Feet planted on the floor, spines straightened and supported, hands relaxed and eyes closed as the first meditation of the Mindfulness for Musicians lecture took place in Knuth Hall.
Stage fright, creative blocks, performance injuries, and critique of practices and performances are only a few of the anxiety-ridden obstacles that could interfere with a musician’s life. Psychotherapist Kylie Svenson is providing a four-part lecture series on the practice of mindfulness for musicians from 1:10-2 p.m. on Wednesdays in Knuth Hall.
Mindfulness of the body is being aware of the sensations occurring in one’s body in the present moment. The senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing and proprioception, also known as the “sixth sense,” are usually dismissed as minor bodily functions, but being mindful of such sensations can help build a relationship with emotions and help with one’s introspection.
According to Svenson, who has had musicians as clients before, musicians tend to do well in psychoanalytic therapy and mindful-based therapies because they tend to be more sensitive to their environment and contemplation. Introspection — the examination of one’s emotions and thoughts — is the key to being aware of the internal process that could be creating blocks to growth and resolving internal conflict, such as fear.
Eighty percent of professional musicians and 95 percent of string players have performance injuries at some point in their career, Svenson said.
SF State student Jose Rotiz found the meditations helpful for clearing the stress away before practicing his thrash metal riffs. Rotiz said he attended the lectures to learn mindfulness for himself and practice the methods. He found the basic body scan that Svenson led was most helpful because it allowed him to clear his mind before he practiced techniques.
Svenson had played the violin for 18 years when she developed her injury. She had developed a bad technical habit relatively early in her practice, and with eight-hours practice days and insufficient breaks, Svenson said that her bad habits began to wear on her body. Despite her constant pain, she kept playing and soon was so severely injured by her practices that she was told she might never be able to play again. From doctor visits, physical therapy, acupuncture and a massage therapist, it wasn’t until Svenson tried the Alexander Technique — a form a self-exploration — that she began to heal.
Years later, Svenson said that after visiting a psychoanalytic therapist she noticed her pain disappeared while she played. “It was a lot harder to violate it by letting it suffer as I played through the pain. I noticed my anxiety and frustration, but it no longer consumed my attention to the point at which it overwhelmed the attention I needed to pay to what I sounded like,” Svenson said.
SF State student William Calderon-Lopez found the body awareness exercise where they sat in their playing positions most beneficial. During the training, he realized a tension in his arm and hand from the weight of his 15-pound trombone with a handle that barely fit his hand. “As a musician, you subconsciously ignore the pain because you are so focused on playing,” he said.
Svenson said in her last lecture that the relationship musicians have with fear is one of their most significant problems. Svenson explained that some people push away fear but, “mindfulness helps you live in the present rather than ignoring your fears,” she said.
There are two more lectures left that will cover stage fright, fear and pain based on the musician’s life.