In Piano-Yoga® we believe that creating an optimal environment which promotes the student’s sense of well-being is the best approach to learning the piano.
When we feel relaxed, think positively, and our concentration is at its peak, we can learn more quickly and efficiently. In this state, learning can even feel like having fun, where studying and mastering something new become an effortless and pleasurable experience.
It is true that some of the best educational systems (like the Russian school, for example) are based on a strict, disciplined approach to learning, where competition is the upmost motivation for success and the strongest students are stretched to the maximum. Such systems have produced amazing results, but the emotionally weakest often give up, unable to progress and develop.
Whilst Piano-Yoga® aims to help students to perfect their technique, this is only a tool. Our foremost motivation is to make the piano playing process as enjoyable and pleasurable as possible within the wider framework of the student’s lifestyle. In order to do this, I not only instruct students specifically in the Piano-Yoga® technique, but I also show them how to efficiently schedule their practice sessions and how to take care of their health and body in order to get the most out of their practice and cultivate a positive mindset.
I like to address this issue by using ideas taken from ancient Indian Ayurvedic philosophy. This philosophy is the traditional Hindu system of medicine and is based on the idea of bringing balance to the body using diet, herbal treatments, yogic postures, and breathing. In line with the discipline of Ayurveda, I ask students to pay attention to what they eat, ask them to monitor how they feel each day, and if they are not happy with the results I teach them, how to change their sense of well-being, correcting it through various exercises, simple posture adjustments, and the use of aromatherapy. I very much encourage our students to create a practice environment full of clean energy, where the student feels comfortable, safe, and nurtured.
Would you like to try this for yourself? Here’s what you can do in just one week:
• Notice when your energy is at its best and try to practice at that time.
Are you a morning person or evening? Is the afternoon the best or the worst time for you? Try to practice when you brain is at its best and your muscles are not stiff.
• Find out if there is a regular time you can practice and, if possible, stick to it.
Getting into a routine will help the body feel comfortable in its environment and will also enable you to concentrate faster and more acutely.
• Try not to practice on an empty stomach, but also not on a full one.
• Use the main principles of Ayurveda according to how you feel.
According to the Ayurvedic principles, a person can either be tamasic (sluggish/slow), rajasic (hyperactive/fast) or sattvic (balanced) depending on their current state of mind. If you are feeling unsettled, you are certainly in either a tamasic or rajasic state and therefore should aim to bring yourself back into a sattvic, or balanced, state.
Decide how you are feeling at this present moment: tamasic or rajasic?
Please note that food recommendation advice is generic, so if you have any allergies and/or other health conditions, please consult your doctor before following the advice listed above.
For people in tamasic (sluggish/slow) state I recommend:
Going for a brisk walk before practice, if possible.
Playing the piano at a moderate or fast tempo but not too slowly!
Eating a moderate amount of rajasic foods before practice to induce more energy into your system, such as chocolate, tea, or coffee (but not too much of these, otherwise you may find yourself in a rajasic state!). Fish, eggs, chilli peppers and strongly-flavoured herbs and spices can also help bring you into a state of balance.
Do some physical exercise. Yoga is excellent as long as it is a vinyasa sequence or another dynamic and flowing yoga practice. Exercises encourages better blood circulation and warms up the muscles.
For people in a rajasic (hyperactive/nervous) state I recommend:
Going for a slow walk or doing some simple slow stretches, mainly with forward bends Please make sure that you do not have any back issues and know how to do stretches safely.
Playing everything on the piano slower than usual.
Eat some tamasic food before the practice time to induce a calming effect on the body (i.e., meat, cooked vegetables, mushrooms, and dried, tinned or frozen fruit).
Practising slow, deep breathing as it has an excellent calming effect on the body. The yogic breath technique of Ujjayi is particularly good if you are familiar with it – otherwise I would recommend initial guidance from a qualified yoga teacher.
Trying to meditate and rest more between short practice sessions.
• Make sure that you feel comfortable in your environment.
In the morning have plenty of fresh air in the room (no dust, as it is not only bad for your health, but has a negative impact on a place's energy). In the evening make sure that the room is warm and well-lit whilst that the lights are not too bright, as this can make you feel tired.
• Do some physical exercises before your piano practice.
Doing some physical work can do wonders for your body and mind. Whether your preferred form of exercise is walking, running, yoga, pilates or swimming - these will all keep your body alive, toned, and oxygenated. Even just ten or fifteen minutes of exercise before your piano practice can dramatically improve your playing and your ability to concentrate!
• Have some fluids close to you.
Preferably have some water (ideally at room temperature, unless you feel hot) or some tea (herbal would be the best, but if you are feeling tired sometimes black tea or coffee can help, as long as you are not in a rajasic state).
• Use aromatherapy - this can work wonders on your practice!
Before embarking on the use of aromatherapy, I strongly suggest that you do some homework. Find out what oils and smells you like and how they make you feel. These oils can either be applied to your skin as a cream, used as a room spray, or in oil burners. You really need to know what products you are using and which method is the most effective for you. Using aromatherapy has the potential of creating a strong effect that can really elevate your mood, improve your concentration, or simply make you feel happier!
I personally use room sprays the most, and these days, I create my own fragrances by mixing various oils. It is so simple: fill a glass bottle with water and add various oils that you like. The oils usually change with the seasons, the time of day, and my mood - hence I have many different bottles! I recommend using a diffuser to spray the oil mixture. My favourite morning mix at the moment is an invigorating combination of cypress, lemon grass, peppermint, and lime.
Below are a few examples of how different oils can help you. There are endless possibilities for creating various smells! Be sure to check out the individual oils for yourself as everyone may have a different reaction and preference to scents.
Bergamot helps to fight anxiety, confusion, and depression. It can also relieve headaches and reduce irritability and stress.
Pepper is great for fighting apathy, relieving colds, cramps, the flu, muscle aches. It is also known for simultaneously creating calm and boosting energy.
Ylang-ylang helps to fight depression and stress. It also improves sleep and enhances moods.
Rose helps with anxiety, depression and fear, creating nurturing and positive feelings.
Clary Sage helps to fight hyperactivity, improve sleep, avoid panic attacks, and induces peace of mind.
Try to pay attention to these few ideas and see how they can improve your practice!
Having said all this, it is important to have a clear goal (know what you would like to achieve from each practice session) and maintain a planned practice process. Try to be undisturbed during your sessions. Finall, always approach your practice thinking constructively: don’t see problems, only solutions!
Here is a little video about our experience at the Piano-Yoga® Retreat in Cyprus, which I created as the ultimate holistic approach to piano learning. It includes piano masterclasses and seminars, yoga exercises, food tasting, wonderful sightseeing excursions and communication with inspiring, like-minded people! I cannot wait to go back to 'normal' life so we will be able to create the similar retreats again.
I am considering designing the similar programme for online users, as it seems to be a very popular international trend at the moment due to pandemic. If you would like to to take part in such retreat, please let me know!
Meanwhile, you can join me by subscribing to my Piano-Yoga® 'Transform Your Hands' Video Course, where you can practise Piano-Yoga® exercises 'alongside me' in your own practice space.
You can sign up to the course here. I have also included below a video introduction to the course.
Enjoy! And if you have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out in the comments.
With love and light,