About nine months ago now (and at the recommendation of my dentist!), I joined my first yoga class... Although I'd been doing yoga on my own for a long time, I found taking part in a class to be something completely different and I am so happy it's a part of my life now!
I would imagine most yoga classes work in a similar way, even if the content varies. You begin by connecting mindfully to your breath and letting go of the 'outside world', and then you work your way through a series of poses under the guidance of your teacher. The class usually ends with 'yoga nidra' which is where your body rests and relaxes fully while your mind is awake and in a sort of meditative state. During this part of the class my teacher will often draw one activity to a close so we can begin the next by saying: 'now we release this practice'; and something about this phrase (said with a beautiful Italian accent) has stuck in my mind...
As a child I remember my mother drilling me on scales. I hated every minute of it! I saw the time spent with my clarinet as a means to an end... If I'm really honest I probably only kept playing because it brought me some positive attention! In the years that followed I often only practiced because I needed to work FOR something. Exams, concerts, work, whatever... I had a goal in mind. I was pretty good at meeting those goals too, and so it continued, all the way into my professional life.
I now realise that my practice left a lot to be desired.
You see no matter how often I did it, and no matter how good I got at it (and with apologies to anyone reading this from America!), I wasn't exploring the practice of clarinet playing in its (correct) form, as a noun... Practice was something I did, but I didn't find it a meaningful and mindful experience in and of itself. Even though I was learning the music or training my hands, I wasn't fully experiencing the practice of playing the clarinet. I was always trying to GET somewhere, but without really enjoying the journey.
When we find something difficult, be it in something in a piece of music or just a situation in our life, it's common for us to 'tense up'. When we become tense and anxious our breathing becomes shallower and our pulse rate increases. These are normal physiological responses to stress. Yoga teaches us to relax into postures. It teaches that even when something is difficult at first it becomes easier if we go at it gently, little by little. We need to allow ourselves space and time to grow into the postures. Yoga teaches us to focus on the breath in those tight spots and twists... What a gift to be able to bring that philosophy and physiology into my practice of playing the clarinet!
Now I approach my daily practice in quite a different way. I am kinder to myself, I am less anxious, I am more mindful, my breathing is better... I ACHIEVE MORE. Of course I still have goals and things I need to work towards, but they are no longer the only thing I'm focused on. My daily relationship with my instrument is the most important thing, everything else comes from that.