As most musicians know, it’s important to have a moderately healthy lifestyle –being sick and/or injured is not a good way to make music. I’ve struggled with this since my freshman year of college, when I abruptly stopped exercising and started the college diet of pizza and ramen, and started having issues with hand/wrist pain while playing flute. I took a weekend off, cut back on my practicing a bit, and continued as normal, adding aspirin and icing my hands after bad days. For the next few years I never really got better, I just managed the problem. I never really pushed it over the edge from being uncomfortable to a full-blown injury that would require me to take real time off. Over the summers when I had an extended break, it would get better, then come back as soon as school started up again and I was playing consistently for a few hours everyday.
I finally got fed up with this purgatory-like state of feeling good when I wasn’t practicing, and hurting when I did have busy days. My internet research about hand and wrist issues seemed to indicate I needed to build strength in the big muscle groups that support the smaller fine motor muscles in my hands and arms (the most useful information came from articles aimed at helping desk workers/computer people who sit and type all day). So I decided to do something about this, and started swimming and doing yoga. I noticed some great fringe benefits – most notably, I could practice more after I’d been swimming and/or doing yoga regularly for a couple months. Swimming only lasted as long as I had free access to the NYU gym, but yoga can be free with the help of youtube and a few good internet resources.
So yoga. Yoga was initially something I hated. I thought it moved too slowly and I got bored. But I tried again after moving to New York, and have been doing yoga on and off ever since. I decided last fall to be “on” again when I started practicing more for various projects, and it’s made a huge difference; since I’ve been doing yoga regularly, I’ve had no hand/wrist/shoulder problems.
Here are some yoga tips for musicians:
- If you have wrist/hand pain when doing yoga, take a look at this article, it has some tips to ease into yoga without injuring/exacerbating problems. Don’t panic and stop trying because you’re terrified of hurting your arms/wrists/hands, just be careful, it’ll help in the long run. Go slow and listen to your body.
- I really like the workouts and videos on this youtube channel. There’s a lot of variation, different lengths, levels of difficulty, as well as focus on anatomical areas. Her blog, yogabycandace.com has a nice yoga community, suggested workout schedules to improve flexibility, strength, and this month’s project is backbends, (which I think all musicians need more of, to counter us hunching forward over our instruments). Her workouts are a little more on the intermediate side of things, but a lot of the videos have modifications/stopping points for beginners. And she’ll mention in the description if it isn’t a beginner friendly video.
- Try to be consistent. I always do at least a 10 minute warm-up to loosen up my shoulders and back, before I start practicing in the morning. sequences don’t have to be sweaty or hard: one of my favorite was “Shoulder Openers,” very gentle, but I felt great afterwards (I think it was the only day my shoulders didn’t crack when I rolled them back.)
- My problem areas are my shoulders, upper back, and the front of my chest. I have a lot of trouble clasping my hands behind my back, and the front of my hips are usually tight from sitting so much during the day. So that’s what I try to make sure I work on during my practice. Whatever your issues are, where you hurt, what’s super hard for you, focus on that. Just like I tell my flute students, you only improve when you do things that are hard for you
Here’s a little video of my favorite stretches that always make me feel better. I hope this is as helpful for you as it’s been for me. (Disclaimer: I’m not a trained yoga teacher, or a doctor, please be careful, and listen to your body, and don’t do anything that causes pain).
Poses mentioned in the video:
- Sun Salutations
- Dancer’s pose
- Cow face pose
- modifications for having tight shoulders