Breathe and Stretch to Maintain Your Inner Peace (and Awesomeness) During the Busiest Time of the Year! by Rena Urso

It’s a rainy day here in Todd Mission, Texas.  I’m in town for two weeks, presenting Body Mapping workshops, teaching lessons, and playing at the Texas Renaissance Faire.  As a freelance musician, I’ve spent most of my career traveling, performing in different venues, sleeping in different beds and living, albeit temporarily, in new spaces.  Fortunately, I learned early on in my days of touring with the New York City Opera National Company and San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater, flexibility, adaptability, awareness, and patience are key to survival.  I’m grateful for today’s inclement weather.  The steady accompaniment of rain on the rooftop is presenting an unexpected gift of time and much welcomed inspiration, to create, reflect, and get back to the hub, as it were.

So, how do we find, rediscover, and/or maintain our well-being during one of the busiest times of the year?  Many of us are racing around from one thing to the next; triple service days of rehearsals and concerts, long hours in the practice rooms preparing for end of semester juries, church gigs, Nutcrackers, holiday Pops, driving, eating way too much (and, sometimes not particularly well), preparing pre-screen audition recordings, more Nutcrackers, squeezing in a few more lessons before the holiday break, more Nutcrackers … you get the picture.

First, be sure to take time for yourself.  I know, it seems impossible to carve out any extra time but you must. It’s all about how you start your day.  I recommend stretching.  Maybe while you’re waiting for your tea to steep or for that pot of coffee to brew, spend those quiet moments stretching, taking your joints through their full range of motion, and breathing.  Ask yourself where you imagine your head balances on your spine while you’re pouring that first giant cup of your favorite magical elixir.  Are your knees habitually locked as you do this, or are they soft and balanced?  Whether or not you’re able to get the warm up of your dreams in before rehearsal starts, this sacred morning time will become your new favorite time of day, even if you swear you’re not a morning person.

I’m a big fan of starting my practice draped over a large physio ball and breathing. That’s it.  Just breathing. Get on your knees, drape yourself over the ball, turning your head to whichever side is most comfortable for your neck, and with your arms naturally draped over the ball, exhale.  Try to avoid hugging the ball; you’ll want to find the most natural and comfortable position as possible.  And then, slowly and steadily inhale through your nose and exhale though your mouth. Notice your hip joints; are they locked and tight or can you find more ease and space here?  If so, you’ll notice more freedom in your use of air.  Allow your spine to naturally lengthen as your exhale, not in a manufactured way, rather with ease, as if each exhalation goes straight out through the very tippy top of your skull.  Seriously, even five minutes of this will make a profound difference in your practice, you’ll feel like you’ve already played 15 minutes of your favorite long tones before you’ve even picked up your flute.  Why?  Between stretching and warming up your body and then draping over the ball and breathing, you’re quieting your mind, developing a greater awareness of your body and the space it is in, and getting your air moving.

Long weekend of driving for dollars?  Loads of practice to prepare that stack of music on your stand?  Your physio ball is a great place to return throughout your day.  But, what do you do if you don’t have access to a giant bright blue physio ball backstage at rehearsal?  Try to find a space, maybe in a dressing room or in a corner backstage where you can take a few minutes to lay semi-supine on the floor and breathe.  You don’t need to take another trip over to the cookie and coffee table on break anyway.  Let’s face it, Constructive Rest is one of the best gifts you can give yourself this holiday season; it’s free and a little goes a long way.  Find two inches or so of books/music to place underneath your head; too many will make you tuck your chin, too little will make your chin tilt toward the ceiling.  Bend your knees, feet on the floor, allow your knees to naturally go where they do – don’t actively hold them inward or outward, arms bent with your hands on your belly, and breathe.  Draw your awareness to the space you’re occupying.  Notice what is making contact with the floor?  What is around you; to the sides, above you, below you, behind you?  Notice what you hear?  What do you smell?  How does the air feel?  Developing a greater sense of inclusive awareness is so good for so many reasons. It will help you to stay in this beautiful present moment and enjoy where you are right now.  It will help to gently bring your focus back when you drift off into another place, past or future.  It will help you to remain peaceful when performance jitters set in.  And, it will help you find, rediscover and maintain balance as you keep all of those plates of holiday cookies spinning in the air.

Happy fluting, happy holidays and bon appetite!


Rena Urso is a member of the faculties at California State University Long Beach and California State University Stanislaus and a Course Coordinator for California State University Summer Arts.  As a licensed Andover Educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops all over the world.  An active California based freelance musician, Rena is also a member of the Oakland Symphony and San Francisco Opera Center Orchestra.  She enjoys balancing her time between her homes in the Chicago area and California’s Central Valley with her fiancé John and their beagle Lillie.  For more information and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com

Photo credit: Todd Sharp

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