Mindful Moments of 2021
When the school year started I was craving a simplified way to share online. I wanted to write something useful that didn’t require constant engagement, so I started a monthly newsletter.
Over the past few months, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out what to include in it as I added a section for student events/accomplishments, my favorite book each month and a mindful moment with an exercise for increased physical or mental awareness.
For my last blog of 2021 (how did we get here?!) I thought it would be fun to recap all the Mindful Moments from the newsletter. There are only a few this year, but they are all things I do regularly and appreciate in my own life.
I try to post a blog every Thursday, and there is technically one left for the year after today. Instead of a blog next week, though, I’m planning to add several more “freebies” on my site that will be printable for all newsletter subscribers. If you aren’t subscribed to the newsletter yet, it will be a good one!
If this is your first blog, if you have read a few, or if you read often I’m grateful that you’re here. Thanks for sharing a little corner of the internet with me.
Now, on to the main event!
Mindful Moments of 2021
September - Time For A Stretch Break!
Have you noticed the tendency of those around you to crane their neck forward as they read on their phones? Maybe you notice yourself doing it!
Or, have you ever caught yourself pushing your head forward to meet your flute?
There is an epidemic of this forward neck position in our modern culture thanks to computers and phones (text neck, anyone?).
Any time we habitually use a muscle in a certain way, for better or worse, we create a pattern and pathway of movement. Repetitive motion reinforces the pattern of movement.
As a result of modern devices, most of us have a lack of mobility in the cervical spine.
So, what can we do to counteract text neck and regain mobility?
Simple neck stretches:
Sit or stand comfortably. Stack your ribs, chest and head over top of your hips.
Let your right ear drop toward your right shoulder. Release the weight of your head to the right. Repeat on the left side.
Let your chin drop toward your chest. Release the weight of your head down.
Look up, always making sure you can swallow. If you lose the ability to swallow, you've gone to far. Take a few deep breaths in and out through the nose as you look up.
Baby back bend:
Stand or sit comfortably with your arms at your sides. Inhale and reach your arms up and overhead bringing the palms together.
As you exhale, press down through your feet (or let your weight sink into the chair) and reach back slightly with the finger tips.
Inhale to reach back up to center.
Exhale to release the arms down.
Repeat two or three more times.
Easy keyboard/phone break:
In a sitting or standing position, bring your arms behind your lower back for a light bind, allowing the hands to rest on opposite forearms.
Take three long, slow breaths in and out through the nose.
Switch arms and repeat.
October - Create Space With Alignment
Last month's mindful moment helped us check in with our cervical spine - the part of our upper back and neck most affected by our use of modern devices.
Keeping our attention on the spine, this month we're considering the natural shape of the spine and how we can adjust our standing or sitting habits to allow the natural curves of the spine.
Did you know that the spine is not straight? This is an example of where body mapping can be tremendously helpful in our every day lives.
Although we might think of the spine as rigid, it is actually quite flexible. Its natural curves help us move freely and alleviate pressure on the delicate parts of the body it protects.
Because many of us sit and stand in a variety of unatural positions for most the of the day - think text neck, slouched forward when standing, leaning over a desk - we lose touch with how to create alignment in the spine comfortably.
Being in alignment shouldn't require us to exert extra energy, rather we should be able to let the body do what it is meant to do naturally.
So how can you create comfortable alignment?
Stack up in an Easy Seat:
Sitting down with both feet on the floor (or cross legged), find your ischial tuberosity or sit bones (the two pointy bones you can feel pressing into the chair).
Release your weight into the chair, letting it press down evenly through both sit bones. Relax the muscles around your hips and the muscles in your legs.
Notice where your rib cage is in relation to your hips. If it is in front of or behind the hips and sit bones, bring the ribs in line with the hips and sit bones.
Notice the alignment of the chest, then bring the chest in line with the ribs, the hips and the sit bones.
Notice the alignment of your head and bring it to rest on top of your chest, ribs, hips and sit bones.
Stay and breathe in and out through the nose slowly in this posture for at least five breaths.
The biggest benefit of this exercise is awareness. How does you spine feel now compared to before? How is this different than how you usally sit or stand?
You can recreate this alignment anywhere - even when standing!
November - Accepting Without Judgement
Something musicians struggle with that I believe we can all relate to is self-criticism. Being a musician requires that we critique our abilities in an effort to improve. Too often, though, that objective critical eye turns entirely to self-judgement.
Being overly self critical isn't something that only happens in the practice room, though.
