There is a world of pain that relies on being fixed by various tools. The popularity of these tools which range from the fitness/wellbeing stream (think yoga, pilates or weight training), to manual/hands-on modalities that range from massage, physiotherapy to chiropractic can be accounted for by the sheer number of videos relating to both streams that are available on Youtube. Although it’s true that no one is offering massage or chiropractic from a video screen, there is an overabundance of information available on the web. Information and advice that directs itself to this world of pain, a world that is asking to be fixed.
My assertion is that there is no single way to address pain and injury, and both fitness and manual therapy on their own or in combination can provide a solution.
So, that’s the end of this blog.
Except that I have something to add that is seldom considered. It isn’t that it’s not ‘well researched’ or ‘effective’, or hasn’t been around for long. It is simply that it’s difficult to express this other approach, the educational approach, in words alone. Not impossible, but less sexy, less seductive and less ‘cookie cutter’ than what is deemed appropriate for the so called web-based-attention-span.
But, as a musician, does the so called 8-second-attention-span really apply to your art and craft’s development?
As a musician, does your pain related issues that might have arisen from playing your instrument, really get addressed by the crowd of information and how-to-videos on fixing pain? If ‘yes’, then great! But you are probably reading this because somehow, something about the proposed popular perspective doesn’t fit in with the nature of being a practicing musician.
What I have to add with movement mastery and Alexander technique is very simple. It isn’t flashy, but many musicians (and others), have found it very effective. Let’s create a simple framework:
What sets us apart from the rest of the species is our ability to learn and communicate through language. Yes, higher primates do both, but what is uniquely human is that we can use language to problem-solve and make use of the learning process to communicate. As upright walking humans, we have evolved a system of language referred to as music which is a highly sophisticated problem solving tool that is used for communication.
Nifty stuff! Pretty special to be sure.
If you think of what you just read as too intellectual or complicated, then think of what it took to learn to be proficient or even reach mastery on your musical instrument!
If pain, especially pain with a non-speficific cause is getting in the way of developing and sharing your incredible ability to communicate through music, then you might really benefit from a less popular perspective towards pain management.
Because, truth be told, the popular perspective of fitness/wellbeing/manual modalities/surgery all rely on a singular-focused language. As if their procedures and advices could be directed at a species that didn’t have the incredible gift of language and learning! As if fixing specific muscles could cure the habit of a fixed attention.
Don’t get me wrong, there is no contesting the need for developing strength, flexibility and mobility in movement and what is refereed to as posture. But, the singular-focus methods don’t speak to the human’s capacity for dynamism. Sure, muscle strength and posture fixing might be a starting point for improving awareness, but with popular methods, the usual experience doesn’t move beyond these base-line beginnings.
But can anything fix the ingrained habit of fixed or static attention that some refer to as ‘bad posture’?
Yes, and no.
Yes, if we start to communicate with the situation in a way that makes practical and intelligent sense.
No, if we keep trying to solve a problem from the same approach that created it in the first place; the same way we approach most problems in the political and and social spheres.
Should the educational perspective be elitist, expensive or out of reach of the people who want to give it a try?
No! And above all, this perspective that can only be refereed to as the whole person educational perspective should not rely on the guru mentality.
So, if you are seeking a solution to persistent pain, and are curious, try this simple experiment with your instrument. But before you reach for your instrument or start to sing, try to make a list (mental or written), of the number of times you have been told your ‘bad posture’ is the sole cause of your pain predicament. Either bad posture or nerve impingements and muscle imbalances that are the supposed result of it.
Our experiment is a starting point for relating a new language to what is referred to as ‘posture’, but you don’t have to use English to try it. Use whatever language makes most sense to you. First read though the following and then try it with your instrument.
What you will need is a simple video camera (a phone is fine), your instrument and a bit of curiosity.
- Posture is not a single thing, it is a sphere (a globe-like abject) of relationships between the different bones of an upright human body and an awareness of language.
- Check in with the so called 8-second-attention-span and keep reading. Remember, this so-called ‘fact’ doest not apply to musicians! Your ability to apply the type of attention necessary to play music is the proof.
- Now, set up the video on a stand so that it can pickup a short video of most of your upright or sitting body. Press play.
- Walk into the frame, and go ahead and pick up your instrument and set it in place (or sit at the piano, or start singing), pause and redo that single gesture (or combined movements) of getting your hands on the instrument. Do it slowly. Repeat a couple of times.
- Play a few notes, place your instrument down, walk off the frame and stop the video.
- Watch the video.
It doesn’t matter if you have the training (the observation and expression language) to express what changes you observed between the moment you had no instrument in your hands (or piano, or aimed to sing a note) and the movement that initiated that first gesture leading up to that first note.
Chances are that if your movements for this experiment were slow enough, you will notice something. Something that can’t be expressed just as ‘posture’ and something that is purely you, purely human and full of potential for refining, adapting and engaging in more and more intelligent, efficient and effortless ways.
Refinement without limits, humanly speaking. The way this refinement is achieved is through gaining an understanding of the necessary tools, and establishing a practice. You know, practice. No one can do the practice for you, so the educational perspective offers you the ability to become your own teacher in this regard. No need for countless expensive lessons, or the felt experience of the teacher’s hands.
The real tool for refinement is your intelligence and ability to grasp language as a tool.
Learning to apply an intelligent language in movement, takes the place of posture. Because the fact of playing an instrument demand that we have intelligent movement to support our body and attention during the actual activity. Seeking ‘good posture’ can be a difficult thing to maintain in practice and performance.
Practical and actionable movements is what movement mastery and Alexander technique provides the tools for learning. It isn’t abstract, it isn’t expensive and it isn’t elitist.
If you like, you can send me the video that you’ve made and we can continue the conversation from there. All that I know for sure (and I’ve done lots of investigation into this, and continue to do so), is that bad posture is never a cause of pain and fixing pain isn’t a singular-focus approach.