The Violin Channel recently caught up with Japanese-Canadian violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo.
In an VC-exclusive guest blog, the international soloist shares her thoughts on the importance of stretching before playing - to maintain ones body's healthy balance.
"Stretching is a very important component (alongside strengthening, exercising, getting enough sleep, meditating, and eating healthily) of maintaining our bodies in healthy balance. We violinists use our bodies in a very asymmetrical way, and over time, if not aware and careful, these muscular and structural imbalances can lead to injuries.
The physical benefits of stretching are pretty logical: improvement of circulation and blood flow in the body, increased flexibility and range of motion in the joints, and prevention of the muscles from becoming short and stiff. For me, the most valuable aspect of stretching is the opportunity to cultivate a better connection with our bodies. The more we are aware of our own bodies’ particular habits and needs, the better we are able to detect any discomfort or tightness that needs addressing. After all, there are a ton of different exercises available, and this is because there isn’t one single magic formula that works for everybody. We must each find our own routine that makes the most sense for our specific needs!
One of the biggest challenges in today’s fast paced, busy ways, is finding the time to give ourselves this kind of care. But think of this as an investment towards your overall physical health, mental state, and violin playing (!) - there is always a way to make the time!
Stretching the muscles you are about to use in your practice session right beforehand is definitely a good idea if it is the first time you are stretching that day. But I find that stretching first thing in the morning can be a wonderful way to center and prepare myself physically and mentally before the day gets going. While a whole body stretch is ideal for when there is ample time, my favorite stretches for when I’m a bit short on time, include those for the spine, hips, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, fingers, - and lungs. Yes, the lungs! Those of you practicing yoga, breathing exercises, qigong, etc, will already be familiar with the incredible power of conscious breathing. When I start my day with deep breathing, as well as a series of energizing quick breaths, I feel as if I am creating space and flexibility inside my body, and immediately feel calmer and more alert. And, if I apply this sense of relaxed consciousness to my stretches, I find myself connecting with my body in a way that brings so much awareness and a sense of grounding.
Stretching can also be an amazing thing to do right before going to bed. I have my favorite “shoulder therapy” routine, which has become a beloved companion. It amazes me every time to realize how much tension can build up by the end of the day! This routine is about 30 minutes long, and includes a series of slow stretches and long holds, again incorporating deep breaths. Afterwards I feel as if I’ve been given a neck and shoulder massage - it’s absolutely fantastic!
One thing I’d like to point out, is the importance of applying your full, undivided attention to the stretches you do. Don’t do them absentmindedly. Just like in the practice room, the more focus, the better results. For example, if you are doing a neck stretch, ask yourself: 1. Where exactly do I feel the tightness? 2. How intense is the tightness? Then take a deep breath and imagine breathing into that place, as if with each breath out the tension is gently releasing. Please be careful never to force. Listen to your body, and understand that some of the tightness may require many days/weeks/months of daily addressing before it is ready to let go.
A graduate of the Juilliard School, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and the New England Conservatory, where she studied with Dorothy DeLay, Mauricio Fuks, Donald Weilerstein and Heinrich Schiff, Karen Gomyo is a former 1st prize winner at the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, in New York | Today she performs internationally as a soloist and respsected chamber musician