Close your eyes. Ok well, maybe not quite yet, but go ahead and get comfortable because in a moment, I really do want you to close your eyes. Here’s what I’m going to ask you to do: take a deep, long breath in. The kind that makes your lungs full and your belly feel like it’s going to burst. Now exhale slowly but powerfully. Do it again. And again. Listen to the sound of your breath.
Ok NOW close your eyes while doing all of that again: taking in the deep breaths and becoming aware of the sound and rhythm of your breathing. Connect with where you are. Just observe and be.
Did you know that researchers have discovered that the type of breathing a person engages in directly reflects the level of tension carried in their body?(footnote 1) That means that every single person on this earth, young or old, possesses the ability to check in on their breathing to assess their internal levels of tension. Wow! What a simple, quick resource that we carry with us all the time!
Now, without disturbing the mental and physical space you have connected with, take a quick head-to-toe physical scan. What is the state of your body tension at this moment? Are there any places that feel particularly tight or unusually loose? Close your eyes again as you turn your observations inward and focus on your physical being. For now, just make observations; we’ll discuss what to do with that tension in the progressive relaxation article and what to do with your observations about thoughts and physical space in the articles on meditation and mindfulness a little later. Right now, keep those deep belly breaths going. In and out. Slow and loud.
Here you are. Today, at this moment you are here. How do you feel? Relaxed? Connected to the moment and space you are occupying? Focused? Frazzled? Whatever you feel, acknowledge it, don’t fight it, just make an observation. If you are finding yourself not quite settled in, repeat the breathing and physical observations until your mind and body are in peaceful agreement.
This is satisfying, isn’t it? Taking a moment to be and to recognize where you are in the world, where you are in your day, where your body is in its space, and to acknowledge how you feel about all of it is deeply connecting.
In addition to creating a moment or two of awareness and connection with the present, other benefits of deep, mindful inhalation and exhalation include the relief of muscle tension, a decrease in pain, and the increased function of the body’s nervous system.(footnote 2) It also encourages mental calm and enhances concentration, which is beneficial for all musicians, especially ones who may need to perform by memory. And a decrease in pain? This breathing concept carries a lot of impact!
Now imagine giving your students the gift of utilizing this powerful moment at the beginning of each lesson. Imagine the stillness, the quiet focus, the relaxed concentration that might blossom within them, opening them up for instruction and a productive lesson. Imagine if each student began every practice session like this at home. Purposeful breathing is an easy and effective way to introduce to young children the idea of developing awareness of and taking control of their minds and bodies.(footnote 3) It requires zero equipment or preparation, all we have to do is tune into something we’re automatically doing already: breathing. What a powerful tool to make your students aware of from the very first lesson. For audio files of real-time guided breathing exercises to use with your students, download Strategies for Successful Musicianship.
For more information and worksheets on breathing, including teacher discussions, student discussions, activity pages, observation worksheets, step-by-step exercises, reflection pages, and daily practice charts, download the Relaxed Concentration Workbook for Musicians (for yourself) or the Mindfulness for Musicians: Workbook for Teachers and Students (for your students).
Also, check out the free breathing worksheets if you'd like an additional hands-on resource to use with students to help you get started. Now, close your eyes and breathe.
1 Edmund J. Bourne, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, 5th edition (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2010), 82.
2 Edmund J. Bourne, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, 81.
3 Yu-Huei Su, Jerjunn Luh, Hsin-I Chen, Chao-Chen Lin, Miin-Jiun Liao, Heng-Shuen Chen “Effects of Using Relaxation Breathing Training to Reduce Music Performance Anxiety in 3rd to 6th Graders:” 81.