This is Part 2 of a Q&A series, based on two questions that performers asked on a survey I did in November for creative and performing artists.
Q1: “Is there a way to avoid chronic discomfort/pain in the neck/back/shoulders while still spending as much time at the cello and the computer as I want/need to?”
A: Yes, definitely! This is a problem I help my students with on a frequent basis. Here are just a few tips to help you start moving through this:
- One of the major common causes of the type of pain you are describing is getting too “sucked into” your work in a way that increases tension in an imbalanced way (what we call “end-gaining” in Alexander Technique jargon). Getting too intense about your work and pushing yourself to work more quickly while concentrating too hard will often give you pain. This kind of over-focusing on one thing tends to pull us off-center. It’s quite possible that you’re straining forward towards the music, tightening up your neck and hip joints. That means your arms are likely not connecting well into your back and you’re putting unnecessary tension in your shoulders to compensate for getting less strength from your back and support from your chair and the floor. You’re probably also not breathing as freely as you could be, because you’re off-balance. In the picture above, it’s clear that Casals’s arms are well-supported by his back and he can move them and his neck with total freedom and ease. An Alexander Technique teacher can help you analyze the specifics of your case in detail.
- Lighten up – don’t take your work too seriously. Can you think of your work as a game? Can you find a way to think of it as a game – really playing the cello in a fun way, instead of thinking of it as a chore or work? There are many ways to explore this. You are free to enjoy yourself!! 🙂
- Don’t force yourself to work if you don’t want to. Giving yourself the freedom to NOT work helps open you up to the possibility that you might actually want to; if you are choosing to work because you truly want to, there will be less resistance and less tension as a result.
- Remember the space above you, and the space behind you, and remember to let yourself expand into it, rather than contract and compress your spine.
- Give yourself a bit of time immediately before you dive in to cello-playing or computer work, and on a regular basis, to collect yourself and let go of excess tension. One of the best ways to do this is to practice Constructive Rest (a very valuable Alexander Technique skill). You can also download my 5-minute audio offered through the form on the right, to help you relax in any position. (If you’re already on my mailing list and the download doesn’t work, please contact me to request the link.)
- Before you start working, resolve that you will take a short break to free your mind/body from your work as soon as you first notice the discomfort.
- Don’t work for long periods at a time – definitely not for longer than 45 minutes at a time. Take a 10-minute break in-between work “chunks”. Use that time to completely take your mind and body away from your work. For instance: you can walk around, stretch, talk to a friend, laugh, meditate, play a game, go outside, exercise, drink a glass of water, or do Constructive Rest.
- Learn how to be more efficient and creative with your time, including mental practice without your instrument as part of your routine. Mental practice is another topic I often teach to my students.
- For more tips on sitting and computer use, I recommend Ann Rodiger’s book: How to Sit Your Body at Work. It’s a very practical book, with tons of great solutions based on the Alexander Technique. Imogen Ragone, AT teacher in Delaware, also has a great series of blogposts on this subject.
I’m hoping to offer an Art of Freedom program to help people with practicing issues such as these in the future. (Sign up for my newsletter to make sure you get updates about the newest offerings!)
A: Perhaps this question was offered in jest, but I love it! One of the things I like teaching about the most is about the source of inspiration, and how inspiration works. I think the million dollar ideas actually come from the same place as the low-budget ideas. If you think of the mind-brain as a receiver, open to thoughts and ideas floating around waiting for your radio-brain to pick them up, you just need to set your brainwaves to the right frequency to capture those thought-waves. But how?
First of all, you have to want that million-dollar idea strongly enough to focus a great deal of attention on getting it, while opening up your mind-brain to receive it. Not only that, but you have to recognize that idea once it comes. All of that’s the easy part, though. The not-so-easy part is knowing what to do with the idea once you’ve got it!
Can you stop all the habitual interference that comes from a lifetime of programming, which wants to have you believe that you can’t get a million-dollar or turn one into reality? Can you keep focusing on what you want, to the exclusion of all that interference? Can you learn and follow the specific steps in the right way in the right order to bring the idea all the way to fruition? Can you stick with it, even when the going gets tough and it seems like it will never work? Can you say “no” to the doubt-monsters??
It’s one thing to have an idea; quite another to know how to follow through on it and turn it into a reality. This is exactly what I teach people to do with The Art of Freedom.
And by the way, just in case you’re really serious about doing something with a million-dollar idea, I will share the title of an inspiring book on the subject: The Millionaire Messenger, by Brendon Burchard.
Let me know what you think. Do you have a million-dollar idea? Where do you think they come from? If you have one, do you have a surefire plan to make it successful?