Berklee College of Music where she is a professor in the woodwind department.