I spent the first 35 years of my life practicing – of course I found time for wine and food and traveling, but there was certainly no time for any significant exercise. I had brief flings with ill-fated aerobics and dance classes in my Undergrad and Grad degrees, but they always ended up in some sort of disaster. I got through the countless hours of practicing during my DMA in Collaborative Piano without any real exercise, and, sore and fairly tight, started a year in the training program at Minnesota Opera. Along with all of the opera prep and language classes in the training program we were required to go to Yoga classes twice a week. All of us had the same reaction – fun idea, but was it really necessary? However after that year of Yoga, I played better, they sang better and we, as a class, all coped with stress in a healthier way than we had before we started Yoga classes.
After a year at Minnesota Opera, I moved to Winnipeg, started working at the University of Manitoba, and continued my weekly Yoga classes. I started noticing that my piano sound was vibrant and full the day after Yoga but by the end of the week it had lost a great deal of its vibrancy. This led me to grudgingly stop my lifelong habit of staying in bed as late as possible every morning, and instead every morning I dragged myself out of that bed and practiced Yoga. It was so exciting to see how my flexibility and strength improved as a result of daily Yoga. Playing piano became easier – I felt more balanced, stronger, and things that had once been tricky became much less work. Stress management, problem solving, balancing my life all became easier.
Emboldened by my newfound core strength, I started cycling, cross-country skiing, and, most recently, jogging. As someone who has always seen herself as primarily cerebral, I am shocked by how much I love all of this and how much more comfortable in my body I now feel. The growth in piano playing that I experienced through Yoga has continued with these additional activities. With increased strength and knowledge of my body has come more musical risk-taking, a much more visceral approach to playing – a more grounded love of playing piano. Making music requires every skill, every talent and every tool we possess; because of the strength I have found through physical activity I feel much more up to the task. My physical body can keep up with my musical imagination more easily, so my musical imagination is inspired in new and often unexpected ways. At age 46, I feel like I am at the beginning of a new adventure. I have no idea what my body is capable of, but it is certainly more than I thought it was capable of just a few years ago.
I have seen many of my friends go through the same sort of transformation in the last few years. When I tell my students that they should exercise, they give me the same look that I know I gave to my teachers when I heard the same advice years ago. I know they will all go through the same process that I did, and I look forward to seeing what they discover in themselves on their own journey.