Your body is part of your instrument (if you’re a singer, it is your instrument), and you need to look after it as well as you would any other.
Here’s why I have a special interest in treating musicians.
I started learning the piano at age 4, and from pretty much then music was a big part of my life. Between piano, violin and singing lessons, orchestra and choir rehearsals, competitions, broadcasts, recordings and tours, I was kept pretty busy. Spending most evenings, weekends and holidays singing, it soon became clear to me that working as a musician demanded sacrifices. Even so, I enjoyed it enough to keep singing while at university and, even though my degree was in psychology, I still took music performance for some of my elective modules for as long as I could.
While I didn’t have the dedication and passion to pursue a career as a professional musician for myself, I had many friends who did. Many of them have struggled at one time or another with an illness or injury that has stopped them from performing. Sometimes they got a nasty cold or chest infection just before a big audition or performance, some suffered crippling stage fright, occasionally someone might injure themselves during a show, and many have at some point suffered with RSI, back or shoulder pain after many long hours of practicing and rehearsing, often in neglected, damp rehearsal rooms.
Fortunately these problems are often short-lived, but some develop into increasingly severe problems which begin to jeopardise their longer-term career. With this comes the anxiety, the constant worry at each performance that they may not be able to perform well, or at all. If things don’t improve, they may have to give up on their dreams, putting aside the art that has been their life and livelihood and for which they have sacrificed so much.
I think music is an important form of creative expression, a way of connecting with others and with our own emotions. I have seen too many talented musicians have to stop performing professionally because of health problems. And I believe that a combination of exercises, advice and treatment can help people overcome many of these problems without necessarily resorting to medications, injections and surgery.
How can I help?
Mindfulness & Qigong
Instrumentalists tend to suffer with postural issues and overuse injuries while singers are particularly affected by getting colds or infections and a range of other conditions such as reflux. Performing also brings its own emotional stresses and challenges.
Acupuncture can be used for a wide range of physical and emotional issues, and I find it particularly helpful to combine it with massage techniques. I think it’s really important to build on the treatments by giving my clients things they can do themselves to help. This sometimes means teaching stretches, breathing or mindfulness exercises or postural work from qigong. In some cases it means suggesting dietary changes or altering some other aspect of lifestyle.
Using a Chinese medical approach brings a few advantages:
1. It’s a different approach
Chinese medicine offers a different way of looking at the body, health and illness. In cases where conventional medicine doesn’t really understand a condition, has no treatment options, or those treatments haven’t helped, a different approach can be invaluable.
2. Both diagnosis and treatment are holistic
Symptoms are considered as part of a whole picture, understanding that each person has a unique combination of constitution, capabilities and circumstances. Apparently unrelated symptoms can be caused by the same underlying problem, and a holistic approach is needed to identify this. By treating the root cause, all these symptoms improve, and the improvement is more lasting than treatments that simply suppress symptoms.
By understanding the nature of the imbalance, you can identify what kind of treatments to apply, but also what kinds of foods will be helpful and which will worsen the condition, whether to apply heat or cold, to exercise or not, and all sorts of other factors that have an effect on the body.
3. Treatments are natural/non-pharmaceutical
‘The show must go on’, so musicians especially tend to rely on medications to temporarily relieve symptoms so they can continue to perform. Often they end up taking a cocktail of medications or taking higher doses than they should just to keep going. While this may work in the short term, in the long run it’s not sustainable and can lead to other health problems. Being able to address the problems without relying on strong pharmaceuticals can be really valuable. Having exercises to do between sessions means you know you are doing something to help yourself, and this also addresses a psychological need that medication sometimes fills.
This approach can be really effective for a wide range of conditions, but it won’t always help everyone (no treatment ever does). I see my approach as complementary rather than alternative, and that’s why I sometimes recommend clients see their GP and why I have close links to other practitioners who I can refer to. Especially in complex cases, it is a multidisciplinary approach that often works best.
If you’re a musician who is struggling with a chronic or recurring physical or emotional health issue, get in touch to see whether I might be able to help you.