My Summer of Healing

lotus in the drivewayThis has been a great summer for me. A violinist friend, Orbella, has been staying with me 4 days a week. She plays part time with my orchestra here in Columbus. She has quickly become a very good friend. We joke that we are the happiest unmarried couple alive. If only I were straight…

Orbella, whom I dubbed “the Orb”, has allowed me to laugh my way back into a comfortable happiness. She has given me the confidence to know the respect that my 46 year old presence commands, to know the value of my questioning depth. She has showed me many things which I hadn’t experienced in years, a kind of exuberant, European sophistication. Her spirit is healthy, rich, subtle and yet very similar to mine, but younger. We are much alike. So we have learned from each other who we are capable of being. We are soul mates.

Since we both wear Chanel colognes/perfumes, we call ourselves the Chanel Twins. Watch out, here we come!

The other thing which has changed my life is the Alexander Technique. Here is that story.

For much of my life I’ve existed in a kind of abstract physical denial. I live in a world of thought and ideas and emotional reactions, barely present physically. I was always worried about the future of the past, anxious about my playing, uncomfortable with my instrument, never able to relax and just be. I was also mistrusting of everyone, including good friends. I never felt comfortable practicing clarinet where anyone could hear me, for fear of being judged, or some other neurosis. I think that being sick for so long in the 90’s, then being depressed, added to this problem. I would basically go through the day filled with anxiety, fear, inhibition, expectation, judgment and unbalance. Exercise helped. Meditation helped for awhile. Self-examination, which would seem to help, actually aggravated the situation.

I developed pain down my left neck side and behind my shoulder blade. It got worse with yoga and weightlifting. I finally resorted to chiropractic and massage therapy. I had heard of Alexander being good for musicians, but had never felt the need to explore it. It happened there was a teacher in the building right next to the chiropractor.

I went to my first lesson and was blown away at the good energy coming from the teacher. She showed me, with my own body, how it felt to have space and freedom in all movement. She suggested I stop playing with my legs closed and the clarinet sitting on my lap, since it closed a major flow of energy. For the next week, I floated as a lotus does above the water, barely aware of the drowning prison I had endured for years.

I went to another teacher, who came at the same technique more intellectually. He outlined the method:

Most of us react to stress unconsciously, and the body goes into “startle position”, head and neck pulled back and down. This position becomes a constant habit, and as a result, the rest of our body is never able to flow and becomes unbalanced and unhealthy.

The solution is to learn the body’s language and learn to consciously control it.

1) primary control, or primary flow- releasing the neck forward and up, where it is free from tension and free to flow with the body following.

2) global awareness- being aware of your 3 dimensional surroundings, your body in space.

3) kinesthetic awareness- being aware of the body “from the inside” as opposed to from the mind.

4)Part of this process is “body mapping”, learning what feeling in the body connects to what parts, and separating fact from fiction as to how things work.

5) inhibition- a positive way of “thinking before acting”; in other words, acting very consciously.

As with most people, I was acting and living unconsciously. And my unconscious habits were atrocious. My emotions were so doubting and anxious that my body felt the same. My breathing was forced, artificial and tight. My neck was constantly in the “startle position”, pulled in and back. My back was tense. My abdomen was tense, more so because of all my surgeries and the resulting scar tissue.

Some of the problems, such as the pain in my neck, will take years to solve. (Part of the reason I don’t blog much is that I had head and eye strain from sitting in front of the computer. Hopefully this will improve with better usage) But I’ve found that the body awareness I’ve learned has also helped me emotionally. My constant anxiety and fear were deeply held within my body. I had become an expert at looking relaxed on the outside, but was usually anxious on the inside.

This brings me back to the way I’ve lived my life, or at least how I’ve lived the past 12 years, but perhaps much longer: in a kind of abstract world of ideas and fantasy and emotional reactions, without ever listening to my body’s language.