We all experience it daily, by thinking offhanded thoughts like "why did I say that, it was so dumb" or "look at what that other person is doing, I'm so lazy and unsuccessful." There are so many other ways we discount our efforts or impede them when we are being judgemental or expecting too much of ourselves.
One of the things I love most about yoga and mindfulness meditation is the way both disciplines encourage self acceptance. Not in a fluffy, overly positive way, but through recognition of all the things we do and feel and the acceptance that they are neither good or bad, but simply parts of the present moment.
There are endless positive connotations to seeing your present moment with acceptance - think about a few ways this might benefit you!
Try if for yourself:
Sit comfortably. If you're somewhere you can relax, close your eyes.
Bring your attention to your breath. Don't try to change it, just notice where you can feel it entering and leaving the body.
Once you feel you're maintaing a simple awareness of the breath, become aware of the body sitting.
Notice what you feel. Maybe it's tension, sleepiness, restlessness, or that you are being bombarded by thoughts.
Try not to engage with any one thought or sensation beyond observing its existence.
Bring the attention back to the breath, accepting those things that you noticed as part of the present moment.
See if you can sit with this intention for 3 to 5 minutes, always returning to the breath after noting anything that comes up.
Take a few deep breaths before gently bringing your attention back to your surroundings.
Enjoy, In Joy
The title of this blog is a little quote I’ve jotted down countless times in the last ten or fifteen years. The memory of where I first heard it is foggy, but the message stuck with me.
We are meant to enjoy, in joy - our purpose is to enjoy all the things life throws at us, fully immersed and steeped in the experience of it all.
Is it always comfortable to be submerged in all the good, bad and in between things that happen to us? Definitely not - consider how much time we spend on our phones, watching Netflix, or playing video games trying to avoid all the uncomfortable parts of our lives.
I’ve mentioned before how I have come to love mindfulness meditation so much because it teaches us to be fully present no matter what the situation is. It is often an uncomfortable (and sometimes annoying) practice as it points out exactly how much we try to not be present to our experiences every day.
There is another type of meditation with Buddhist origins that I have had a hard time connecting with that, ironically, is probably most closely related to my favorite mantra ("Enjoy, in joy"). It’s called Metta. Metta is a practice of extending love and kindness (or lovingkindness) toward all beings - ourselves, our loved ones, people we don’t know, and even people we really don't like.
Metta can sometimes feel forced - traditionally you recite or think phrases like “may you be happy” or “may I be happy” while focusing on yourself and others in turn. It’s unusual for us to sit and purposefully direct positive thoughts like this toward ourselves and people we don’t like very much. As we think about ourselves, we might even fall into that category of people we don't like very much sometimes!
Side bar: One of the things that helped me have a more relatable experience with Metta was a Metta for Musicians workshop offered by Shauna Fallihee. (Shauna’s Instagram account @embodiedsinger and her website are amazing resources for musicians and she shares so much useful information about myofascial release, mindfulness and movement for musicians.) In the workshop, we practiced seeing our experiences as a musician and ourself as a musician with equanimity - with kindness, even when it is difficult.
What has always fully reverberated for me from Metta is the idea of giving without expectation. Offering someone love and not expecting anything back, offering someone kindness and not worrying about their response…offering your music and not expecting praise, success or validation.
When was the last time you played your instrument that you enjoyed, in joy?
I hope it was today, but I know for many of us as we become better musicians our relationship with sharing our music becomes complicated. Our music making can become entangled in our sense of self worth, our sense of success and our sense of who we are at our core.
If we are constantly nitpicking our playing and never enjoying it can start to feel like we are constantly at war with ourselves.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and lately I’ve made it a bit of a mission to share and enjoy, in joy - no strings attached.
I'm doing my best to stay focused on the message I want to share, the character of the music, and the experience of playing with those around me.
Of course this isn’t a magic erase button for all self-critique that comes up, but it is helping me to unwind some of it - to see it for what it is. It is allowing me to be more in the moment, enjoying it for whatever it is.
In Life and Scales
You get out of it what you put into it.
I think there is so much truth in this saying. Our perspective, determination, attitude and commitment determine so much of what happens to us in life.
My healthy optimism can’t magically create a job opportunity, but it can help me to be more engaged with what’s going on around me, maybe leading me to be in the “right place at the right time.”
The other reason I love this saying is the implication that the responsibility sits with us. I truly believe that we must take responsibility for ourselves and our lives by putting our best effort (whatever it is at the moment) into everything we do.
We create, or hinder, our own growth in immeasurable ways every day.
