MU musicians use yoga to set tone for relaxation

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:26 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 3, 2013
An MU music professor and a student have teamed up to start a yoga class for MU musicians. The class is designed to help students maintain their body alignment and tone when playing their instruments or singing.

COLUMBIA — MU music students take an hour outside their noisy rehearsal rooms on Fridays to center themselves on mats in a dark, quiet room and practice yoga.

The exercises help the musicians with their body alignment and tone, Paola Savvidou, an MU assistant professor of piano pedagogy, said.

“Pianists and other musicians a lot of times hold their breath, which tightens muscles,” she said. And wind musicians might strain while holding long notes, hindering their tone quality.

Yoga movements help musicians better regulate their breathing for practice and performances, she said.

Savvidou, co-adviser of MU's Collegiate Chapter of the Music Teachers National Association, researches incorporating movement into her piano lessons to improve alignment. She connected with the group's vice president, Grace Lyden, a piano student with an interest in yoga, and the two decided to offer a free class to musicians.

Lyden's final requirement to receive a YogaFit certification was teaching a class for free as service hours. She was already teaching yoga at the MU Student Recreation Complex, and she wanted to combine her training with music.

Savvidou is beginning a qualitative study in the fall with her new course called movement and wellness for musicians. She hopes to expose musicians to different disciplines that use movements such as Feldenkrais exercises and the Alexander technique

Relating movement and music is a fairly new field, Savvidou said. She uses injury-prevention strategies that can be utilized by anyone and relates them specifically to musicians.

The students will be the subjects of the study, demonstrating how — or whether — yoga and other exercises improve their physical approach to their instruments. The relaxation techniques will also address performance anxiety and learning to manage stress.

Different kinds of musicians can have muscle stiffness in different areas. A violinist might be particularly tense in the neck, while a pianist might have stiffness in his or her back, Savvidou said.

Rachel Aubuchon, an MU School of Music accompanist, said yoga "helps loosen up a lot of rigidity and soreness from sitting all day.”

Lyden makes sure to incorporate specific poses and stretches to benefit musicians, such as hip openers to relieve tightness caused from sitting in the practice room for long periods of time.

“Musicians especially love when movement happens with the breath because they are familiar with using pulse and rhythm,” Lyden said. Yoga poses such as cat-cow or moonflowers and sunflowers feel natural, she said.

Attention to the core of the body is also incorporated into the session because musicians utilize core muscles to sit up straight or expand their diaphragm when playing or singing, Lyden said.

“I think yoga in general helps regulate breath and being able to control your body which increases stamina," MU music student Rebecca Preston said.

The class is made up of music students and faculty who meet at 5:15 p.m. on Fridays in Mckee Gymnasium.

Though this was originally a semester project, the group wants to continue the class, Savvidou said.

“Faculty also attend because if the faculty are informed, they can transfer that to their students in lessons,” Savvidou said.

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