As a professional cellist, people constantly ask me if I have gotten injured from ‘over’-practicing. While that has never happened, I have suffered from injuries outside of cello that severely interfered with my career.
Back in 2009, I went sledding and crashed into a tree. ‘Luckily’ I missed my spine by an inch but I did end up with a broken and dislocated rib, a cracked disc, and damaged muscle and cartilage. Yes, OOF. Ouch and Oh god, what am I going to do now?! Wrong answer: not listening to body and playing the cello on heavy painkillers… Right answer: listening to body and, YOGA!
Okay, that might sound really black and white but I do believe that when one is extremely determined and focused, they are at risk of denying and ignoring issues that could possibly be in the way of their ‘path’. That’s an interesting one isn’t it? The path, because we like to write our own path and not be told what our path might ‘have’ to be for an undetermined amount of time.
Obviously I wasn’t able to completely deny or ignore the effects of this sledding snafu but even within my limitations, I still didn’t listen. In music, as an advanced student you relearn how to ‘listen’. What is honest listening? It is about actively listening (not relying on muscle memory), analyzing and then: adjusting! That’s right, adjusting. So not only do you need to learn how to listen and then analyze but mostly what you do after that!
For me, at first, there was no other option but not to play for a while (months..). Meanwhile I did a lot of Physical Therapy, which hurt like hell and sadly wasn’t freeing me up or helping me. I am not saying that they weren’t great, I was a patient at a special spine clinic at the hospital and they were very knowledgable and willing to figure it out. It just didn’t help me.
Once I was able to move a little bit, I started playing recitals on pain killers…if any of my students today would do that, I’d forbid them. It’s similar to taking sudafed, aspirine, and all the other medicine from the self medication isle in the pharmacy when you are suffering from a cold. The better thing to do would be to drink hot lemonades, rest, be sick, get sicker and then get better! Of course, you can take an aspirin when you have a thumping headache. Of course, you can push through every once in a while. But not all the time and not for a prolonged amount of time.
After a year or so of painful playing, and this is no fun when you average around eight-hours-a-day.., one of my friends asked me to join her to a Bikram Yoga class. Well, that definitely wasn’t love at first try. It was stinky, long, uncomfortable, and I felt really out of place between all those yogis that just seemed to thrive in the unbearable heat! But, my muscles were tingling and after going every day for ten days (that was what the beginner package was), I could play a little longer without my back completely cramping up! Wow. While I had never given up on the recovery process, I realized that this tiny bit of relief meant so much to me and my cello practice. I used to have a fairly flexible back, having danced ballet and all, but after the accident, my back was so stiff that I couldn’t even think of doing a backbend. My range of motion was very little, I could bend sideways only an inch or so, backwards?? not, just not. When you watch my backbending pictures now, it is hard to imagine that I started out like that.
After a few months of going to class regularly, I made such massive improvements that it really became a necessity for my career to practice yoga. I practiced this style of yoga for about a year-and-a-half while I was still studying, but meanwhile, I also enrolled in a class at the university: Hatha Yoga for Musicians with prof. Robert Swedberg (current UM Music students, go take the class!). That was the first time that I was introduced to a different kind of yoga, and while I did really love the heat in the Bikram studio, the freedom and playfulness of these Hatha sessions just spoke to me!
The Hatha classes ended at the university and I had to stop going to the Bikram studio as well because school was insane and I was also a 10th year university student 😉 But thankfully I knew how to practice a few things at home to relieve my back cramping (more about that later in a different post), enough to make it through the rest of my degree.
When I had to move back for two years to my home country of The Netherlands because of a Fulbright stipulation, which meant, moving away from the world that I had carved out for myself, and leaving my fiancee behind in the USA, I crashed. I didn’t understand why it had to happen like that and just broke down. Cello didn’t feel good because it is so connected to my soul, and my soul was taking a hard hit. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy anything I was doing. Finally, after almost a year, I decided to find a yoga studio because I knew that no matter what, it would make me feel better.
It did! I started learning about the spiritual side of yoga and how it was healing for my soul. I already had the experience of ‘healing’ a physical injury but this was a whole new world for me. Of course, where I practiced and with whom had a tremendous impact on that but none the less, yoga once again, had something in store for me that I couldn’t wait to try out!
Of course it makes sense that when you stretch and strengthen your body on a daily basis, it brings empowerment to the soul. But it is much more than that. At Open Yoga, there was absolute freedom of spirituality. Personally, I loved going into the room, lighting a candle and setting an intention for class. Learning how to meditate by simply ‘just doing it’ felt great. Of course not all the time and sometimes you wonder, where in the world do these thoughts come from?!?! but it is so very good to learn methods to deal with these ‘restrictions’ while still having enough freedom to explore.
During a very special ‘challenge’ that the studio organized: yoga for 21 days straight, weekdays at 6am and weekend days at 7/8am, I also learned how to chant for the first time. WOW. This is something that I want to get into much more. As a professional (dreamer and) musician, the power of sound for me is immense. The effect of 20 people in one room, chanting together and freeing their inner voice is just magical. I am sure that the people who were in the room with me that day and that are reading this blog will hover for a moment and cherish the memory. During this challenge, which really didn’t feel much like a challenge but more like a journey, is also when the NoMatYogis first met! 🙂
So, that sums up my love for yoga so far! In the short period of time of practice I have already experienced the healing of an injury, started carving a path toward soothing my soul and have found tons of soul friends. Every day is different and the way we practice goes in waves too but I know that I will stick to this for the rest of my life!