Yoga practice transformed my life. Especially my musical life.
And I’m not alone.
In fact, take a second and think — how many of your musician friends rave about their yoga practice?
Of course, yoga is not a cure-all and it probably won’t make you the next great virtuoso. But it is a powerful practice that can change how you approach your instrument (or voice!) in the practice room and on stage.
In this introductory guide you’ll learn:
- How to begin a yoga practice that suits your musical needs
- The worst rookie mistakes musicians make when beginning a yoga practice
- How to integrate yoga into your musical practice
Remember how challenging it was when you first started playing your instrument? Yoga is not easy. But, just like your instrument, “practice and all is coming.”
How yoga benefits musicians
The American Osteopathic Association lists research-supported benefits of yoga, which include:
- increased flexibility and increased muscle strength
- improved respiration, energy and vitality
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
How often have you wished for greater flexibility in the practice room or just a little more endurance during rehearsal? The physical aspects of yoga alone can empower you with more stamina and vastly improved physical ease on stage.
Some of the greatest benefits for musicians are found in the mental aspects of yoga practice, including:
- improved stress management
- increased mental clarity and calmness
- increased body awareness
I got hooked on yoga when I realized that my newly-found body awareness could vastly improve my ability to correct technical issues in the practice room. Soon I was using yoga techniques to feel calm on stage and manage a stressful performing and teaching schedule.
How to start a yoga practice
Let’s get one crucial thing out of the way first.
Many of us believe that yoga is only for people who are super flexible (dancers, gymnasts). Trust me, if your muscles are tight and your mind wanders all the time yoga is for you.
As musicians, we spend most of each day in whatever position is required to play our instruments (or sing!). It’s easy to develop muscle imbalances and overuse patterns that lead to injury. Yoga is an excellent low-impact activity that balances your body and mind and encourages the body awareness you need to avoid injury and play your best every day.
You may discover that if you sit to play, your hamstrings and hip flexors are tight. If you play a string instrument, tightness in your chest and shoulders may cause you discomfort. If you stand while practicing, tight glutes and lower back might cause you the most discomfort. Yoga classes usually feature enough poses that each of these areas gets a lot of attention, so you leave energized and able to play efficiently.
One other important note:
Yoga is not a competitive sport. Not being able to do a pose is not a problem (more on that later). When you first started playing your instrument did you give up because you couldn’t play your favorite concerto right away?
Find a Yoga Studio
There are a lot of great yoga videos and online classes out there, but there is no substitute for in-person teaching, especially when you’re just getting started.
Do a quick search for yoga studios in your area and you might discover there are a few you didn’t even know about! When I first started I had no idea there was a yoga studio within easy walking distance from my apartment.
Yoga studio memberships can be expensive. But for those of us on a tight budget, most studios offer community classes that are either free/donation or very inexpensive ($5/class).
Your First Class
Your very first yoga class can feel a lot like a first day of school or a first rehearsal in a new ensemble. Fear not! First-time yogis are always welcome — we each remember our first class.
Let’s run through some common questions:
What do I need to bring to class?
Bring a yoga mat if you own one, but nearly all studios have mats to rent. Additional optional items include a water bottle and a small towel.
Do I need special clothes?
Nope! Just wear clothes you’d be comfortable moving in and sweating in. Wear clothes that won’t get in your way. If you have gym clothes already, those will work. As you develop your yoga practice, you’ll discover what kind of clothes you prefer to wear – don’t worry about buying anything up front. And no need to worry about shoes – you’ll be barefoot!
If you’ve never done yoga before, choose a class specifically aimed at beginners. Beginner classes are great – you get excellent foundational instruction and an intense workout. Plus – you’ll be surrounded by other beginners, so no need to feel out of place!
We all make mistakes. If you can avoid these rookie mistakes (I’m guilty of a couple….), you’ll be off to a great start!
I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating: yoga is not a competitive sport.
Your yoga practice is different from everyone else’s. In time, you will discover the poses that you love and the ones you really don’t like. Just remember: you’re not alone — everyone has poses they would prefer to skip.
In your first few classes, focus on doing your best. Remember the first time you heard someone playing a piece that sounded so hard that you couldn’t even imagine how they were playing it? You didn’t beat yourself up for not being able to play it yet, you just used it as inspiration for your practice.
In every yoga class there will be someone who can do more advanced poses than you. Instead of competing with your classmates, just practice and maybe someday you’ll be able to do those poses too!
Trying to go too fast
“The strongest trees in the forest grow the slowest.” – David Swenson
In my first yoga class, I tried to go too fast. It wasn’t pretty – just ask my wife.
I let my competitive drive take hold and I pushed myself to do every posture, even the ones that the teacher recommended for “advanced” students.
I was in shape, but I wasn’t prepared for the unique challenges only yoga can offer. Halfway through the class, I had to sit on my mat and take a break, afraid that I wouldn’t keep my lunch down.
In your first yoga class, take it slow. Allow yourself to try each pose, but don’t push beyond your comfort zone. If a pose is too difficult, just sit that one out. As a yoga teacher, I’m always happy to see when a student knows their limit. Plus, there’s a good chance that the things you find difficult this week will feel much less difficult next week.
Eventually I discovered that consistency is the most important thing in yoga practice, just like in musical practice. When you learn a musical instrument, you don’t expect to achieve a professional level overnight. Regular practice that builds upon incremental progress is the fastest way to success. And it still takes years.
Yoga isn’t easy. It presents us with physical and mental challenges that few other practices offer.
After your first few classes, take note of how you feel. Do you feel less tense, more open, more relaxed? Do you feel calm?
It takes time to develop any habit. The best thing you can do for yourself is try a few classes and give yourself a chance to experience what yoga practice does for you.
How to build yoga into your musical routine
Once you’re hooked, you’ll start discovering new ways to apply yoga to your musical practice and teaching.
During short teaching or practicing breaks you could use simple yoga sequences to relieve tension and focus.
Or you could use yogic breathing to perform your best.
Or you could use your newfound focus to silence your inner critic.
New to yoga? Have an established yoga practice? Send me an email or tell me about it in the comments!
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