Violinist Karen Gomyo on The Paramount Importance of Stretching
Violinist Karen Gomyo shares her thoughts on the importance of stretching before playing to maintain our body's healthy balance
How important do you think stretches are to a string player? Do you have a habit of stretching before you pick up your instrument? If you've wanted to know answers to similar kinds of questions, you're not alone. There are a good number of musicians who aren't aware of the potential benefits one could receive from proper stretching, or rather, the long term issues that develop from not stretching properly before playing.
The Violin Channel recently caught up with Japanese-Canadian violin virtuoso Karen Gomyo to get her thoughts on the subject.
Violinist Karen Gomyo on why it is important to stretch
Stretching is a very important component (alongside strengthening, exercising, getting enough sleep, meditating, and eating healthily) of maintaining our bodies in healthy balance. We violinists use our bodies in a very asymmetrical way, and over time, if not aware and careful, these muscular and structural imbalances can lead to injuries.
The physical benefits of stretching are pretty logical: improvement of circulation and blood flow in the body, increased flexibility and range of motion in the joints, and prevention of the muscles from becoming short and stiff.
For me, the most valuable aspect of stretching is the opportunity to cultivate a better connection with our bodies. The more we are aware of our own bodies’ particular habits and needs, the better we are able to detect any discomfort or tightness that needs addressing.
After all, there are a ton of different exercises available, and this is because there isn’t one single magic formula that works for everybody. We must each find our own routine that makes the most sense for our specific needs!
One of the biggest challenges in today’s fast paced, busy ways, is finding the time to give ourselves this kind of care. But think of this as an investment towards your overall physical health, mental state, and violin playing (!) - there is always a way to make the time!
Stretching the muscles you are about to use in your practice session right beforehand is definitely a good idea if it is the first time you are stretching that day. But I find that stretching first thing in the morning can be a wonderful way to center and prepare myself physically and mentally before the day gets going. While a whole body stretch is ideal for when there is ample time, my favorite stretches for when I’m a bit short on time, include those for the spine, hips, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, fingers, - and lungs. Yes, the lungs! Those of you practicing yoga, breathing exercises, qigong, etc, will already be familiar with the incredible power of conscious breathing. When I start my day with deep breathing, as well as a series of energizing quick breaths, I feel as if I am creating space and flexibility inside my body, and immediately feel calmer and more alert. And, if I apply this sense of relaxed consciousness to my stretches, I find myself connecting with my body in a way that brings so much awareness and a sense of grounding.
Stretching can also be an amazing thing to do right before going to bed. I have my favorite “shoulder therapy” routine, which has become a beloved companion. It amazes me every time to realize how much tension can build up by the end of the day! This routine is about 30 minutes long, and includes a series of slow stretches and long holds, again incorporating deep breaths. Afterwards I feel as if I’ve been given a neck and shoulder massage - it’s absolutely fantastic!
One thing I’d like to point out, is the importance of applying your full, undivided attention to the stretches you do. Don’t do them absentmindedly. Just like in the practice room, the more focus, the better results. For example, if you are doing a neck stretch, ask yourself: 1. Where exactly do I feel the tightness? 2. How intense is the tightness? Then take a deep breath and imagine breathing into that place, as if with each breath out the tension is gently releasing. Please be careful never to force. Listen to your body, and understand that some of the tightness may require many days/weeks/months of daily addressing before it is ready to let go.
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Born in Tokyo and beginning her musical career in Montréal and New York, violinist Karen Gomyo has recently made Berlin her home. A musician of the highest calibre, the Chicago Tribune praised her as:“…a first-rate artist of real musical command, vitality, brilliance and intensity”. Karen plays on the “Aurora” Stradivarius violin of 1703 that was bought for her exclusive use by a private sponsor.
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