I’m super clumsy. Every so often it’s as if the universe decides it’s time for me to have a colossal wipe out, often in a public place. This time it was walking up the steps at the gym on Monday morning, en route to the recumbent bike. To be fair, there are three substantial flights of steep, non-carpeted /super hard stairs. My right knee absorbed a lot of the impact, but more concerning were my hands which broke my fall. Not my first rodeo, I knew to get ice on everything right away and get in to see my doctor. Fortunately, nothing was seriously injured, just bruised, a little scraped up, and sore. All this got me thinking about injury and recovery.
It’s in these moments, as we recover from even a small injury, that Body Mapping can be especially helpful. In an effort to not hurt anything further and shield ourselves from another spill, we sometimes create a new habit of tension and protective holding. Even though we think we’re doing the right thing being cautious, this can lead to more pain and less than helpful habits. One of the best things we can do is spend time carefully mapping, or re-mapping our bodies, palpating the injured areas, making sure we aren’t misconstruing anything as we recover.
Several years ago, while still an Andover Educator (Body Mapping) trainee, I fell over my dog Auggie in the middle of the night. I really did a number on my right pinky, but didn’t get in to see a doctor for several weeks. I thought “I’m fine” and went on with my life, until I noticed my pinky was not getting better. Turned out, I tore a tendon, the one that allows for any flutist’s essential movement to navigate a foot joint. Fact: tendons, ligaments and nerves take much longer to heal than a broken bone. This injury took a long time to heal. In addition to the treatment I received from my doctor, I used Body Mapping to help my recovery process. Each day as I began my practice, I carefully mapped my hands, palpating each bone and joint in my hand, using my kinesthetic sense to be very aware of the eight small carpal bones in my wrist, and accounting for the carpal arch of those bones. Have any of you done this? Take a moment and try it now.
This short but valuable pre-practice regimen was key to my recovery. I regularly reminded myself that I had loads of space in there to do whatever I needed to do. My tendency with that injury was to hold my hand in an unnatural way, at times slightly clenched, in an effort to make it less vulnerable – or so I thought. I was afraid to really use it because I didn’t want to hurt it again. It didn’t take long for me to realize that wasn’t helping, and in fact was making things worse. Once I began with the daily mapping of my hand bones and joints everything started to improve and I began to notice greater fluidity in my technique.
I love offering myself and my students the reminder of space; in this case, space at our joints. Space is good. If I asked you to draw a picture of what you imagine your skeletal structure looks like, specifically your hands, could you draw it? Try it. For some of you, this will be an easy assignment. For others, you may not have ever considered what the skeletal structure of your hands looks like. After you finish creating your masterpiece, Google an image of the hand structure. What’s similar? What’s different? If drastically different, use this as an opportunity to refine your body map and enjoy the ease you’ll feel in your hands when you play.
How many times have you been asked “You’re a flutist? Wow, are your hands insured?” I get this a lot. Excellent hand care is vital to our livelihood, friends. We must take exceptional care of them always. If you have a big audition on Saturday, you’re probably not going to go outside and pull weeds in the garden all day Friday, or decide to peel a 5 lb bag of potatoes for dinner. Obviously, you’re going to be thoughtful about how you use your hands leading up to the big day. Developing a clear, accurate body map, one which allows us to move with greater ease, efficiency, and fluidity is equally vital to our livelihoods. Well that, and not wiping out on a flight of stairs!
So, how many hand bones did you come up with? Answer: there are 19 metacarpal and phalanges and 8 carpal bones for a total of 27 bones in each hand. That’s a lot of bones, combined with everything else that lives in that space, all to make it possible to zip through our Taffanel and Gaubert exercises with ease. Get to know your amazing hands. Yes, amazing – I mean, think about all that they do for us? (Hello, Daphnis and Chloe noodles!)
Have fun and happy practicing!
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, San Francisco Opera Center Orchestra, and Oregon Coast Music Festival 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.