Yoga for Bassoonists: A Customized Routine

Originally posted 9/19/2013

A musician's life is a physically demanding one.  We lug bags full of instruments, music, gadgets and gear, hustling through airports and train stations.  We cram into uncomfortable airline seats, drive for hours to get to gigs—abuses that come on top of the many hours we spend day in and out with our instruments in our hands.

While a main focus of my practice has long been to develop a more relaxed and efficient technique,  playing the bassoon (or any instrument) will always be a compromise between seeking a more ergonomic physical experience and respecting the traditional form of the instrument.  The bassoon balances fairly easily, despite its size and weight.  Even so, years spent bearing its weight with our left hands, holding out our right arms, and our tendency to rotate slightly to the right can create imbalances in strength and flexibility that can result in chronic tension and pain, which in turn can compromise our technique.

Like most musicians, I’ve experience occasional physical issues, but they were never anything I couldn’t resolve through observation, relaxation, and a little creativity.  But when I saw my students having some of the same experiences, I sought out one of the most thoughtful and creative yoga teachers in the Morgantown area, Nicole Gauthier-Schatz of Ancient Wisdom Yoga. Nicole has years of experience working with artists, musicians, and actors, so I asked her to create a routine that would specifically address the needs of bassoonists.  What she created is an effective, efficient, and flexible routine that can be used every day as a part of a regular body warm up, or as a recovery routine after practicing.  You can do as little or as much as you have time for, and it not only helps correct bassoon-related imbalances, but also prepares the body and mind for playing.

 

DAILY YOGA PRACTICE FOR BASSOONISTS

by Nicole Gauthier-Schatz, Ancient Wisdom Yoga

These movements can bring your body back in balance by making overused muscles more flexible and underused muscles stronger, building strength on both the left and right side of the body. 

This practice may improve: 

  • Mental clarity, focus, and concentration
  • Health of immune system Circulation of the whole body
  • Flexibility in the shoulders, chest, and hips
  • Range of motion in fingers, wrists, and shoulders
  • Agility of the spine
  • Flexibility of the respiratory muscles
  • Girth of rib cage = expanded lung capacity
  • Balance and coordination

This practice may lessen: 

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Symptoms of stress
  • Overuse syndrome
  • Performance anxiety
  • Mental clutter
  • Reactivity to feelings and emotions

 

GUIDELINES TO THE PRACTICE

Space and Time 

Choose a quiet, clean, well-ventilated space.  Early morning is preferable; however adhering to a daily practice is preferable regardless of time.  Do not eat a heavy meal before the practice. 

Dress 

Wear loose, stretchy clothing. Use a yoga mat to prevent slipping. 

Regularity 

Flexibility is increased over a period of time. Respect and work around your limitations. Patience, self-acceptance and self-mastery is more important than the mastery of poses. 

Move slowly into each pose with the breath. 

Hold the pose initially for about 10-20 seconds, or about 5 breaths, increasing slowly over a period of time. Hold without pain or strain. 

The breath is a most integral and important part of the practice. Breath freely, mindful of not holding the breath. 

Move slowly out of the pose. Observe a few seconds of rest to allow for integration before moving to the next movement.

 

THE POSES

This routine is organized into four series of poses. If are short on time, or need a quick warm-up before practicing, you can just do the first series or two. As you have more time, add in the additional series. The greatest benefit will be obtained by practicing the full routine.

Series 1

 Neck Stretch             Eagle Arms             Hands in Prayer Pose Behind Back (Reverse Namaste)         Cowface Arms

Series 2

 Mountain Pose             Tree Pose             Warrior II             Extended Side Angle

Series 3 

Chest Expander             Warrior I             Warrior III             Downward Facing Dog

Series 4

 Half Lord of the Fishes             Bound Angle             Legs Up the Wall

 

TO FINISH: ALTERNATE NOSTRIL BREATHING

Sit comfortably with your back straight.  Press the index and middle finger together and place in between the eyebrows on your forehead.  Your thumb will control the opening and closing of the right nostril, and the ring finger will control the opening and closing of the left nostril. Inhale to the brim of your lungs.  Close the right side, pause, exhale out of the left nostril. Inhale through the left nostril, close both nostrils, pause, exhale out of the right nostril. Inhale through the right side, close both sides, pause, and exhale out of the left side. Continue alternating from side to side.  End with an exhalation out of the left side. Breathe slowly and evenly through both sides a few times.

Benefits:

  • Calms, purifies, and strengthens the nervous system
  • Balances both hemispheres of the brain, and both sides of the body
  • Helps to alleviate headaches, migraines, and frazzled states
  • Facilitates elimination of wastes and assimilation of energy
  • Soothes strong emotions