Kinomichi part 3 - The Road Less Traveled

I’m hoping our experiment has gotten you in the mood and the mind-space to explore the balloon game in other activities, including the way you approach your instrument. Most of us have pretty strong beliefs and feelings about how to practice and perform in order to achieve our musical goals. But is it possible that these expectations are preventing us from discovering our true artistic potential? Let’s find out if the balloon game offers any insight.

Start with something simple – as simple as bringing your instrument into playing position. Do you find that something changes in you as soon as you feel that contact? As soon as you think of it? Often it’s not just our fingers, arms and shoulders that prepare with unnecessary tension but also our neck, head, back and legs – even our brain! Hold your instrument in a comfortable resting position and allow any excess tension to flow out of you. Return to the steps of the balloon game. Does anything change if you take your time and allow your imaginary balloons to guide your movements? Maybe it seems like you can’t do it, that you’ll never reach the expected conclusion. That doubtful feeling is an indicator of a critical learning moment, a fork in the road. Pause here, suspend yourself and wait for your inner guide to take the lead down this unknown path.

Try 3 or 4 long tones. How do your imaginary balloons fair once you start making sound? How about your inner guide? Adding sound throws a whole new set of expectations into the mix. If you’re like me, you can quickly revert to a lot of analyzing and attempting to correct mid-stream. For these 3-4 notes, throw caution to the wind! Take your time, let your balloons suspend your arms and allow your inner guide to take care of the sound. Try this a little bit every day at the start of your practicing – find out if you can surprise yourself!

This is just the beginning of the journey and the tip of the iceberg regarding games you can explore to improve your playing and your general well-being. Start with little steps and small doses and see what it adds up to. Break out of your routine, try something new and have fun! I’d love to hear about what you discover – stay tuned for more Kinomichi-inspired musings!

Kinomichi part 2 - The Red Balloon

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Experience is the best teacher: let’s try a Kinomichi-inspired, Alexander Technique-infused movement experiment and explore our inner guides’ potential!

Raise one arm above your head. 

When I give you that instruction what’s your first reaction – to shoot your arm straight up like a schoolkid with all the answers? To swing your arm forward or to the side in an arc? To feel your shoulder tensing or lifting to raise the arm? Notice whatever it is that you do in performing this movement. Try it a few times to get to know your usual pattern, without judging or trying to change anything. 

Come back to resting and let any excess tension flow out of your shoulder, arm, wrist, fingers – any place in your body that you might be holding on to the movement. Now imagine your fingertip is attached by a string to a helium balloon (the friendly presence of the title character in The Red Balloon, for example). Allow yourself to take the time it takes to use a minimum of tension or effort as you imagine the balloon moving your arm. The balloon slowly elevates your softened fingers, then hand, until your whole arm is extended/suspended over your head. Imagine the balloon rising up, leading your fingertips, lengthening your arm and lengthening your whole body as your feet rest on the floor. Your fingers are soft, your wrist is soft, your arm is soft, your neck is soft, your back and legs are supporting you with as little effort as possible – this is how you allow yourself to extend even a little bit further than you anticipated. Do you notice a desire to make yourself longer, to use extra effort to stretch? Although it may seem counterintuitive, all that work that we want to add to this movement – our expectations of how it should happen – may actually prevent us from achieving our maximum length, a length we may not have known we could attain. Let your imaginary balloon be a stimulus for a different movement experience.

As you allow your arm to float back to rest, do you notice any differences between your arms? Any differences between the right and left sides of your body? To bring yourself back into balance, play the game with your other arm. What’s unique about how this arm wants to move? Are you expecting it to be like the first arm? As much as you can, let go of the expectation that the second arm will move the same way as the first. Find out what it’s like if you treat this as a whole new moment for exploration. Up the ante: extend both arms overhead - at the same time or one joining the other. Devise your own exploration.

See the glimmer of a new path yet? In my next post we’ll explore how this open, patient state could inform a daily activity, like brushing your teeth or playing the flute!

Kinomichi part 1 - Joyful Movement

I recently attended a thought-provoking class on a branch of Aikido called Kinomichi, a blending of martial arts with dance, informed by an anatomical understanding of movement. I found it to be a challenging and satisfying experience, shaking me out of my usual routine and engaging my creative thinking in motion. As I learned more about this graceful, dynamic practice I noticed parallels with the Alexander Technique and interesting implications for playing an instrument that I'm excited to investigate further.

We began the class by experimenting with simple gestures engaging the whole body (spirals, squats, lunges, etc.). We were encouraged to let our inner sense guide the movements rather than to impose the "right" position. What does it take to get this inner guide to perk up and contribute? If you're like me, it takes time - quieting expectations, judgments and preparation. And what comes from this listening? As your inner chatter falls away you may find answers that you didn't even know you had.

I wondered almost immediately: how do these questions apply to flute playing? Am I making music from the outside in or the inside out? Am I forcing my interpretation on the music or am I allowing the music to speak through me? Big, important, scary questions that can start a person on a long and winding road... Perhaps not an easy path to follow - it often means having to delay the gratification of performing in our usual way - but well worth the patience required to allow alternative, spontaneous possibilities to emerge.

In my next post, we'll try a simple movement experiment - stay tuned!