The body is the home of our creativity.
I have explored this concept in writing before - that the physical space we create is directly related to our ability to clear mental space, and also to our ability to create musically.
This idea that our awareness of the physical body and its subtleties directly impact our musical expression is under-addressed and often overlooked. Of course we talk about things like hand position and posture, but it’s often done in a way that emphasizes a rigidity and a singular “correct” way of doing things. This black and white, stringent approach creates even more tension and self judgement which often leads to physical pain and injury from practice.
What if there was a different, more natural and neutral way for us to address the physicality of playing?
There is so much discussion in music about expression - phrasing, musicality, sound quality. We talk about these things for our entire musical journey.
How, exactly, are we supposed to access that expression?
For years, I thought it was sheerly mental - an intelligence gained from years of studying musical styles, practices, and the physical act of playing my instrument. Perhaps it was an understanding I did not yet posses and I would some day have enough knowledge to suddenly unlock the next level of self expression.
The ability to express yourself is, of course, a mental practice. It does require an understanding of musical styles, standard practices, and your instrument.
But what if it was also an advanced physical understanding? An advanced awareness of our physical body?
I’m not just talking about hand position and posture. What I mean by a physical understanding is an advanced connection to the subtle experiences of being in your own body and mind, which is what truly translates to “staying on you” or being yourself. By creating this understanding, we open a new door to both physical freedom and mental freedom of expression.
Exploring the chakras as a path to musical expression
Looking at this from the perspective of yoga, we can consider the chakras. There are seven chakras, which are energy centers that act as the links between our energetic and physical bodies and the universal life force energy (prana) that connects us to everything around us.
All seven chakras work together, and if a lower chakra is block, unbalanced, or even ignored, we will overexert in the upper chakras. The same is true in reverse. Lower chakras tend to be more physical and upper chakras more related to the mind, so the outcome is that if we overexert physically we block our expression and mental clarity, and if we overthink and overwork the mind we loose our awareness and ability to ground in the physical body.
The connection here to playing a musical instrument seems obvious to me. I bet we can all think of performances where we were so in our heads that it seemed our fingers wouldn’t do anything we asked. Alternatively, most of us have probably experienced times when we were so tense we just couldn’t focus on anything else.
There are two chakras that play off of each other in a way that is especially relevant to our musical expression and the use of both mind and body to create the message we’re intending to share through music.
The second chakra
“Emotion always has its roots in the unconscious and manifests itself in the body” - Irene Claremont de Castillejo
The sacral chakra (or Svadhisthana in Sanskrit, meaning “the dwelling place of self”) is located two inches below the navel. A balanced second chakra leads to feelings of abundance and creativity. When the second chakra is blocked, we can experience feelings of fear and overwhelm, loss of imagination or creativity, and pain or stiffness in the lower back and hips.
A blocked second chakra literally locks up our creativity in a stiff lower body that physically blocks the production of a resonant sound.
To connect to this chakra, we should consider its element, water, and the ability to be fluid. Even the simple act of drinking more water can be helpful to a blocked second chakra.
Water is both subtle and strong - it can destroy whatever is in its path, or gently meander around rocks and obstacles. This is reminiscent of the different attitudes and approaches required to navigate our way through life and musical expression.
To loosen up the second chakra, create just for fun. Do your favorite creative activity that is not playing your instrument. Write, read, draw, dance, cook, garden, or try something new, but whatever you do make sure it is purely for the joy of doing and not with any pressure of succeeding or doing it the “right” way.
Physically, the second chakra is related to our hips, so hip-opening yoga poses can help us to get in touch with this part of our physical body and lead us to a better understanding of the habits, sensations, and limitations we may be experiencing.
There are a few simple exercises in this printable to explore the second chakra.
The fifth chakra
“The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie.” - Agnes de Mille
The throat chakra (or Vishuddha in Sanskrit, meaning “especially pure”) is located in the area of the throat - the jaw, the neck, the mouth, and the thyroid. When it is balanced we are able to express ourselves authentically with ease. A blocked fifth chakra may cause us to experience difficulty listening to others without interrupting, trouble tuning in to ourselves, and neck or jaw pain.
Although this chakra is related to the ability to express ourselves clearly, which we might consider a mental task, it can physically block us from comfortable expression through the voice or throat.
The element of this chakra is ether - the space that forms the essence of emptiness. Our true self exists in the space between the clutter of our thoughts and emotions.
To connect with the throat chakra and the ability to express ourselves authentically, it can help to speak positive affirmations out loud, like “I communicate with ease” or “I express my true emotions with ease.”
Mindfulness meditation can also help open the throat chakra through the practice of observing our mind and connecting with our inner truth. (I highly recommend mindfulness meditation for musicians - there are lots of excellent books and apps to help get you started!)
Physically, there are yoga poses that can help us explore this chakra as well, allowing us the space to understand what our unique and individual physical experience is.
Here are some simple ways to begin exploring.
Bringing it all together
Our mind and body are continually changing, and will do so throughout our lives. Whatever balance or imbalance you may feel now will not last forever, and a new one may take its place. Building an attentiveness to both our mind and physical body is important to be able to continue to express ourselves freely.
I have personally experienced the benefits of exploring the connection between my mental and physical state. When I am stressed, I often experience an inability to deal with performance anxiety that stems from overthinking. If I leave that mental pattern unchecked, it will increase until I can no longer sustain the mental strain of overthinking and it becomes a physical discomfort of overexertion to make up for my blocked expression.
All of our thoughts and actions are connected, and when I am attentive to both my mental health and physical wellbeing I can create a more consistent spacious neutral ground to work from that allows for depth and expression.
If you improve the balance of your sacral and throat chakras now, you may come to find in six months, a year, or even a week, that you notice yourself overexerting in a physical or mental way again. That’s life, and it doesn’t mean you have failed in any way.
By developing a truer understanding of our experience in the world we become adept at helping ourselves adjust to the changes and challenges that will certainly come.
Check out my free resource with exercises to explore both the second and fifth chakras.
Hi, I'm Morgann! Flutist, teacher, aspiring yogini, and life long learner figuring out how to create my way through life one crazy idea at a time.