The Mindful Rebuild
by Rena Urso
Last month’s column Living and Playing with an Injury sparked much interest from friends in my musical community who had been down this uncertain road. As I continue to work through this process, I am encouraged to hear from fr
iends and colleagues who have entrusted me with their personal injury and recovery journeys; their stories have provided me with hope and inspiration. I’d also like to give you all an update and share my rebuilding process; my sprained right wrist as well as the two cysts (knuckle and wrist) and carpal tunnel symptoms in my left hand are all making steady improvements.
My friend Susan’s story especially resonated with me. She recently broke her arm, was in a sling for 14 weeks and completely unable to play. After a long and winding road back, she is better than ever. Here is a portion of her story:
I bought a curved head joint which I tried to play but only after 3 1/2 months. It is 6 months now; I am almost 100% perfectly mended, in lots of PT and doing well. I am more relaxed playing than I ever have been, and I try to keep the good posture I need for my exercises when I play the flute!
I developed a touch of carpal tunnel, not when I play, but if I hold the phone or the newspaper too long… Not sure why that is …. It was hard not touching a flute for 14 weeks. Hang in there. I just did not even practice. I am surprised how much came back, and frankly, I think I sound better than I ever have…. Maybe the time off wasn’t bad for me…. I am more relaxed playing and am so happy to be playing again!
Since writing my February column, I have begun to work with an acupuncturist; acupuncture has long been a big help to me for any number of issues over the past 25 years. This treatment has quickly become one of the most impactful pieces of my recovery. When my orthopedic hand specialist/surgeon began to toss out cringe-worthy words like “surgery … incisions … dissolvable sutures … and, open up your wrist” I knew it was time to explore other options first before considering that much bigger step. Thus began a consistent regimen of acupuncture, along with Gua sha, electronic stimulation, and massage. Back in December, another member of my care team recommended that I up my vitamin game, adding a variety of supplements to help with the healing process and address the inflammation. My acupuncturist Bridget has built on that by offering a few dietary adjustments, adding more supplements as well as regular Epsom salt soaks. Injury recovery is not linear, it takes time and requires extraordinary patience. As a result of this new and improved regimen, I finally feel like I have turned a big corner in my healing process; and made a major shift in my attitude, expectations, and overall approach to flute and piccolo playing. I’ve moved from a label of injured to that of slowly and mindfully rebuilding. This shift of mindset has been empowering and put a spring back in my step. It’s amazing what a positive outlook can do for us during times of adversity.
As Susan said, though it was difficult to not play for such an extended period, rest was essential to her recovery, and in fact, has made her stronger as a result. Rest is the most important part of the recovery process. Admittedly, I wasn’t great about this for the first few months. My classical musician headspace made me feel like I needed to always be doing, testing things out to see how it felt that day or week. I now realize this wasn’t the healthiest approach and if I could go back in time, I would have shut it all down from the start. By testing things and engaging in regular daily activities such as typing, texting, and household chores, it only made things worse by slowing down the healing process. Unfortunately, this is precisely why I am now dealing with left-hand problems.
I cannot stress enough the value of mental practice, or as my Body Mapping colleague, Lea Pearson calls it, imaginary practice. (Love this!) She adds that imaginary practice is “…essential for injury recovery.” I couldn’t agree more, and in fact, am returning to pieces I purchased over the years but never had the time to really learn. Some of you may recall I wrote about this early on in the pandemic when we all suddenly had an abundance of time allowing us to learn new pieces. It has been fun diving into new works, simply learning for the sake of learning … without my instrument. In fact, while sitting on the plane and writing this, I am utilizing this practice strategy, sans instruments, to learn music for upcoming concerts in March. Being solidly in rebuild mode, I feel confident I’ll be where I need to be when returning to the stage in a couple of weeks.
Injuries can be scary for anyone. Athletes and musicians share this; an injury can mean sitting on the bench for weeks or months with visions of the unknown swirling around in our heads. The big difference is that for athletes, injuries are a given and are almost viewed as the cost of doing business. The range of emotions I have experienced these past months have been all over the map . . . just ask my husband John. In my December column Returning to the Stage Part 2, I was deep in the weeds. The rush of excitement and anticipation to finally return to work in October after not having performed since February 2020 was quickly squashed by this injury. Canceling and turning down four months of work wasn’t easy but was essential to my full recovery.
There have been many times I have wondered if I would ever get to the other side of this and if I would be the same player. I’m not 100% yet; I am still experiencing intermittent pain, limitation, and lack of coordination. Yet, for the first time in almost five months, there is an unwavering feeling of confidence building, and I know I will be a stronger, smarter musician as a result of this experience. This is not uncharted territory, I’ve been here before, each time emerging more mindful with new tools to help myself and others.
The rich and diverse communities of which I am a part: Body Mapping educators, flutists and piccoloists, and yogis, continue to provide an endless well of inspiration and support. Thank you to those who have continuously offered words of wisdom and encouragement - you all know who you are, and you have my profound gratitude. Sometimes it takes a village. Create your tribe and be there for one another, even if only to offer a kind thought or “you got this;” it helps more than you can imagine!
Be well 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 – home to her popular biennial summer flute course, The Complete 21st Century Flutist at CSU Summer Arts. As a Licensed Body Mapping Educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops and masterclasses all over the world. Rena is also a teaching artist at the International Piccolo Flute Academy. An active freelance musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a member of the Oakland Symphony, the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra, and Alcyone Ensemble. Additionally, she is a certified yoga and meditation instructor and member of the NFA Performance Health Committee. Rena lives in the Chicago area with her husband John and their three dogs: Lillie, Po, and Girl. She is available for personal or group Zoom Body Mapping sessions. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.