What brought this saying to mind recently were the juries my college students had to prepare for at the end of their fall semester. There are stringent requirements for performing repertoire, scales, sight-reading and even improvisation. They have to prepare program notes and a repertoire list as well, and all of this after a weekend of some of their biggest performances of the year, right at the beginning of final exams.
Anyone who has been a music major can relate to the insane conclusion of each semester. Those who have been through it may also be able to relate to the sense that if we ignore it for most of the semester maybe it will all just go away…yet before you know it, you’re looking at a panel of woodwind faculty waiting to hear a G# melodic minor scale.
Why is it that we procrastinate on things like scales and preparing for these difficult performance situations?
I suppose the answer could be different for all of us, but I have a theory that deep down we all avoid these things because they are hard work and we still might fail.
Learning repertoire and scales is difficult. It takes a lot of time, organization, and energy to learn new material and figure out how to get around our technical difficulties.
However, if we’re willing to put the effort into it, just like in life, there are concrete, measurable results. We can see (and hear) our improvement both in the material we are practicing and the way it shows up in other repertoire or technical study, just like you can see the impact sleeping for an extra hour or spending less time online has on your everyday life.
When I see my students avoiding their scales or half-committing to working on them, I want to remind them of all the ways sitting in the work and frustration will benefit them on the other side.
So, if you’re a high school or college student who needs to perform your scales or other technical exercises for a grade (or if you’re a working professional who performs for a paycheck!), let’s walk through what you can put in to your scales (and your life!) that will turn into long term rewards:
Identify the goal:
Get to know the material:
Practice the hard stuff:
Visualize (Mental Practice):
Share with others:
Maintain a positive outlook:
Most of us are more capable than we give ourselves credit for. We become discouraged when we can’t do something instantly or quickly, dismissing it as a failure.
Designate your goal and determine the work that needs to be done. Create a plan and commit to it. Put in the work.
And while all of that is crucial, what we have to remember is that in order to be able to DO anything we have to first be willing to TRY.
Once you’ve done the work, trust yourself. Focus on the outcome - the big picture of the exercise or piece you’ve learned - and go for it. Play for others and really give your best effort.
Show up for yourself knowing you can rely on everything you put in.
Authenticity is Underrated
The end of the year is such a busy time for musicians, that it can often feel like a game of survivor. I haven’t spent as much time over the last few weeks thinking about teaching concepts as I have just making sure I don’t miss any rescheduled lessons or rehearsals.
The thing that has been on my mind though is how little interest I have in social media when I’m this busy. I still share things and browse a bit, but the amount of time (and the amount of available brain space) I have is so reduced that it’s a great reminder what activities in our work lives (and personal lives) really matter the most.
How much time should I really be spending on social media and content, even when I’m not this busy?
It’s an important question to ask.
When Facebook and Instagram became popular I had very little interest in either. My interest in Instagram increased when I decided to dedicate a page to my studio, teaching, and performing. It’s fun to curate my ideas about music and teaching (which is also a big reason why I blog) and I enjoy creating posts that look nice together.
Even though it’s enjoyable to share on a nice looking Instagram feed, the last few weeks have me wondering if that time wouldn’t be better spent on my website or (gasp!) real life art and music.
Although I try to be really mindful of how and what I share, I often think like a lot of what I see on social media is phony, super watered down, or just not very useful. Given that outlook, it’s easy for me to feel like there’s not much of a point to generating content.
There are truly authentic and interesting musicians I’ve met online, or have been introduced to by friends via Instagram. They’re really interesting people and I feel like I learn a lot from them - but it can be so hard to find these types of people when you have to weed through so much stuff.
When I run out of steam to share and try to connect, it’s often because of that feeling of sifting through a lot of junk to find a few treasures. Who could possibly find the content I do create in this sea of messiness?
All of these seemingly discouraging aspects of social media have actually made me feel much better about the ebb and flow of sharing and about using resources outside of social media like my website and a monthly newsletter. I am reminded that not posting when I’m too busy for it, when I'm disinterested, or just not wanting to learn to make reels is ok.
If I’m going to be authentic in what I share, that means I need to be real in both the actual content and when/how I post. Perhaps this also means not going with the crowd, but using a platform or format that feels like it fits me better. Maybe I will reach less people this way, but it seems like those interactions would be more genuine and meaningful.
Nothing we do works unless it’s in alignment with our personal ideals, morals and motives. The world would have us believe we should all look alike and share in the same ways all the time, but that’s impossible and boring!
What are some ways you could get creative online that would feel authentic to you?
The best way for you to use social media, have a music career, or do anything is to do it like you.
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.