Musicians are very much like athletes. They use their bodies in particular ways repeatedly, often for many hours a day. However, training the body is usually not a high priority for many musicians and warming up and stretching rarely make it into a musician’s practice routine.
This combines to make overuse injuries such as RSI, tendonitis, neck, shoulder or back pain more common, as well as playing a role in conditions like focal dystonia.
The usual advice for avoiding these problems is to:
- Warm up before and cool down after practising
- Stretch regularly (after warming up)
- Learn a physical awareness technique such as Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, Yoga or Tai Chi
- Take up some kind of sport or aerobic exercise to increase stamina
- Take frequent breaks in practice sessions with movements and stretches that counterbalance the predominant playing positions
- Work on playing posture to minimise imbalances and tension
- If taking a long break (for example, after a holiday or when recovering from an injury), ease into playing slowly, starting with slower and easier techniques and gradually working up to faster and more strenuous playing
- Engage in relaxation exercises, breathing techniques or meditation to help ease tension and manage stress or performance anxiety.
Qigong is very similar to tai chi, except that tai chi is a martial art so the movements are designed to have a martial function. Qigong uses the same principles as tai chi, but doesn’t require the development of martial skills, so is easier to learn and doesn’t require so much space to practice.
Qigong is a perfect kind of exercise to integrate into a practice routine because it involves:
- Warming up and stretching the body
- Relaxation – this is a fundamental skill of qigong
- Postural work – encouraging a neutral posture, but it is also interested in understanding the impact of different postures on the body
- Breath work, which not only helps relaxation but also massages the organs of the body and improves breath control and capacity
- Meditation – qigong can be described as a kind of moving meditation, and helps to calm the mind and regulate the emotions
This makes qigong a very time-efficient way of integrating some healthy habits into your practice routine. There are warm ups, stretches and preparatory exercises for the start of a practice session as well as exercises that could easily be done in regular short breaks and closing exercises that would make for a perfect warm down.
I have developed a simplified version of qigong called Full Body Mindfulness specifically for musicians (and people who sit at computers all day, as their problems can be similar). This practice includes all the elements of qigong mentioned above, but without the more advanced and esoteric practices. This makes it easier to learn and more accessible for people who aren’t necessarily interested in the ‘energy’ side of the practice.