Do you sometimes wonder if you will ever enjoy sharing the music you love in a performance situation? Are you stressed, bored, spaced out? Do your hands sweat, does your bow shake, or are you short of breath? Do you long to be physically at ease, quiet in your mind and free from pain?
You are not alone!
The Breathing Bow is a mindful approach to string playing that can help transform stage fright into stage presence. It draws on breath and yoga-based techniques to promote stability and flow and teaches us not to override the nervous system in pursuit of performance or perfection.
Since 2010, I have been coaching string players all over the world who suffer from stage fright and tension. In one to one sessions, groups and workshops both online and in person, I offer ways of practicing which involve deep listening, discernment, observation, curiosity, kindness and allowing. By integrating the whole body from the feet to the crown of the head, physical freedom and mental space can be enjoyed and injuries avoided. As you cease trying to fix your ‘technique’ and your ‘interpretation’, music and movement can begin to unfold wondrously and effortlessly, moment by moment.
The key to my approach is to work with and not against the body, asking ourselves simple but key questions such as: Where can I rest? How do I feel? By seeking a balanced and harmonious relationship between gravity and rebound, expansion and release, effort and non-doing, and inner listening and outer expression, it is possible to rediscover joy in practice and performance.
Movement is the song of the body..... The song, if you care to listen to it, is beauty... We sing when we are happy and the body goes with it like the waves in the sea.
Why the breath?
Through the breath, we have our very own portable wave for inspiration. Whether seeking release, an effortless gesture, a sense of balance or a beautiful phrase, it is there, right inside of us. Right here. Right now.
As we pay attention to, observe, and sometimes amplify the experience of the breath in the body, we become intimate with the relationship between
Taking in and letting go
Inspiration and expression
Opening and closing
Tension and release
Receiving and giving
Allowing our breath to come and go freely without pushing or clinging, whether in the shared space of the concert hall with our audience or alone in our practice room, is a profound way to feel connected. The breath breathes us and the music plays through us. The breath invites our audience in. We breathe with them. They breathe with us. We are all being breathed. No-one is performing and we all belong together in this moment.
The breath is a gateway to feel our interdependence.
- Jack Kornfield
A personal note on yoga
I have explored many physical disciplines, including Alexander Technique, Qi Gong, Body Mapping and Feldenkrais. All of them have impacted and informed my playing and teaching. It is, however, the humanistic approach of my yoga teacher, Peter Blackaby, with whom I have been working for thirty years, that provides the foundation of my commitment to integrating body, heart and mind.
Yoga is not exercise. It is certainly not performance. It is not about pushing, pulling, fixing or stretching, but rather releasing, and re-mapping movements to find fluidity and grace. ‘Posture’ - good and bad - is a myth. A free, mobile spine is essential in everything we do from the smallest shift to being at the tip of the bow on the furthest string. We are not meant to ‘sit up straight’, nor to hold our shoulders 'back and down'. Each movement requires the gentle compliance the whole body, and when this compliance is alive in all our gestures, the mere physical experience of playing an instrument ceases to be exhausting and becomes a true pleasure.
A deep bow to my teachers..
If anyone embodied the unity of mind, body and heart, and indeed soul, it is surely Casals, and all my musical influences return, in some way, to him: My cello teachers, Johannes Goritzki and Timothy Eddy (whose teachers were Gaspar Cassado and Bernard Greenhouse, both of whom studied with Casals), Steven Isserlis and his teacher, the Casals student Jane Cowan with whom I also studied as a child, Sandor Vegh who played with Casals and with whom I worked and played in Prussia Cove, Sascha Schneider who conducted us in the early days with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and who played with Casals and Rudolf Serkin. Even my yoga teacher's teacher, Vanda Scaravelli, held house concerts for Casals in her home in Italy. And so it goes on through the web of generations and cultures from Hungary, Italy, Austria, Spain and Germany and England to the United States. Each one of these musicians were committed in their own way to simplicity, nature and peace, both inner and outer, and it is my deepest wish to honour this lineage as best I can.