T'ai Chi & Mindfulness for Musicians & Creatives: Increased Focus

T'ai Chi & Mindfulness for Musicians & Creatives...

Use Increased Focus to calm the inner "waters" of our minds & hearts...

One of the more immediate benefits we can obtain from almost any meditative practice, including T'ai Chi, is an increased ability to focus our attention. Meditation by its own nature, is the process by which we can be increasingly aware of our thoughts & emotions. With practice then comes eventually the ability to choose these thoughts & emotions, in other words, what to focus on. This basic lesson is common to all major meditative techniques, & even most/all religions.

So how can an increased focus help my music practice? Quite simply, most of the playing mistakes I make when I sit down to play the guitar or compose music, are mistakes of attention, i.e. thinking of what I need to be doing later that day, feelings that come up from past & present experiences, distractions in my own music studio (I try to eliminate as many of those from my environment as I can), etc.

When we practice T'ai Chi, as an example of one of these meditative techniques, I increase my focus & attention on the present moment. The slow movements helps my mind to focus on these movements, while the rest of my attention shifts to observing what I feel, what I think, but not holding on to any particular thought or feeling. With daily practice, this attention & focus on the present moment becomes easier to achieve & sustain while we are practicing. But what happens after we stop doing T'ai Chi? Well, the real test of its effectiveness is when this increased focus remains with us after we stop our practice for the day. In the beginning we may experience this clear focus for a few minutes afterwards, but with a daily practice routine, the aftereffects will remain with us for longer & longer periods. Until this ability to focus on whatever we want remains with us during the whole day, as we were intended to function. Eventually we have this increased focus with us always, nurtured by our daily practice. Also to keep in mind is that we are human beings, so naturally we will experience events in our lives that will throw us off our balance. But the more we have cultivated this balanced state, the harder it will be to loose our center, & easier to recover it when we are thrown off balance. In my T'ai Chi training we often heard that the eventual (ideal) goal of T'ai Chi is to not have to do it anymore. While this is an ideal, in practical terms it means that T'ai Chi is a tool to helps us be more present in our lives, not to be separate from it. 

This is an invaluable skill for any musician or creative artist. The better I can focus, the more progress I make during my music practice time, the better I can prepare & perform during music events, the better I can regroup after a performance, in order to get ready for the next one. This focus also helps with any pre-performance jitters or stomach butterflies we may be feeling, as our confidence grows that we are prepared for an event.

Like music practice itself, practice makes (near) perfect when it comes to T'ai Chi. It can become an amazing "instrument" in our music toolbox!

T'ai Chi & Yoga for Musicians (& all others too :-)

"Ama Sua, Ama Kjella, Ama Lllulla. - Don't lie, don't cheat, don't be lazy." Quechua greeting during Inca times.

I am going to be sharing some thoughts here during the next few blogs, about T'ai Chi (Tai Chi) & yoga for musicians. I have studied & practiced both T'ai Chi & yoga since the early nighties, as well as being a certified T'ai Chi instructor & teacher in a style called T'ai Chi Chih (loosely translated as "Knowledge of the Supreme Ultimate"). This style emphasizes the health & relaxation benefits of T'ai Chi, & not its traditional martial arts roots.

I am also a musician & classical guitar player. Over the years I have always paid attention to the right balance of warm up exercises, fitness as well as the correct technique & posture needed to play an instrument well. Musicians are athletes, in every sense of the word, & attention to our well-being at a physical, mental as well as emotional levels is necessary to play freely. I'd venture to also say that our spiritual well-being is very important, maybe the most essential level.

The first concept to be aware of when making music is that of focus. Call it concentration, one-pointed focus, being in the flow or the zone... All are describing the same focused performance level. Both T'ai Chi & yoga can be thought of as moving meditations. As a matter of fact, because of the element of movement in both, many practitioners have an easier time with them than, let's say, sit down meditation. And it is precisely why a movement practice can be very important to a musician in developing the level of focus & relaxed attention needed to play music.

Most of my mistakes when practicing & performing music, are mistakes of attention, or lack thereof. By being faithful in my daily T'ai Chi & yoga practice, I have found a direct correlation between my focus & my music playing.

I'll continue sharing more thoughts on this in the next installments.



I listen to the silence...

"I close my eyes & become silent... Then the whole Universe speaks up..." Eduardo Martinez

"I close my eyes & become silent... Then the whole Universe speaks up..." Eduardo Martinez

Timucua White House Performance March 3rd, 2014

This was an outreach performance as part of the Atlantic Center for the Arts Residency #152, that I was a part of. It took place at the Timucua White House in Orlando, FL on March 3rd, 2014. Marilyn Crispell, the musical master artist at this residency & consummate musician, played a solo set at the beginning of the video, and then an ensemble piece, Corridor, with the ACA ensemble of musicians, starting at 27:09 minutes. The link & password:

Vimeo Performance Link

Password to access the video: MC-ACA-CM5

Source: https://vimeo.com/88385718