Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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« AT Question: When I'm out for my usual walk around the neighborhood, I tend to put my hands on my hips up the challenging hills, and find myself leaning forward. This doesn't make any sense, but I find myself automatically doing it and correcting myself. Any suggestions? ~Diane | Main
Wednesday
Oct092013

AT Question: I always have pain in my neck, shoulder and elbow due to flute playing and other activities. How do I stop the pain? ~Kim

AT Answer: This is a wonderful question, and one I hold near and dear to my heart. As a flutist myself, I’ve experienced pain in my neck, shoulders, and arms.

Pain can be debilitating to musicians and cause musicians to not play as much as they’d like or give up playing entirely. It can also lead to believing that there is nothing that can be done and that you just have to live with the pain. This is not the case.

The Alexander Technique (AT) is a proven, long lasting solution to pain.

Most often, when we want pain to go away we think that we have to “do” something to make that happen. As an Alexander Technique teacher, I take a different approach. To make the pain stop, you must stop what is causing the pain. Since the pain is only occurring when you are engaged in an activity such as playing the flute, let’s look at what can be causing the pain in this activity. 

From an AT perspective, there are many reasons for which pain can occur:

  1. Holding the position needed to play the flute, which is quite awkward
  2. Using too much force in playing and holding too much tension in the body
  3. Attention only on the music and having very little awareness on yourself. This can lead to a ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude (i.e. playing the music at any cost to the body)
  4. Issues with breathing and sustaining phrases
  5. Habits of posture
  6. Habits of repetitive movement

If any or all of these issues sound familiar, chances are they could be causing you pain.

The Alexander Technique offers you tools to identify what is causing the pain, and how to make changes so that you can stop the pain from happening.

Let’s take a look at a few of the examples above, and how the Alexander Technique offers a solution.

Issue #1: Holding the position needed to play the flute

How does this cause pain? One of the biggest culprits of neck pain associated with playing the flute is “meeting the flute halfway.” This involves bringing the flute up to play and craning your neck forward to meet the flute. This habit may have started when you were an eager little kid learning how to balance the flute. Meeting the flute halfway not only causes severe neck strain, it changes the relationship of the head and neck and places tremendous strain on the shoulders and back.

AT Solution: Standing with your flute in one hand at your side, think about how you are standing. Two feet on the floor, neck and shoulders are neutral, and head is balanced gently on top of the neck. Conceive in your mind that you have lots of space around you, including up above your head. It is possible to expand into this space and there is lots of room to breathe. Before you bring your flute up to play, have a conscious thought to not strain your neck forward. Continue to think of your entire self from head to feet. As you bring your flute up, use your arms to bring the flute all the way to you. Your habit of straining your neck may kick in. If it does, stop and start over. Continue to think, “I am not straining my neck forward.” Continue to practice this as you play. You may find that this habit is so engrained, that you fall back into the habit of pulling down after a while. That’s OK! Just keep using your conscious thought to bring awareness to how you are using your body to play the flute.

Issue #2: Using too much force in playing and holding too much tension in the body

How does this cause pain? Playing the flute can cause a fixed position in the body. It’s also a full body activity that is extremely complicated on both a mental and physical level. Our culture teaches us that if something is difficult, we have to work harder to achieve it. All of this combined, we can accumulate many bad habits as musicians that lead to pain. As music becomes more challenging, the musician may work harder physically to attempt to accomplish the fast runs or the high notes. This force places extra stain on the body, which can result in muscle tension and breathing issues.

AT Solution: As you play, bring awareness to your entire body. How are you holding the flute? How are you breathing? Is there any tension in your body that you don’t need? Ask yourself, “Can I do less?” and see what happens. You may notice your body responding by releasing some tension in your back or shoulders. Continue asking yourself to do less while still playing. You may find that you were using a lot more effort and tension than is actually needed.

These are two examples of how the Alexander Technique can help you eliminate pain by:

  1. Recognizing what is causing the pain
  2. Using conscious thought to stop the habitual pattern of tension
  3. Using conscious thought to direct your body in a more organized, expansive, and poised manner

Finally, as with any activity, resting is super important. If you are experiencing pain, conscious rest position is a wonderful antidote. Click here to find out how to do this. Incorporate it into your daily routine and also after you play your flute.

In Health and Music,

Heather

 

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