Since many of us spend so much time practicing, this seems an obvious place to start when considering how to use your body differently so that you're not in as much pain. The main problem I see with the way many musicians practice (and this is certainly how I used to go about it) is that when they practice they get really tense, they then hold that tension for the duration of their practice session.
This prolonged strain is really bad for your musculo-skeletal system. Have you ever noticed that when you sit for a long period of time, it's often hard to get up, to get moving again? Maybe it takes a few steps to get going and maybe your back cracks or feels sore. This is because your muscles work best when they're limber and moving, and they cease to function properly when they're static.
When you're practicing for an hour, holding the same position for all that time, tensing your muscles the whole while, you're doing damage to your muscles. Your muscles like change, not stasis. This holds true even if you’re practicing involves a lot of movement in your arms. More likely than not, there's a lot of tension being held in your head, neck, or back that you're just not noticing, and you can feel confident that this will negatively affect your musculature. So, here are some things to try.
Taking the right kind of breaks can help you be free from pain, as well as recharge your practice time.
Zen monks sit in meditation for only 20 minutes at a time, followed by 10 minutes of walking meditation, and with this practice they reach the highest levels of spiritual skill and enlightenment. Likewise, I highly recommend interspersing breaks into your practice time. Don't spend more than 20 minutes playing at a time. If you take even one or two minutes away from your instrument, that would be beneficial. You can take a walk, do some easeful moving about, get a drink of water, skip around your block, or mentally rehearse your music while laying down on the floor. You can also lay down and listen to my talkthroughs, which I’ll get to in a minute.
I remember hearing about a study that showed that practice sessions without your instrument are often just as beneficial as practice sessions with your instrument. This is because the same wiring in your brain is still being activated whether you're actually doing something or merely thinking about it. In fact, I think it has other benefits, including speedier memorization. So, you can try laying down and memorizing your music. This is a very effective practice technique.
Breaks, in general, are much more beneficial than you might think. Scientists tell us that sleep is when your brain consolidates memories. I say, "Trust your breaks" because a lot of learning is still happening in your brain in between practice sessions.
The best practice breaks include a "talkthrough"
A "talkthrough" is a guided body meditation designed to help your practice time become pain-free. They help you connect with your body, let go of unnecessary tension, and restore your focus and energy. I have a bunch of these recorded on my website and I'll be adding more as I include them in my online masterclasses.
These are a great resource to use in amongst your practicing. If you lay down and listen to one of these during a practice session I'll bet you'll feel more rested and ready to keep learning your repertoire. A tired brain can't take in as much information as a rested brain. So, take a break!
Here's what you can do today for a more pain-free practice:
Take a small break after each 20-minute practice period.
Listen to a talkthrough while laying down on the floor once during each practice session.