Breath and bow vinyasa for violinists

I was almost at the last card in the journey through my Inspiration for Violinists card deck, when it felt like a good time to revisit a card about breathing. Prana, a Sanskrit word, in English is defined as life-force or breath of life. Pranayama, written about in the Vedic texts going back before the common era, is a breathing practice for good health and spiritual liberation.1

In my yoga practice this week, pranayama was requested by another class attendee. The yogi, who teaches from a spiritual perspective, used the time prior to savasana to help us all relax, calm our energies and practice self-care. I was reminded of how I have been including breath work in my violin practice.

During the summer of 2020, I was healing from overuse issues which affected my right wrist, hand and elbow; all distal parts of my body. It made sense to look at how I was using my whole body which landed me in physical therapy working on my spinal alignment. The therapist had me use breathing exercises to re-align my trunk and pelvis.

The next leg of my pranayama journey involved 4-7-8 breathing which calms the fight-flight reaction. Inhale for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 7, and exhale for a count of 8. Your body starts to learn that the exhale is longer than the inhale. There are different versions of this breathing pattern including “birthday cake breathing.”2

For many years I have included playing long bows on open strings as a way to enter a practice session on the violin. Several years ago I worked with a teacher who combined open string practice with breathing. For the past year I have tweaked this open string breathing exercise, adding the 4-7-8 count.

Breath and bow vinyasa for violinists: Coordinating breathing and bowing.
•Rhythm and bowing pattern: starting down bow, play a whole note followed by two half notes, then the same rhythm starting up bow.
•Follow this string pattern but the opposite works fine too: G-D-A-E-E-A-D-G
•Inhale, then exhale while bowing 4 beats frog to tip. Staying in the upper half of the bow, play 2 beats up bow then 2 beats down bow, continuing the exhale. Then exhaling up bow for 2 beats to the midpoint of the bow.
•Starting at the midpoint of the bow, inhale for two beats continuing with the up bow to the frog.
•Hold your breath for 2 beats playing down bow, then 2 beats up bow, staying in the lower half of the bow.
•Move to the next string and repeat the rhythm and breathing pattern.

  1. David Magone. ‘What is Pranayama?’ (September 13, 2016). (Accessed: January 2, 2022).
  2. Ruthie Weiglein. ’Calm down with Birthday Cake Breathing!’ (August 26, 2019). (Accessed: January 2, 2022).

Inspiration for Violinists card deck The “pranayama mandala” card is part of a 50 card deck. Every card has a unique image and text inspiring musicianship, mindfulness and spirituality.

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