Musicians’ Yoga – Promoting a Healthy Body and Mind – by Rie Tanaka
“If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.” – unknown.
Injuries from music related activities have threatened artists’ careers for centuries. Whether you are an instrumentalist, vocalist, or conductor, you “live with this occupational hazard”- Janet Horvath, Playing (Less) Hurt. Most musicians know little about ways to prevent injury or how shockingly common they are. In fact, more than 75% of musicians suffer or have suffered from a performance injury at some point.
Like many, I am a recovering injured musician. An undergraduate injury left me unable to play piano, open a water bottle, or even hold a hand of cards for months. I thought, what if this never goes away? I spent hours doing Yoga, rehabilitation exercises, massage, and heat therapy. I also began learning more about performance injury and realized that most musicians do not reach for this information until they are already injured. I knew then that something had to be done. After six months, I cautiously went back to piano and attended a summer music festival. While there, I had the absolute good fortune to meet Rebecca Penneys, who specializes in injury prevention and a pain-free technique. She graciously gave me many private lessons and consultations, and she helped me transform (literally, transform!) my playing.
After this painful but pivotal experience, it became my personal mission to pursue wellness and healing and share what I’ve learned to build a culture of healthy musicians. Since 2015, I have given lectures and led Yoga sessions at universities, festivals, and music teachers’ associations to educate both students and teachers about performance injuries, prevention, and forming healthy habits. I received my 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training from Shri Yogi Hari, an internationally recognized Guru from the Shivananda lineage. He initiated me as one of his disciples and named me Radha (the fortunate). I am now certified in the traditional teaching of Sampoorna Yoga – Yoga of Fullness, which combines 6 paths of Yoga; Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Nada Yoga (learn more about my journey at https://riepiano.com/wellness-for-musicians/).
Yoga has been around for millennia; its benefits are supported by studies and its practice is effective and safe. The Musicians’ Yoga that I teach focuses on three main pillars: the body (Yoga asana), the breath (pranayama), and the mind (meditation). Practicing Asanas (Yoga poses) helps to build strength and flexibility, which alleviates strain on the body from the asymmetrical and repetitive motions of playing music. Breathing improves lung and heart health. Meditation, both while moving or in stillness, trains the mind to find calmness and concentration. These elements are crucial for musicians who must perform under stress and pressure.
It is my honor to offer Yoga and injury prevention sessions at the Rebecca Penneys Piano Festival – whether in the music building, the dorm, or the beach. I enjoy making it accessible to everyone, holding time and space for us to quiet our minds and connect with our bodies. Yoga is a journey, just like practicing music. It’s for everyone and every level, as you progress slowly and steadily through consistent practice. So before you say “I don’t have time – I need to practice for my next lesson,” I hope you will join me at RPPF, where you are encouraged to invest time and energy to take care of truly invaluable things, like a healthy body and a peaceful mind. Om Shanti.