Body as Instrument: Part II - Self as Instrument
(Photo credit: Ephemeral Light)
I like to think of being fully present in your body as a verb; "Selfing".
Practicing your Self means that you "actively" remain completely present in yourself while doing any task. This eventually becomes a full time event, a sort of background software which runs throughout your day.
Practicing how to Use YourSelf well is the key which reveals what is already there, your natural and complete Self.
You may rightly inquire, "Aren't we born with a healthy Self intact?" Yes in fact we are. Any baby or toddler uses himself quite beautifully. Then he screws it all up with self-consciousness, being told he is wrong, plus emotions, fear, anxiety.
So what is this bizarre sounding practice of "Selfing?"
Awareness of your Self in the room-
It begins with awareness of the "sensation of being you". The scientific name for this open and vivid Self-sensation is proprioception.
This includes everything experienced by your whole Self in the particular room, the particular air you are in, the type of light, the smells, the 3D you in a virtually-real place!
Quality of Breath as tool for being present-
The quality of your breath is a valuable indicator to measure the quality of your Use while you practice. Your breath alone is not the answer, only one tool which we can all relate to.
Your breath could be described as a "symptom" of being alive, a constantly moving part of your body which is relatively easy to monitor.
The following awareness tools will indicate good Use of your Self, by which I mean being present in your body. A regular practice of these is only necessary for those who have lost touch with their original and healthy Use, which means most of us! lol!
1- Be in the room, eyes open, consciously alert and present as a physically aware unit.
Healthy proprioception may require focused patience to fully "feel the body from the inside" while still remaining "in the room".
I like to describe the feeling of "being in the room" as shining a light inside your body.
The idea of "mapping" how the body feels from the inside is another way to describe this awareness. (the concept of mapping was coined by Alexander Teacher and writer Bill Connable)
2- Consciously watch your breathing while not interfering..
This step takes some practice and is closely tied to the proprioceptive skill. The paradox of "consciously" NOT doing something is often frustrating. It is a critical leading edge of healthy self control.
(Note: I explore this idea in detail in several posts on my new breathing technique Flow Breathing. Please find them all HERE.)
Awareness of the whole Self can even improve the rich and restive activity of doing nothing at all!
Let's say you can readily engage the above awareness tools. How do you apply those to practicing your instrument?
Tricks for being in your body while you practice music-
I have found a few tricks to ensure being present in your body while practicing.
1- Multi-task; do something else while playing your instrument:
Playing a simple scale should be second-nature for most players. Reading while playing is a good test for being present.
While playing a simple scale from memory, read words from a book. Perhaps you could place the book on your music stand for accessibility.
Multi-tasking is not as unhealthy as you may think. A person who is fully present in their body can perform multiple tasks well by breaking them into small pieces implemented successively.
Another multitasking exercise is to slowly and consciously walk around the room while playing. Or if you feel confident enough, walk up some stairs.
If you cannot read and play simultaneously then you are too focused on either task rather than being naturally present in your body while doing both.
(Jugglers for example multitask all the time yet remain present to do so well. You cannot juggle and not be present in your body.)
2- Sing and conduct a phrase without your instrument, then play with the same physical presence:
By singing and conducting you are using two physical motions and coordinating them. I like to do this while standing because I can feel myself from the feet up as I conduct and sing.
Employing your whole body to imagine expressing music ensures being present while actually doing so.
Next, pick up your instrument and translate the singing and conducting through your body into your instrument.
- 3- Notice the quality of your breathing while doing something else.
Pretend or mimic playing a difficult passage of music, either holding your instrument or not, as you watch your breathing to see if it clenches or tightens.
You can also try monitoring your breathing as you do other activities such as the motion of standing or sitting or walking up stairs.
Although awareness of your breath is not a cure all for body awareness it can help you be present.
Using the above exercises you will learn the feeling of being present and playing music with your whole self. These examples will challenge those of us who leave body behind to play the instrument.
After a bit of concentration and practice you will be able to pick up your instrument and play a phrase while remaining fully present in your body.