I’ve learned that being in my body is a way of staying grounded. I am naturally full of imagination and millions of thoughts and observations, chunks of worlds, seeing through people, giddy with possibility, or slumped with emotional and physical stupor from self-doubt. My body was dragged around behind all those wild emotions. Now that I have “primary control” (at least learning it) I can stay grounded, while my mind is free to explore all kinds of stuff without me losing who I am.

My physical existence is also incredibly important to playing the clarinet. Now that I know better how to breathe, support, stay loose under pressure…I can play more freely, finding the path of least resistance to being a better player.

As you can see, I’ve been busy, in very good way.

I’m off on my summer travels now. For the next few weeks, until August 18th, I’ll be: hiking in the Adirondacks (the BEST healing for me), visiting Father in Cape Cod, visiting Mother in Bethesda, and attending the International Clarinet Festival in Atlanta for a few days.

Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be back soon for more explorations of of Garnet-David’s existence.

15 thoughts on “My Summer of Healing

  1. Hi David.

    I too am a clarinet player, though no pro. I was/am an avid student, but had to stop over a decade ago because of similar such pain in my neck and scapula that was acute at times and chronic. Sounds all too familiar.

    I started playing again two years ago the same troubles arose. Still searching for answers to the chronic pain in neck and upper back. Gadgets, neckstraps, pills, exercise, physio, and the odd shaman of sorts haven’t yet solved the problem for me.

    I’m 43 now…and seem to take 2 or 3 steps back for every 5 forward where clarinet study is concerned…for no other reason than it hurts. I struggle with the realization that pain may stop me from attaining the technical fluidity I work towards.

    You’re courage to post gives me hope. Many musicians, I believe, live quietly with pain, afraid to invite the comments of peers within what can be a competetive environment.

    Anyway…as they say…I hope you relax the pain away. May I wish us both a good measure of luck and peace. Thanks for sharing your world.


  2. Hi,
    It has been a long time ago that I dropped by, but it is so god to see that you find healing and confirmation in your whole being

  3. Tom- I’m sorry you have suffered and that it has prevented you from enjoying playing the clarinet. I seriously think you should look into some Alexander lessons. You may learn of pervasive usage habits which cause your pain to happen. Allexander has helped me understand and aleviate stress and tension in all my activities, not just clarinet playing.

    Good luck to you, and thank you for sharing your story. By the way, I also have a musician blog, called Buzzing Reed. It’s listed in the “favorites” on this blog.

  4. David, I hope you will have wonderful travels! You sound like you’ve really come into yourself in a very healthy way this summer, and it’s great to hear it in your voice. I wonder how differently you will feel now, while hiking! Have a great trip.

  5. HI David, It’s good to hear you’ve had so much healing and transformation. I’m also interested in your experiences with the Alexander Technique, of which I’m a practitioner in London, UK. I’m glad it’s been working for you. My AT site is Alexander Technique if you’re interested.
    Hope you’ve had a good holiday.

  6. Thank you all for your well wishes. I have returned, but am taking time to return to routine. (except practicing) I am finding how important silence is, both in the mind and outside it. It was a wonderful and healing trip, especially the hiking, where I was alone with the security of nature.

  7. David dear: I have read and reread your latest “Summer Healing” and “Physicality Spirit”. Very moving and with “growth” and love. You are falling in love with life my dear son David! All my love to you and whoever and whatever gives you happiness and fullment, Mom

  8. “Tom- I’m sorry you have suffered and that it has prevented you from enjoying playing the clarinet.”

    Thank you for your kind thoughts and your suggestion that I learn some Alexander Technique. I am going to do just that. I’m seeking help, stopping the clarinet altogether while I do. I’ve been trying to play with pain. Thought I could…but my neck and wrists say “NO!.” Certainly clarinet playing is not the only aspect of my life affected by chronic pain, just the most enjoyable activity I can think of. I try to remain positive and your story helps. I don’t want to think of this as permanent, but a changeable state if I abide the message my body is giving me.

    Thanks again for your thoughts and story.

    Take care,


  9. Tom- Best of luck. If you have “subluxation” pinching nerves in your neck, as I do, it will take time to repair. I still have to resort to chiropractic treatments to keep nudging my neck into its natural curve.

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