As a flutist I always accepted that I would feel pain in my neck and shoulders. It just seemed the price I needed to pay in order to play music. When I took some time off during vacations the pain would subside, but as soon as I started playing again it would start. There was a particular period a few years after my second child was born that I found myself getting ready for a recital in a particularly urgent manner. I felt like I needed to catch up with time lost, so I practiced longer hours and more intensely. I didn’t listen to my body saying to take it easy, instead I bulldozed ahead. I started experiencing pain, tingling and weakness in my fingers and hand, but tried to will it away. It didn’t work. It kept on getting worse to the point where I couldn’t play.
I went to a sports medicine doctor who diagnosed me with thoracic outlet syndrome. I was referred to an orthopedic doctor who recommended that I take it easy, don’t play as much and “sit back with a glass of wine and a Barry White album.” This felt unbelievably dismissive. I pursued it further and got a nerve induction test done to see if there was damage to the nerves. There was nothing significant to be found. The doctors did not find anything that indicated an orthopedic or neurological problem so my next step was to go to physical therapy. By then I was feeling depressed with not being able to play and finding no reliable understanding from the medical field. Physical therapy did help with the acute condition I was in. But I felt I needed something to help me understand why my body was having problems, not just going somewhere to be fixed.
I started going to Alexander Technique lessons. This was the first time I began to understand that my problem arose from how I was using my body. I began to feel relief and began to play again with less pain. Another two years after discovering the benefits of my Alexander Technique lessons, I received a flyer advertising Summerflute. In addition to it being a chance to perform in a master class with Finnish flutist Liisa Ruoho, the week would consist of Body Mapping Workshops. I signed up to attend as a performer. This was the first time I had been amongst a group of flutists that cared about each other’s health and wellbeing as much as their playing. I took the Body Mapping classes and everything changed after that. I began to understand why I was having problems. I realized that my thoracic outlet syndrome was based on a misperception or mismapping of the sternoclavicular joint. In fact I did not even know there was a mobile joint connecting my collarbone and sternum. I also realized that my idea of support was based on a belief of muscular tension and holding rather than balance and structure. There were so many revelations regarding my body’s structure and movement that I became very interested in Body Mapping. It was empowering to know there was a way for me to “fix” myself. After having attended several Summerflutes, a workshop with Barbara Conable, Andover Educator retreats, and lessons with Amy Likar, I became a trainee and completed my training in August 2010 to become a licensed Andover Educator.
Now I have the good fortune to work with musicians. I love working with students and musicians to help them relieve their pain and play better. I love the “ah ha moments” when something clicks. It could be “Oh I didn’t know the lungs went up past the collarbone” Imagine how that helps with breathing. Or it could be “Oh I didn’t know my head balances on top of my spine that high!” Imagine how that helps with relieving neck tension. I love the process of guiding students and musicians through their journey of understanding how the body is structured and designed to move. It’s exciting and so important.
There are many musicians who are suffering in their playing and singing. Not only are they hurting but they are also not able to reach their potential as musicians. The amazing thing about Body Mapping is that when you are using your body in an efficient way, your body starts to work better. You actually start sounding better.
When I teach even my youngest students sometimes a simple verbal reminder to think about the balance of the head on the spine, or the hip joints can make a huge difference in sound and expressiveness. It’s incredible. We store so much tension and most of us don’t even know it. I have also worked with some very accomplished musicians who have made significant changes in their playing by studying body mapping. Musicians spend so much time mastering details that sometimes it’s important to step back and reassess how we’re doing it.
Body Mapping is not a one time cure. It requires consistent attention. But it’s worth it. I’m always learning something new about my body and how I play, and I’m constantly correcting and refining my body map. It’s just part of being a musician.