Coping Strategies for Music Performance Anxiety – Meditation
One of my biggest struggles with performance anxiety has been learning to quiet my internal monologue. This constant chatter is distracting and can quickly lead to negative self-talk. Practicing meditation in and out of the practice room has helped me to learn to refocus my mind during performance situations. In this post, I will discuss three meditation routines that I have experimented with and modified for my own practice routine.
Mia Olson’s book Musician’s Yoga has quickly become one of my go-to resources for meditation. Olson describes meditation as “the process of letting go time after time, becoming the observer of our thoughts - realizing that we are not our thoughts.”[i] Realizing that our thoughts do not define us as human beings is an essential revelation for musicians. Practicing meditation can help musicians develop awareness of their thoughts and be able to refocus them on essential aspects of performances. In addition, meditation teaches the performer how to let go of extraneous thoughts during a performance.
The following is a meditation routine adapted from Olson’s text Musician’s Yoga[ii]:
Find a comfortable position. This may be lying down on the floor with your knees bent or cross-legged in a seated position. Place your hands in your lap, on your stomach, or on the floor. Placing your palms up will help you feel as if you’re receiving energy while placing your palms down will mimic conserving energy. You should not feel any stress or tension in your body. Focus on the places of contact beneath your body. Feel rooted in these places. Begin noticing your breath. Observe the quality of each inhale and exhale. As you exhale, think about releasing deeper into relaxation. Keep your mind focused on your breathing. Notice the quality of each inhale and exhale. As thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them. Then, return your attention to your breath. Strive for feelings of calmness and peacefulness.
Breath Meditation with an Instrument
After practicing the above meditation routine several times away from the practice room, it is important to transfer this mindset to the practice room by incorporating breath meditation while playing an instrument.
The following is a meditation routine adapted from Olson’s text Musician’s Yoga[iii]:
Begin by centering yourself using the previous meditation sequence. Once your breaths have become smooth and consistent begin working on a fundamental exercise on your instrument. During this exercise, you should rely on muscle memory and memorization to execute the technique. Allow your mind to stay centered on your breath. Notice any muscles that are tightening while inhaling or exhaling and allow them to relax. Continue redirecting your concentration to your breath as thoughts enter your mind. Once you have mastered this begin increasing the difficulty of the exercise you are playing and continue to maintain concentration. Each time your mind wanders notice it, let it go and return your attention to your breath.
Once you are able to consistently incorporate breath meditation into your fundamental practice and warm-up routine, it’s time to start using this method to slow your heart rate before a performance. The creators of Play: A Psychological Toolkit for Optimal Music Performance, Gregory Daubney, and Dr. Alison Daubney, suggest simulating a stressful performance situation through increasing your heart rate and then using the breath to regain control of your heart rate and refocus your mind on the present moment.
The following routine has been adapted from Play: A Psychological Toolkit for Optimal Music Performance by Gregory Daubney and Dr. Alison Daubney[iv]:
Pick an excerpt of your repertoire that you may be nervous to perform under pressure. Walk up and down a few stairs, do some jumping jacks, or jog in place long enough to get your heart rate up. Increased heart rate mimics performance anxiety. Once your heart rate is raised, bring your attention to your breath. Notice the quality of each inhale and exhale. After a few breaths, begin breathing in for two counts and exhaling for four. This metered breathing will help center your body and regain control of your breath. After several metered breaths return to normal breath meditation. Breathe as if you were playing your fundamental exercise. Maintain this relaxed calm breath through the duration of the excerpt you are practicing. Each time you practice this technique for regaining control of your breath, take notice of your thoughts. Practice acknowledging each one and letting it pass. Practicing lowering your heart rate efficiently and keeping stray thoughts at bay will allow you to feel more confident in high-stress performance situations.
Meditation can feel really intimidating and uncomfortable at first. In today’s fast-paced society, there aren’t many situations where we are allowed just be alone with our thoughts. However, I find that consistently practicing meditation has helped me to learn to simply acknowledge my thoughts and release them instead of holding on to them during performance situations and letting them turn into negative self-talk. Meditation has also given me a set of tools that I can use during performances to control my heart rate, which alleviates some additional symptoms of performance anxiety.
Stay tuned for my next post on practicing yoga. Happy Practicing!