Here are a couple more explorations and tips for when you're stuck on stage and your back feels like someone's pressing a red-hot knife into it. Fun, fun, fun!
Technique #2: Sitting without stuckness
This technique is something I learned from my own Alexander Technique teacher, Martha Hansen Fertman. In my teacher-training program she taught us three little techniques for making yourself more comfortable while sitting for long periods.
Take a slump. Oftentimes, back pain while sitting comes from trying to sit up too straight for too long. In this case, try letting your whole body “wilt,” to soften downwards into a little slump. Don’t stay there, though - slumping is just as likely to cause pain. Instead, soften your neck and throat and gradually take a look around the room, letting your head and body move freely up. “Relax up” into your full sitting stature.
Lean back and forth. Simply lean back and forth from your hip joint, making sure to let you body weight go into your feet on the ground rather than bracing in your back. If you let your legs and neck be soft and moveable this will surely relieve a little strain from your back.
Don’t hold your breath. We all tend to hold our breath from time to time, especially when performing. When you hold your breath, however, because your ribs are also a part of your back, your whole back will stiffen. You don’t have to take deep breaths or in any way change your natural breathing pattern - just make sure you don’t hold your breath while you play.
These three techniques can be done quite inconspicuously and are a great way to help yourself be more comfortable while sitting.
Technique #3: “Yes, No, Maybe.”
Probably the biggest cause of back pain that I see is when people overly tighten their neck without even realizing it. This next technique is about how to let go of the tension in your neck that you didn’t even know you were holding.
The first thing to know is where your skull meets your spine. It’s not where you think it is! It’s actually in between your ears and behind the bridge of your nose. Put a finger in your ear and one on your nose and imagine two laser beams meeting in the middle. That’s your “top joint,” where your skull meets your spine. (More on this in an upcoming blog post.)
As we all know, there are three axes to three-dimensional space - in algebra class we would call them the x-axis, the y-axis, and the z-axis. These correspond to the three ways in which you might be stiffening your head and neck, as well.
“Yes.” When you nod your head “yes” you’re rotating your skull over your top joint’s x-axis. Try this and see how smooth and free you can make this movement. See, as well, that you let your whole body be a part of this movement so it’s not isolated just at your head.
“No.” When you shake your head “no” you’re turning your skull around your top joint’s y-axis. Try this and see how smooth and free you can make this movement. Again, see to it that you let your whole body be a part of this movement so it’s not isolated just at your head.
“Maybe.” When you wag your head “maybe” you’re turning your skull around your top joint’s z-axis. Try this and see how smooth and free you can make this movement. Again, see to it that you let your whole body be a part of this movement so it’s not isolated just at your head.
When you’re on your own practice these movements, making big, free gestures with your whole body. When you’re in performance, however, you can do the same on a microscopic level. Practice making “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” where your head and body move only ⅛”. It will hardly be noticeable to your colleagues, and not at all noticeable to your audience, and it may very well help you unstiffen your back.
One more technique…
I know I’ve already shared a lot with you today, but I do have one more simple tip for you. Your tailbone is not meant for sitting on, but your sits bones (the big bony knobs at the bottom of your pelvis) are. When you sit with your pelvis tucked under, as many of us do, you put strain on your little tailbone and pressure on your back. Instead, I recommend sitting on your sits bones, whether you’re at the front of your chair or the back. When you’re sitting all the way back in your chair make sure your sits bones are as close to the back of the chair as is comfortable for you. This will help your back, too.
I hope you find these techniques helpful! If they work for you, or don't, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out any time with comments or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomorrow's is the last blog post of my three-week spree! In tomorrow's post you will learn the a surprisingly simple and effective method for overcoming stage fright and panic attacks, all without medication.