Throughout my many years of experience as a performer, and as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I have come into contact with literally thousands of musicians. It has been my impression since childhood that most of them are suffering from some kind of physical pain, performance anxiety, and/or some level of depression. In fact, I made a conscious decision as a child not to aim for an orchestral career because most of the orchestral musicians I saw in performance looked so unhappy.
Recent research from the University of Sydney in Australia surveying orchestral musicians corroborates my professional experience in the field and what I sensed as a child.
Since the results of this study weren’t really news to me (for instance, the fact that 84% of the orchestral musicians surveyed had experienced pain severe enough to impair performance), what interested me the most when I read about it was a comment made by Professor Dianna Kenny, who undertook the study. She said, “The implication of these findings is that physically based treatments of performance-related musculoskeletal pain that do not address associated anxiety and depression might not prove to be effective.” I couldn’t agree more.
Musicians who come to me for help with their various ailments have always tried “physically based” approaches first, with varying success – usually not enough to satisfy. Depending on the severity of their pain, they may have tried anything from general exercise, simple stretches, changing their posture and musical technique, physical therapy, to specialized medical care or even surgery.
Even if some of these approaches help the musician in pain, they are unable to get to the root cause of the problem, because their perspective is based on the fundamental misunderstanding that a problem can be physical without there being any mental or emotional component involved.
From a holistic perspective, it’s simply impossible to separate the so-called “physical” from the “mental” and the “emotional”. Every person is an indivisible whole, and everything that affects the person affects ALL of the person. A partial approach cannot help the whole person in any fundamental and lasting way, so even if a problem seems to be solved, it will only be a temporary solution, likely to crop up again later, in the same way or in another guise.
Here’s an example:
I have a student who cracks his neck incessantly (literally hundreds of times a week) because he is in near-constant back and neck pain, and the violent cracking action gives him the temporary relief he is desperate for. But the relief doesn’t last long, and his suffering and neck-cracking habit have gone on for years, worsening steadily. Not surprisingly, this student also lives in a general state of overwhelm and anxiety, constantly stressed to capacity and beyond. He has tried physical/medical approaches to no avail; his habits of mind and body continue.
What is the solution? An approach that addresses the physical and the mental aspects together, seeing the person as an integrated whole – not just a body, not just a mind. The Alexander Technique is such an approach, and has been proven effective for back pain.
The neck and back pain my student experiences cannot be effectively addressed in isolation from the mental and emotional pressure he’s experiencing, and my job is to help him understand how these aspects are integrally connected. I see him as a whole person, with a problem that is spread over all planes of his being. Once I point this out, it becomes obvious to him, and he now realizes that he must start taking responsibility for every aspect of his life in new, healthy ways, if he ever wants the pain to go away for good.
By practicing the Alexander Technique, he can learn how to stop reacting to the stress on his body-mind in ways that are futile and potentially more damaging to his system. Once he realizes that stopping and changing his habits of mind and body is the golden key to deep relief of his suffering on all levels, he will be able to relieve both his physical pain and enjoy a more peaceful life, long-term.
The more I work with musicians, the more I find the Alexander Technique to be an almost-magical solution to suffering. My students typically tell me that sessions are “better than massage” and “better than [psychological] therapy”. You can read what some of them say here: Success Stories.
Are you a musician? Are you suffering? How do you suffer? Do you experience a connection between your physical suffering and your mental/emotional states? What approaches have you found to be most successful? Where the results permanent or temporary?
If you’re interested in learning how to start relieving your suffering in a fundamental way, please contact me about my current programs for musicians.