In Part 1 of this series, I argued that body awareness is imperative for pianists, and explored the origin of the so-called “mind/body split.” In this post you’ll learn how to apply mindfulness to the body and begin dissolving the mind/body split.
There’s a simple way to dissolve the mind/body split, which involves regularly bringing awareness to the body.
Minding The Body
In the guided audio exercise I’ll lead you through below, you’ll move your awareness through different parts of your body, giving attention to the sensations of each part, and accepting whatever you find, as best you can.
In the mindfulness tradition, this is usually called “body scanning,” but I like to call it “minding the body.” To “mind” something means to pay close attention to it. According to Webster’s, to “mind” something also means, “to pay obedient heed to,” “to be concerned about,” and “to give protective care to.”
Each of these definitions is relevant. We pianists may not pay heed to the body. And while we may be “concerned about” and “give protective care” to the bodies of our children or our partner, we may not treat our body with the same care.
Body scanning – minding the body – doesn’t mean thinking or obsessing about your body. Rather, it involves tuning in to your inner body – an awareness each of us had as children, but may have lost touch with.
On a side note, body scanning is an important component of “mindful eating.” Check out a mindful eating course that I developed several years ago – the download is free.
Fears of Minding the Body
When you first place attention on the inner body, the mind may come up a million and one reasons why you shouldn’t. You may notice thoughts like “This is a waste of time,” or “Nothing is happening.” The mind gets nervous when it realizes it may no longer receive 100% of our attention.
Do your best to recognize any fearful or judgmental thoughts for what they are – just thoughts. During this exercise, let them go each time they arise, and return your attention to the body. This may feel like it takes some effort at first, but it becomes easier.
What if you’re currently experiencing discomfort or even pain, say, from a musical injury? Believe it or not, plenty of research shows that applying mindfulness to the experience of physical pain is one of the most effective ways to reduce your distress.
Intro to Guided Audio Exercise
The guided audio exercise lasts for about 20 minutes, but once you learn how, you can apply the techniques you’ll learn to bring mindfulness to your body no matter what you’re doing (like practicing).
Before listening, make sure that you’ll be left undisturbed. Turn off anything that might make noise or distract you, like your cell phone. That said, if complete silence isn’t possible, don’t let it stop you from continuing. As you develop greater mindfulness skills, rather than being an obstacle, outside noises will be yet another opportunity to enhance your mindfulness.
I recommend wearing loose, soft clothes that match the temperature of your environment. For comfort’s sake, remove your shoes.
For this exercise sit in a comfortable chair, or lie down. If you do lie down, I suggest supporting your body with two rolled up towels, one placed under your neck, and the other under your knees.
When you’re ready to begin, close your eyes, and start the recording:
When the exercise has ended, check to see if there are thoughts judging the experience you just had, such as “I didn’t get very calm or relaxed,” or “I’m not getting the hang of this,” or “I fell asleep and screwed up,” or “this is boring,” or “I wasn’t as mindful as I should have been,” or “this takes too long.”
See these judgmental thoughts as just thoughts, and let them go.
Now, gradually begin moving your body. Wiggle your fingers. Wiggle your toes. Rotate your hands and feet. Rock your body a little.
If you’ve been lying down, sit up very slowly.
Open your eyes.
Take a moment to reflect on this exercise. Was it difficult to keep your awareness on the body? Did you keep going back to thoughts? If so, that’s what the mind/body split feels like from inside.
Take another moment to embrace your experience. Open to your body as it is, right now. Allow yourself to be as you are.
If you enjoyed this exercise, practice it regularly for a few days or a week or two, until you get the hang of it.
Bring the mindfulness and calm that you discovered in this exercise into whatever activity you do next – especially practicing the piano!