In my second year as a student at Curtis, my right arm started going numb from my elbow to my fingertips on a fairly regular basis. It was sort of like how your limbs feel right before they fall asleep: not full-on pins and needles all the time, but a dull, hot emptiness, like there was no blood to keep that part of me alive and vibrant. I was overworked, underslept, and using my body as a landfill for garbage like Entenmann’s donuts, Red Bull, and DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker. The arm numbness was exacerbated by sitting, so I had to be excused from orchestra regularly, incurring the wrath and eye-rolls of Rick Zuch.
My mentors and classmates were as clueless about how to remedy my issue, let alone what might be causing it, as I was. The best advice anyone could give me was to go see the local “hand doctor”, whose solutions to musicians’ pains generally involved a scalpel. Finally, a loved one suggested that I go see a Rolfer. I had no idea what that meant, and frankly I’m still a little hazy on it, but by that point I was just desperate to have a functional bow arm.
The Rolfing sooooooort of worked, but only after I’d shelled out thousands of dollars for a prescribed 10 sessions of treatment, many of which had little or nothing to do with my actual issue. My numbness mostly went away — perhaps from the hands-on contact or maybe just out of sheer will — but each time I could feel it coming back in the months following, I grew terrified. I had no idea what the numbness meant or how to fix it on my own.
I have been doing yoga for almost 9 years now. I have been injury-free for all of those years. Yoga is by no means a panacea, and nor is it a cult. The very best yoga, at its core, is science. Non-invasive, basic, “the foot bone’s connected to the... leg bone!” science. I am not a certified yoga instructor (yet), and I am not an anatomy scholar. What I am, now, is someone who is aware of her body, in tune with how it feels at any given moment. I have a healthy enough understanding of what joint/muscle/ligament is supposed to go where so that when something doesn’t feel good, I know how to move it to correct the problem and prevent more serious issues. I know to take breaks when I feel stiff or fatigued from playing. I know that IT IS OKAY TO ADMIT WHEN I’M IN PAIN, and that it’s also okay to tell people off when they roll their eyes at you. Musicians are not better, tougher, or more employable for playing through pain.
By the way, that numbness? A nerve at the base of the right side of my neck was compressed, probably from something as silly as falling asleep in a twisted drunken stupor or sitting in an awkward position on a plane, compounded by hours and hours and hours of violin playing with no intelligent counter-movement. I felt a glimmer of something similar starting up about two years ago, but this time I was able to identify the problem. Thanks to my knowledge of and trust in a slow, mindful yoga practice, I spent the next hour or two doing stretches and sequences that opened up my neck, collarbones, the front side of my chest, and my upper back. The numbness was gone by that evening’s rehearsal.
I wanted to write this out not to be self-congratulatory or preachy — I haven’t always been a head-standing, rose quartz-loving, meditation-obsessed human pretzel. Once upon a time I was in fairly constant pain. Yoga can appear totally obnoxious on social media, and I know I’ve been guilty of fueling that fire over the years — for that I apologize!!! But it is truly an amazing practice. It’s medicine. I would urge anyone who’s even the teensiest bit intrigued to hop on over to Intermission to learn more. Yoga is truly for everybody. Let’s prevent and de-stigmatize injury together!