How 5 Days of Constructive Rest Improved My Playing
I've been in a slump. My playing has not felt as natural or comfortable recently as I've experienced before. Although my good intentions of feeling grounded, aware, and free are always with me, they have faded into habits that are not completely efficient.
I'm taking my own advice about being in a rut. I'm using frustration as a chance to be curious and excited for the opportunity to improve, and taking action steps to begin climbing out.
In searching for a means of reconnecting with positive habits and natural alignment, I turned to constructive rest, a practice utilized by teachers and students of the Alexander Technique.
After sharing my excitement, I decided to commit to five days of constructive rest, utilizing the free 30-day Constructive Rest Challenge from BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone.
I got on the floor with a book under my head and began observing. In true case-of-the-Mondays fashion, I fell asleep moments later. When I woke up, I remembered to feel the movement of my ribs with my hands while on the floor. I discovered that I am trying to make movements happen, rather than watching them. To me, it felt that I was adding tension to the abdominals and ribs to "puff my chest out" in order to get air in. I instead began to watch the journey of the air going into my mouth, and appreciated the movements that followed. In playing afterwards, I experimented with the my habit of abdominal squeezing upon inhalation and the watching-the-air method. I was able to get more air, but more importantly, I could play longer phrases with greater freedom when I stopped adding tension right from the beginning of the breath. I utilized the dugout position, dugout-to-standing, and standing on one leg, and I found much more ease in breathing and resonance!
I forgot to do it. And after my two-hour rehearsal left me feeling uncomfortable and fatigued, I set a phone reminder so I stop myself on busy Tuesdays and remember to do it!
I recorded Altes #5 for Etude of the Week on this day, and noticed myself getting nervous and uncomfortable during early takes. I was rushing myself to get a good take before the sun went down so I could have natural lighting near the window, but the pressure to get it done quickly was not helping me in any way. I decided to pause for Constructive Rest before continuing on, and Imogen Ragone's 30 Days of Constructive Rest e-mail contained the focus words: "I have time," which were appropriate to say the least! I stayed awake this time, and I focused on feeling the movements of breath through the pelvic floor, allowing movement at the hip joints and freedom in the legs. When I came back to record, I felt more of an effortless uprightedness and had an easier time re-focusing as thoughts of doubt came and went. I even remembered to move while breathing. Strangely, I also noticed how intensely my knees were shaking and gripping! My awareness has been too small to realize this was happening before! Keeping the knees in my awareness allowed me to notice that the shaking occurs when the thoughts of doubts creep in, and I could choose to move to feel more grounded!
Today I spent time practicing natural inhalations during constructive rest, observing what I'm doing once I reach the top of the inhalation and proceed to exhalation. I noticed that I tense my knees and ankles, for one! (No wonder I was doing it while recording my etude yesterday!) Secondly, I found myself tensing the abdominals just as I transition to exhalation. I can let go once I begin exhaling by reminding myself of length from the sternum to the pelvis. (A cue from Laura Dwyer's Yoga sequence!) I also found myself tensing my upper ribs and chest when trying to inhale, just as I found on Monday. Changing back to observing the journey of air entering through the nostrils or mouth allowed the inhale to occur. The result is that I feel less muscular action, and it feels strange to be doing less! However, I get the most air, and the most regulated exhalation when I do this. (Another example of something I re-learn over and over again!) This time when I came to standing, I was able to better perceive all the points of balance, including my hips, knees and ankles. I found my right knee feeling very unstable compared to the left, and experimented with my right hip joint. I found that I am tucking a bit on this side! When I come into balance at the hip joints, my knees and ankles feel free and stable!
Today's cue of being "without compression" prompted an immediate release in my neck and upper body. I was able to release upward while feeling a release in the back of my head, as well! This was my first prompt when I was originally introduced to the Alexander Technique at Gary Schocker's summer master class in 2009! I was happy to experience this again, and was reminded of the clarity and calm it brings. I also find that cues reminding me to release anywhere in the head, face and neck also encourage freedom in the throat.
Here's What I Learned Overall
1. Committing to Constructive Rest was as simple as remembering to lay on the floor. (Or as simple as setting a phone reminder.) It did not take tremendous effort for me to begin observing once I was on the floor, and I discovered (or re-discovered) something important that helped my playing every time. More importantly, I had a chance to pause without my instrument in hand, and discovered what I am actually doing versus what I think I am doing.
2. The act of doing constructive rest led me to make positive choices through the rest of the day, not just related to posture and practicing. I found myself considering nutritional choices, feeling inspired to exercise, and engaging in positive mental thoughts more often.
3. Having a new cue or helpful phrase made a tremendous difference in allowing me to experience a fresh perspective each day. Click here to learn about BodyIntelligence by Imogen Ragone, and to sign up for the free 30-Day Constructive Rest Challenge!