Sunday, August 28, 2011

Your face WILL freeze like that!

There are a lot of sayings that our moms repeated when we were growing up, and some of them were right. With my four siblings, an array of pets, and half the neighborhood in my house, my mother had to be quick to discharge the right command at the right time. She knew that making taunting faces was just one step before physical retaliation, hence the speedy warning, "Your face will freeze like that!".

Turns out, she was right. The body can and does change, depending on what we do with it on a daily basis. Exercise is thought to be the way to alter muscle shape, size and strength, but everything we do is thanks to muscle movement, making all daily movement decisions forms of exercise.

Even if you have a daily dose of formal exercise, you probably still spend more time doing everything else you do. This is particularly true for musicians who have practice regimens of several hours per day. Our bodies adapt to the positions and movements we choose for playing our instruments. If those movements are balanced and structurally sound, our bodies will be comfortable. If those movements are out of balance and not well-coordinated, we will teach our bodies to push through the discomfort and to muscle our way through t
he the lack of ease. This forcing also changes muscle shape and effort for the task.

The worst outcome of these decisions is a form of muscle freezing known as dystonia. Dystonia produces uncontrollable muscle spasms and/or the inability to access movement in certain muscles while other muscles work far too hard. For musicians, this is the kiss of death, not just a "funny face".

It is surmised that Robert Schumann was a dystonia sufferer, and Leon Fleisher's struggle with uncontrollable muscle spasms is well documented by Fleisher himself. Dystonia is now thought to be a brain problem with muscular symptoms rather than a muscular problem alone. Dystonic musicians need evaluation by experts to rule out neuro-muscular diseases that can mimic dystonia.

One of the common treatments for dystonia is botox, injected to quiet the spasms, another form of freezing movement, if you will. Musicians with dystonia may choose this in order to stop the pain and disorienting jumping of muscles. Again, professional evaluation is required.

Another very helpful strategy is body mapping. Body mapping is a process of evaluating one's understanding of physical structure, thereby correcting any errors that may be limiting free movement.

As teachers, we can help our students by teaching structure along with technique. Avoiding mythical representations of structure and movement is a high priority. Our students are more likely to make healthy movement choices if they know how they are constructed, as are we.

Tools for body mapping can be found at Teachers trained in this approach can also be located at this site.