Nicole Newman: On Using Yoga to Develop Sustained Focused Attention, and Practice Getting into the Zone.

You’ve probably seen some articles in the last few years about how bad sitting in a chair is for you (unless you’re sitting in the Hawaii Chair of course, in which case I guess you’re ok?).

But whether it’s teaching from a piano bench (or in front of your laptop) all day long, double rehearsals, 6-hour operas, or even long drives to and from orchestra gigs, musicians’ lives can involve quite a bit of sitting.

So does that mean we should consider adding extensions to the legs on our pianos, so we can play while standing? Well, no – although a part of me would reeeeally love to see that (even though I’m not sure exactly what would happen with pedaling…)!

Despite it having been around forever, the popularity of yoga does seem to be trending upwards, and in recent years, I’ve been hearing more and more musicians specifically mention yoga as an important part of their musical lives – in warmups, practice, and before auditions or performances.

So this seemed like a good time to chat with someone who has immersed themself in both the music and yoga worlds, who can share some insights on how to bring the two together, and why one might want to.

Whether you’re a total yoga newb, or experienced yoga veteran, I hope you’ll enjoy today’s chat/demonstration!

Meet Nicole Newman

Nicole Newman is a flutist-turned-yoga educator, curriculum developer, and educational consultant for the Colorado Symphony.

Given the visual nature of yoga, this will be a two-part episode. In Part 1 (audio), Nicole and I chat about some of the mental and performance-related benefits of yoga, and in Part 2 (video), you’ll see Nicole demonstrate specific exercises that she recommends for specific instrumentalists, as we’re joined by Met Opera percussionist Rob Knopper.

* * *

Part 1: The mental and performance benefits of yoga

  • The goal of yoga – and how it isn’t just about the body, but fundamentally about developing the capacity for sustained focus and concentration. (3:26)
  • Why do yoga people always seem to be talking about breathing? Like, why is breathing so integral to the practice of yoga? (8:03)
  • The difference between “unbridled flexibility” and “functional flexibility”. (12:15)
  • Nicole’s 3-pronged warmup (takes less than 5 minutes). (13:38)

* * *

Part 2: A Q&A and demonstration of specific yoga exercises for musicians

  • How to free up the shoulder blades (:06)
  • How long should we hold these positions? Is there such a thing as too long? (4:07)
  • Recommended stretches for the neck (5:41)
  • Modifications for those with wrist pain (8:55)
  • Suggestions for strengthening hips and lower back muscles (11:59)
  • Best exercises for lower back pain before/after practice (19:14)
  • Importance of breathing – and an app recommendation (21:11)
  • Why am I not getting more flexible????? (22:54)
  • How to achieve more tension-free playing (as a woodwind player) (25:55)
  • How to use yoga to get into a more optimal mental and physical state before performance (30:16)
  • Nicole demonstrates a short yoga sequence that you can follow along with at home (35:22)
  • How to learn more (44:37)

Where to find Nicole

If you have any follow-up questions, or are interested in workshops or personalized recommendations, you can send a note to Nicole via her website: Yoga for the Arts

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, with time and performance experience, the nerves would just go away.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

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