Incorporating Yoga Into Your Practice Session
We’ve all been there––
You walk into the practice room (which is probably freezing with temperatures around -30 degrees. (Instant finger-cicles...).
You start to attempt some nice long tones only to find your lips immobile or your hands achy.
You push through because this is your only solid time to practice today.
Your mind starts wandering now because let’s face it, long tones can be a bit boring.
You start mentally going through you schedule for the day or the week, listing your to-dos out so you can remember them, or maybe start singing your current rep in your head (you know, “mental practice”).
You go ahead and skip to the heavy rep (because that’s the most fun) and you wind up having a wholly unproductive and unfocused practice session for the next half hour.
You finally just call it, and use the rest of your allotted practice time to go get coffee or scroll on your phone.
Using yoga in the practice room is extremely beneficial not only because it prepares your body for intense practice sessions by increasing circulation, loosening up stiff joints, and exercising the muscles you need to actually play or sing. But it also prepares your mind by reducing stress and increasing self-awareness, so that you can have an efficient, focused and productive practice session.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to do an hour-long yoga practice for it to help you! These ways of incorporating yoga into your practice sessions are simple and practice, and will help you make the best use of your limited time in the practice room.
DO YOGA BEFORE, DURING OR AFTER YOU PRACTICE
You may be thinking “Well, DUH Caitlin.”
Is it a little obvious? Maybe. But let me ask you: do you ACTUALLY make time to do it? I’ve heard the “I don’t have time” excuse more often than not, so my guess is that you’ve probably said or thought the same thing.
And hey, I do it, too! I’m the queen of excuses, so I completely get it.
But, ultimately, you will make time for the things that are important. And, since you’re reading this right now, I’m going to assume that your wellbeing (physically, mentally, emotionally or otherwise) IS important to you.
All it takes is a few minutes of focused, intentional and functional movement to get your body and mind in the right space for a productive practice session. I promise that you DO, indeed, have a few minutes to spare for your health and wellbeing.
Set a timer for 5 minutes and allow yourself to move, stretch and breathe in whatever ways feel the most nurturing for where you are right now. If you aren’t sure what to do check out these poses and exercises I’ve already written about!
(Stay tuned for more coming soon!)
Pick 3-5 exercises/poses to do within your 5 minutes either before, during or after your practice session as a way to increase circulation, release extra tension and refocus your mind. Be mindful, breathe deeply and use this time to actually feel the sensations in your body.
PLAY IN A YOGA POSE
This is a really great way to feel more grounded in your playing and to release excess tension! Not only does it help to bring more awareness to parts of your body you aren’t paying attention to (like your legs, feet or core), it also helps to transfer excess tension to different areas of your body, so you can use it more efficiently.
A few of my favorite poses to practice in are:
Transfer your weight to one foot.
The sole of the other foot is either on the inside of the calf or thigh avoiding the knee, or on the floor with the heel on the inside of the ankle and the ball of the foot is on the floor.
Press and anchor your foot into your leg or ankle and bring your knee out to the side.
Make sure your activate your core muscles and press down into the ground.
Take your feet much wider than your hips with your toes angled out at about 45° angles.
Sit your hips back as if you’re sitting in a chair making sure that your knees stay inline with your toes.
Soften your shoulders and your neck, and lift your chest.
How low or wide your squat is depends on what is available to your body. You could bring your feet in closer together (still wider than the hips) and sit your hips back and lower down to a comfortable level. It’s not necessary to go all the way down! What’s more important is that you feel stable and strong in this posture to be able to play.
Lie on the floor with your feet as wide as is comfortable.
Tuck your tailbone and your shoulder blades under slightly.
You can prop your head up if your feel your head is falling backward, and put a rolled up towel or blanket under your knees.
Let your whole body sink down into the floor. Feel the ground actually holding you up.
BREATHING EXERCISES WITH LONG TONES
I don’t need to preach about how integral breathing is to music-making (and not just for singers and wind instrumentalists). I ALSO don’t need to preach about how anxious and stressed out a lot of us are. So, it seems very appropriate to combine yogic breathing exercises that bring about a sense of internal awareness, reduce anxiety and promote a calm mind with our music practice.
It’s really simple to incorporate breathing exercises with your long tones or other slow warm ups. Some of favorite ways to do this are:
Focus on the quality of your breathing as you play. Ask questions like: What part of my body am I breathing with or from? Is my breath shallow or deep? Does it feel tight or free flowing? Also notice ways your breath can affect your sound and tone production.
With counted breaths like “inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 4 (or 6 or 8, etc.).” You can even set your metronome to a slow tempo (say around 60 bpm) to set a pace for your counts.
Inhaling through your nose. Breathing deeply through the nose forces us to slow the breath down because there’s more resistance in the nose than in the mouth, so it takes longer to draw a full breath. Deeper breathing leads to a calmer mind, so this is a great way to prep your mind for playing.
LISTENING MEDITATION WITH LONG TONES
Imma go ahead and bust a myth for you right now––
Meditation is NOT about emptying your mind.
That’s impossible, and is counterproductive if that’s what you’re trying to do.
Meditation, rather, is actually about focusing on one thing at a time, and giving that one thing our full, undivided attention. When we focus on just ONE thing, our mind eases, the thought-tornado dissipates, and we can bring our awareness into the present moment.
In thinking about meditation this way you might realize that you already do it in your music practice––when you isolate a run to focus on your finger coordination or articulation, for example.
But, what about with listening?
When was the last time you ACTUALLY listened to what you were playing? When you became fully, and unbiasedly, absorbed in your sound, letting it wash over you, observing the subtle nuances, colors and depth without analyzing or judging it?
This kind of deep, intentional and ACTIVE listening is harder than you think because we’ve been trained to analyze everything. It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game and criticism, and miss out on the opportunity to learn from the things we hear.
Listening in a meditative way allows us to take a step back from hyper-criticism and judgement, so that we can just experience the sound. Without analysis. Without judgement. When we can do this, we open ourselves up to a whole new world of experience which we can use to inform our music and our art on a much deeper and intimate level.
There are many ways to practice deep, intentional listening, but one of my favorite ways is with long tones (I'm sure you're surprised!). Their slow and open nature makes them perfect for this exercise because you have plenty of time to observe. There’s no rush and nothing else to do, except to simply listen.
With whichever long tone exercise you choose, open up your sense of hearing and allow the sound to come to you. Don’t go searching it out.
You may notice that you’re starting to create stories about whatever you’re hearing (“I sound like shit today.” “Why am I so tight?” “Today’s a sucky tone day.” etc.). This is totally normal! You aren’t meditating “wrong.” Just acknowledge the thought, and come back to your sense of hearing and observation of your sound. You might have to do this several times throughout the exercise, and that is okay!
Setting a timer a good way to allow yourself to fully release into the experience of listening, and still make sure your practice time is efficient. 3-5 minutes is a great place to start. I have, though, on numerous occasions done this for 20 minutes or so when I’ve felt really anxious and overwhelmed!
So there they are! Pick one to try to this week and see how your focus and mentality shifts in your practice, and let me know down in the comments!
As always, I’m happy to answer any questions! Happy practicing!
If this post resonates with you let me know below, and SHARE with anyone you think might needs this!
If you have any questions, or topics you'd love for me to talk about send me a message and let's chat!
For more inspiration and wellness tips join me on Instagram @caitlinroseflute!