Playing With Pain

With a little awareness training a lumbago or pinched nerve will not be as limiting as it might have been up until now. This emergency tips can help to undo the problem, the instant it happens.

Do not react to the pain but act

The instant you feel the pain or the tension (tightness) or the symptom that tells you that something is wrong, you might react in a habitual way. Do you try to “free” yourself or to “stretch” yourself out of the pain? Does that work or make it worse? Do you bend or curve in to the pain?

Now, the moment you feel the pain – STOP!

Yes, it might be an awkward position. Yes, it might not be exactly the position the pain occurred. Yes, it might look strange to your environment to be frozen in the movement of lifting your instrument. It doesn’t matter.

Stay in a relaxed awareness and breath as deep and softly as you can. This easy breathing is the key. Stay in this position until the tightness eases. You will notice the moment. The stillness, not moving and breathing allows the body to sort it out without you interfering.

While the normal reaction to the pain most of the times might have used the same misuse of the body, the misuse that caused the problem in the first place, and thus caused more tension and pain, this non-action-state will promote that the problem eases naturally or will be less severe in its effect.

Since you eventually have to get out of this position and move on, you want to use your body with less tension than you are used to. Come to a normal standing position by moving softly and gentle: allowing your body to move with as little effort as possible. Imagine a graceful floating movement. Visualizing can help, maybe you imagine yourself to move like Fred Astaire and gracefully float out of the stiffness. The intention is to not use the same mechanism that caused the spasm. Allow your head to lead in the direction (forward and up, if you want to come to a standing position) you want to move and allow the rest of the body to follow. Keep breathing easily and gently. Once standing do not freeze into a standing position but be easy on yourself.

Do not follow the desire to “test” if the pain is still there.

Explore your painfree range of movement

Now, again, with a little practice, you will be surprised that instead of walking and moving with pain for a couple of days or being locked in a position for a while, like previously, this practice will reward you with more flexibility and less pain.

Even if the pain and tightness are eased, you might not be able to use your full range of movement or do habitual movements. In order to be able to perform and not re-jam a nerve or muscle, remember to move with ease and to use a gentle breath to accompany your movement.

Since you want to perform or play an instrument, explore your movement range and stay within that range. Do not try to stretch yourself out of the range (the muscles will only tighten). Explore your movement range (f.e.: in your upper body, shoulders and neck when the neck is stiff and you need to play the violin) like a baby would. Babies crab in the air, curling fingers, uncurling fingers…. Find a video online and watch how they move.

You will be surprised how much range you have, if you don’t use the big muscle groups but the smaller muscles. Explore the same baby-like way with your instrument. All of this might feel strange but be a good training to stay in the moment while playing, which should be your normal state anyways. Move with your body rather than against it. Melt into your movements..

This way you will be able to perform without causing more pain or a long term problem.

Constructive Rest

Constructive rest is a term used and originated by F.M. Alexander, the creator of the Alexander Technique. Alexander used to put his clients in this position prior or after an Alexander session for 15 minutes to allow their bodies to integrate and restore its natural function and to undo their doings.

Lie on a firm and comfortable surface (floor or table). Have your knees up (hip width apart) and your feed on the ground (you can find videos and pictured manuals online). By placing books beneath your head you can prevent your head to tilt and bring it in alignment with your spine. Your hands may rest on your hips or lower ribcage.

Allow yourself to be completely supported by the floor. Notice any places that stay off that support and allow them to sink into the floor. You do not need to do anything to achieve it. Allowing the tension to ease and watching what happens, is your job (and probably to notice your desire to make it happen or to figure out how to do it). You can also give your body other directions like: “I allow my spine to lengthen and widen”, “I allow my neck to be free” etc. Get up, by rolling to one side, supporting yourself with your arms and knees, again, allowing your head to lead you up in a standing position.


Hot and cold showers can also be a good stimulant to ease the tension. You might think that the cold will cause more tension. Your body will compensate the cold and relax even better after. Try if it works for you.

First take a shower with comfortable, normal and warm water for 30 seconds. Switch to cold (it doesn’t matter, if it takes the water a little while to cool down) and shower for another 30 seconds. The 30 seconds can seem very long. Start with your feet and move up to your shoulders. Repeat the whole circle of alternating warm and cold water three times, finish with cold water.

Claudia Kohl is an artist, Alexander Technique coach, designer and author. She is the founder of The Artists Coaching in Berlin, a studio dedicated to support artists in their creative, artistic process as well as life. She has helped singers, musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists, to build a healthy and inspired carrier. Claudia likes to work with artists suffering from anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, chronic pain, burnout or artists with the courage to start something new. She comes from a background of theatre and dance before studying the Alexander Technique and developing her own method with the artists of the famous Cirque du Soleil. As a nomad and curious soul she has traveled and experienced more than most people do in their lifetime. She believes that art is what we are and that it is our responsibility to make the world a better place. She is known for her down to earth, loving and highly inspired, engaging approach to coaching. Claudia’s insights inspire audiences around the world through her monthly “Inspiration” newsletter and online coaching. For artists in Berlin, besides one on one sessions, she offers weekly Bohemian Brunches and Artistic Vision Quests.
Author: Claudia Kohl
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