Technique

My Explorations of Yoga as a Pianist & Teacher

Each year during the cold and snowy winters of the Midwest U.S., I miss being active outdoors. The last couple of years, to scratch that itch, I’ve started getting into yoga.

I chose yoga because it has so many health benefits — both physically and mentally — some of which are particularly useful to musicians. I have already noticed a degree of improvement in mindfulness and bodily awareness — both crucial skills for any musician.

In this post, I’d like to share a bit about my explorations of yoga over the past couple of years and about a few resources that have helped me learn.

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Photo: Me, inspired to invent a new yoga pose during a trip earlier this year to the Joshua Tree National Park in California. 

Let’s start with the practical: How do I fit yoga into my routine?

yoga studio appI like doing yoga in the evening, as a way to wind down before going to bed. Sometimes, I’ll also do a few stretches in the morning or at various points in the day when I feel I need it.

I’ve been using a wonderful app that I highly recommend: Yoga Studio (currently $3.99, and worth every penny!).

The app contains quite a variety of workouts to choose from: beginner, intermediate, advanced; 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes.

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Once you choose a workout, the app guides you through the poses using voice prompts and visuals.

ipadMini_white_1I love being able to do yoga from home on my iPad Mini! Personally, I find that I’m much more likely to workout if I can do it from home. I’ve also benefitted from being able to take my iPad with me during out-of-town trips. I’ve been known to do yoga in my hotel room during conferences. :)

Despite being a complete newbie to yoga, over the past two years I feel I’ve been able to learn and make great progress using this app. Stretching and gently challenging my body feels great. I’m working on incorporating what I’m learning from yoga into my piano playing, too.

yoga for singers book-coverI’ve recently read a couple of books relating to yoga specifically for musicians. The first one is called Yoga For Singers, by Linda Lister. I am not a singer; however, this book is appropriate for any musician interested in yoga. The opening chapters offer introductory information about yoga and its benefits.

The middle chapters present a large selection of poses or “asanas”. Each asana is accompanied by a photograph and well-written description for executing the pose. Within the final chapters, the author offers a handful of “vinyasas” — series of poses — that target specific areas (such as spine stretchers, rib spreaders, or spine soothers) or may be appropriate backstage before a performance.

Throughout the book, musicians are quoted discussing about how yoga has impacted their well-being and musicianship. The writing is entertaining and pleasant to read. I highly recommend this book!

musicians yogaThe second book is called Musician’s Yoga, by Mia Olson. This book is similar to Yoga For Singers: it presents information about yoga, various breathing techniques, and posture/alignment before presenting a variety of asanas. Instead of photographs, Musician’s Yoga contains line art illustrations, which I found to be less helpful towards understanding the more subtle aspects of executing the poses. The writing throughout the book, although certainly fine writing, was not as inviting or warm as in the previous book. Nevertheless, I found it tremendously helpful to read another yoga master’s perspective and description of the poses I have been attempting to master using the Yoga Studio app.

Now that it is getting warm outside once again, I’m transitioning from my yoga routine into a running routine. Wish me luck! :)

Please share in the comments: Have you experimented with yoga before? What benefits have you experienced?

11 thoughts on “My Explorations of Yoga as a Pianist & Teacher”

  1. Joy,
    Thank-you for posting about yoga as a companion to playing the piano. I agree. My yoga practice has brought more awareness of my breath while I play. I have a few breath holders for students and pondered how I could help them breathe with the phrases in their music. I have been doing breathing away from the piano and with five finger scales. I hope in time I will see less tension. If you would like to see more of what I’m doing I posted here.
    http://busybpiano.blogspot.com/2016/04/periscope-16-talking-to-ingo-r.html

    1. Gabriele, thanks so much for sharing your link, and for bringing up the role of the breath in piano playing. I agree that breath is inextricably linked to the release of tension and also to expression through music. An important topic!

  2. Hi Joy,
    I was amazed to see your post on “Yoga” because I’ve recently been thinking of trying it! I’ve had back problems for years because of my anxiety causing so much tension in my muscles. I have exercises from therapy that I continue to do but feel like I need something more. The tension keeps me from reaching my full potential as a musician.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. I’m glad to hear this post is timely for you, Carol! I hope you will try out some yoga and will experience some benefits towards your well-being and musicianship!

  3. Are you familiar with PianoYoga?

    http://www.piano-yoga.com/blog/?utm_source=Copy+of+Piano-Yoga+Club+4+May+2016&utm_campaign=Piano-Yoga+Club&utm_medium=email
    The founder of Piano-Yoga® GéNIA was born in the Ukraine and was taught piano by her great-grandmother, the renowned pianist Regina Horowitz and went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Trinity College of Music. GéNIA made her London debut as a concert pianist ……….As a music educator, following her passion for yoga and alternative disciplines, GéNIA developed Piano-Yoga®, a multi-dimensional method of piano playing, and gives masterclasses and lectures based on this holistic approach. GéNIA’s first Piano-Yoga® book “Transform your hands: A complete ten week course of piano exercises” was published in 2009 (eBook and paperback).

    1. I was also going to recommend you check out piano yoga. I was lucky enough to study performance and pedagogy with Genia when I was living in London some years ago and we are still great friends. Though I studied with her before she developed piano yoga, she always emphasised the importance of breath in playing and awareness of posture. I highly recommend her book “Transform your Hands” for developing stretch. Over time, these exercises really did transform my hands.

  4. I’ve been practicing yoga nearly every day for three years and couldn’t live without it. The past two years have been personally very challenging; yoga has kept me sane and grounded. Interestingly, one of my students is into meditation. She teaches me how to meditate while I teach her yoga. In the past year we’ve developed the habit of reserving the final five minutes of her weekly lesson for a short vinyasa followed by meditation. Apart from the fact that she’s crazy talented and a sweet girl I look forward to these mini sessions with her each week.

  5. Hi Joy… Lovely post on yoga. I’ve been practicing yoga for about 8 years. Apart from just loving it, feeling balanced, healthy and grounded , it also really compliments learning an instrument. I find it helps with body awareness at the piano and posture. I teach this also to my students. You might be interested to check out a dvd that my teacher made ‘Yoga for Musicians’ by Penelope Roskell recorded at Trinity College of Music , London. It is very different to yoga on the mat but also really good. Will be a UK based product but I believe you can find it on Amazon.

  6. thank you for bringing up this topic!
    Proper posture at the piano could be considered an extension of ” Mountain Pose”… all the vertebrae lined up and using diaphragmatic breathing.
    Try having your students do proper breathing while doing a familiar exercise
    ( or Hanon!) and they will develop stamina for much longer sessions

    best regards

    David Schultz, M.D.
    Monptpelier, Va

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