Breathing into your violin

Prana, chi, holy spirit all refer to a connection with a divine force. In yoga we learn how to access prana with breath. It is your way of taking in life force and oxygen. It is how you sustain life. It is your first and last action. In shamanism we learn it is your greatest gift.

Your muscles and your brain need oxygen to function properly and for longevity of movement and cognition. String players are notorious for forgetting to breathe. Unlike singing or playing a woodwind or brass instrument, string instruments do not require breath to produce sound. However, breathing well can solve myriad issues with string playing. Singing phrases will help you shape phrases and form a deeper connection to your music. You will interpret your music more easily and in a more authentic way. Moreover, you will nourish your muscles and your brain. I have had several students over the years report light headedness when playing the violin.

One of the symptoms of anxiety is shortness of breath. In a previous post, I wrote about the polyvagal theory (May 17, 2021). A significant way to short-circuit the fight or flight response is to breathe deeply thereby calming the frontal vagus nerve. If you are holding your breath when playing the violin, you may be experiencing some anxiety about a particular phrase or technical issue. Many years ago I worked with a Feldenkrais practitioner who recommended breathing into wherever I was experiencing pain.* I believe the same advice can be applied to a trouble spot in your music. For a violinist it can seem like one more thing to have to be in charge of. Isn’t it enough to have to hold your instrument and bow correctly, play in tune, play rhythms correctly, play with beautiful tone, play stylistically correct, and learn all of this incredibly difficult music, not to mention play together with other musicians? Breathing can really make all of this much easier. If you are not sure where to start, try singing. Your music will probably not exactly fit in your vocal range. This isn’t a problem. It is totally fine to sing in a more comfortable octave. Close your doors and windows and sing your heart out!

The image on this card is of a mandala. Mandalas are seen all over the world even though they are mostly associated with Hinduism and Buddhism. Tibetan sand mandalas are created then wiped away representing the transience of life. Mandala is the Sanskrit word for circle. The mandala’s image is a representation of the universe. It has resonance that provide’s a connection with the divine.1  They are created and used in spiritual practice throughout Asia. Interestingly, there are similar looking images from the Aztecs, the Mayans, Native American tribes and even the Hadron Collider which looks an awful lot like a mandala!

Use this image or another one that speaks to you to calm yourself and perhaps even for meditation. I found creating this one to be really fulfilling and meditative. You can use mandalas as screen savers or as wall art. I have seen them in home textiles such as wall tapestries. They seem to have an eye at the center with colorful designs emanating outward. For me, creating one was as meaningful as experiencing it visually and energetically.

*Moshe Feldenkrais created a mode of education based on the developmental stages of an infant which is sometimes referred to as “awareness through movement.” Check feldenkrais.com for more information. Many musicians including Itzhak Perlman have used this modality for more efficient and comfortable movement.

1. Joshua J. Mark. ‘Tibetan Sand Mandalas’ (July 15, 2021). Worldhistory.org. (Accessed: October 2, 2021).

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