by Molly Johnson
Molly Johnson is a singer and oldtime banjo and guitar player who just moved to Austin from Missouri. Molly teaches the Alexander Technique, which is a method of self-care that reduces tension, stress, and chronic pain; improves posture, balance, and coordination; and enhances performance for musicians, dancers, actors and during daily activities and exercise. You can find more information about studying the Alexander Technique at www.integratedmotionstudio.com.
If you are like me, you look forward to summer - not because of the spectacular weather, but because of all the music festivals that spring up around the country. It is so exciting to drive off to far flung places and set up elaborate camp-homes. You find amazing jams and play all night, then catch a few hours of sleep. You get up, drink gallons of coffee, then do it again. But, there are often costs to the intensive festival lifestyle. Maybe you worry about the neck or back pain rearing its ugly head, the soreness creeping back into your wrists and shoulders, the general stiffness and fatigue that takes over. It is important to know that it is possible to take care of yourself, to make choices that minimize the risk of pain and discomfort. It is up to you to ensure that you survive festival season! Here are some tips to keep in mind while traveling, camping, and jamming:
- Stay upright and alert while you drive. Make your seat as vertical as you can and put towels or a pillow behind your back to you can sit upright without much effort. Hold the wheel as if you are shaking someone’s hand – not gripped, but not heavy. Use cruise control and sit with your feet symmetrical. Keep your mind alert, neck free, and head poised on a lengthening spine.
- Be an engaged passenger. If you really need to sleep, use a pillow and find a lengthened neck and back position (with your seatbelt on). Otherwise, try to avoid zoning out and collapsing into awkward positions. Sit upright and watch the view in front of you, listen to music, or think about something that is holds your attention without being stressful.
- Set up camp intelligently. Park so you won’t have to haul your gear very far. Plan what to unload and where to put it so you don’t move your gear multiple times. If an object is packed deep in your vehicle, slide it close to you before lifting it. When you lift heavy objects, slowly transition to hold their weight before you start lifting, leaving your neck free and back long.
- Haul your instruments with care. Bring a travel cases for instruments. Make gear as light as possible and carry instruments on your back or close to your body with the weight evenly distributed. Stay aiming up with your head and back and don’t tense your neck, back, or arms to carry heavy cases.
- Choose your sitting position wisely. When you play, use a flat-bottomed chair. Sit upright, on the front of the chair, with your feet flat on the ground. Claim the full space you need to play; move your chair so you don’t have to modify your playing posture to avoid bumping the person next to you.
- Sit with poise, not posture. Cancel your idea of what good posture involves. Do not try to find a certain position and hold it. Instead, choose ease over effort in your back and arms. Try to be dynamic, as if there is a stream of activity or energy flowing freely through you, aiming you up at all times. Always allow your head to be poised freely on the top of your spine and your back to lengthen and widen.
- Use breaks to do less, not more. During long drives and endless jams, take short and long breaks before you start feeling tired or achy. Put your feet on the ground, sit up tall, without tightening your back or neck. You can lift your arms overhead to give your back space to lengthen up to its full height, making sure you don’t collapse your back when you bring your arms back down. When you can, find a flat spot to lie down with your head supported and your knees bent so your feet are on the ground. Think of quieting all the tension and activity and encourage your neck to be free, your head to aim out from your spine, your back to lengthen and widen, and your arms to lengthen to your fingertips. Avoid thoughtless stretching; instead, be still and think of yourself expanding without effort or movement.
- Never sacrifice yourself for the music. Prioritize how you use your head, neck, and back. If you pay closer attention to how you use yourself, you can keep fatigue and discomfort at bay and play with greater control, for longer periods of time. And you can make your festival experiences even more enjoyable!