Lise Enochsson: In my past three articles in this series on Instrumental Technique, we've covered breathing, posture, balance and symmetry. Starting with these three building blocks is essential before moving on to more instrument-specific exercises. And mind you, even if you choose to not do any other exercise (such as working on your back and shoulders - forthcoming), deepening your practise of free breathing and aligned posture together with being utterly familiar with your balance will benefit you greatly.
What all this has been leading up to is the concept of the core. Anatomically, the core can be described as the innermost stabilising muscles around the belly, pelvis and spine, especially the mid and lower spine. These muscles must be recruited before we carry out movements. In the exercises of posture and balance/symmetry, I have been aiming to awaken a physical sense of these muscles and we will come back to them with intensified exercises.
Ideally this stabilising response is so familiar and practised that it becomes automatic. Then, to up the game even more, we add the concept of being centered. This means adding a mental focus to your posture and movements, and may be the most challenging part of any exercise, especially these exercises that do not require large movements.
If you haven't done so before, now is the time to practise putting all your mental focus into yourself as you work on your breathing, posture or fine-tune your balance. The trick is to focus on being your body rather than thinking about your body, the exercise, or what else you have to do today… For those who have worked on meditation, this will be familiar.
This is a perpetual exercise: to put yourself, body and mind, into whatever it is you are doing.
Let me illustrate a bit more what I mean by core and centre: Think of a dancer. Her every movement seems simple and effortless, right out to the flickering of her little finger, or floating on light feet, or pounding her feet into the ground. Yet every single movement without a doubt comes from the core, from the centre of her body: the lower abdomen or pelvic bowl, wherein rests the pillar of the spine. It is because this centre is strong that her movements are stable yet free.
It is important to remember that the centre is three-dimensional (i.e. has depth), which is why I use the image of a "bowl" for the pelvis and "pillar" for the spine.
If all this talk of the centre gets a bit poetical, to work anatomically efficiently it is also important to mentally inhabit your being (posture) and doing (movements). By mentally inhabit, I mean that the core muscles are recruited and movements are controlled. Having controlled movements puts less strain on the body.
It will make all the difference how you are with your instrument, if your body and mind are centered. The Persian legend of the Absolute Gesture illustrates beautifully the power of mental focus and controlled movement.
Coming articles: Now that we've introduced the importance of mental focus and controlled movements coming from a stable core, we can move on to exercises for the back and shoulders.