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This may sound like a giant paradox, but this is what budding piano players (and all of us) need to understand: the concept of focused relaxation. Some will laugh when they hear that having the wrong technique at the piano could lead to serious physical injury. After all, it is the piano–not wrestling, football or gymnastics. My husband, an amateur golfer, would say that golfing employs a very similar concept. You must be relaxed but extremely intentional in your setup at the same time.

The point is that piano technique starts in the head, then seeps down to the arms, hands and fingers. The mental precedes the physical at all times.

When I see a well-intentioned piano student who really starts digging into the piano, playing vigorously, I appreciate the effort he brings. With his shoulders hovering over the keyboard and his power arms, he gives it all he’s got and is expecting a knockout performance review. However, after the ending, the first constructive comment I might say is this: relax and let your arm weight and gravity produce the sound. It must not be forced from self-powered tension. Even your musical output suffers because we can hear that it’s forced and not “natural.” Intensity does not have to involve tension.

In the long run, good technique not only frees up the student to play really well, but importantly, serves as injury prevention. I know and have heard of many accomplished pianists who suffer from permanent injury because they were not very aware of their stress; sadly, these dazzling talents are now unable to play. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I’ve come to a point where I usually recognize and admit when I’m stressed and not in control. I know people who pain themselves to portray a calm, collected person who’s in control when they are a mess underneath the guise. Pain awaits them.

Some of us may identify with the notion that a certain career or life move would be the key to ultimate satisfaction. For others, we’ve worked relentlessly on a project or a job while losing sight of the purpose. Or someone pulled a bait-and-switch on us and the point of the whole thing just got flushed down the toilet. Injury.

For me, my mind is flooded with “to do” lists while managing four different schedules and tactical needs as well as emotional needs, which are more tricky. On a typical day, I will have changed about five diapers, dressed and undressed 1 1/2 children (daughter dresses herself half the time), brushed their teeth once or twice and maybe their hair, prepared breakfast, refereed fights, cleaned up breakfast, provided snacks, cleaned up, fixed lunch for them, then cleaned that up, along with a usual spill of milk all over the wood floor, mopped that up, then flipped through recipes for a 30-minute dinner which probably tasted 85% good because I omitted the ingredients I didn’t have. Somewhere in there, Daddy came home if he’s in town. This is woven in with at least four one-way trips to/from preschool. There are about five more things I’d add, but I don’t want to belabor the point (I guess I already have).

My scenario is pretty typical of a stay-at-home mom, if not easier than many other moms I know. At the end of the day, I feel neither focused nor relaxed, nor fulfilled many days–if I were to be honest. From what I know, working parents don’t have it any easier too. Back to my memories of concentrated piano training, the rarest and most special moments came when I had a combination of tack-sharp focus and a surrendered heart and mind.

Have you ever been injured as a result of overextending yourself or neglecting to care for yourself? What do you do for focused relaxation? All my leftover time spent on the internet isn’t working and my smart phone is not making me smarter. I’d love to hear your ideas or personal lessons learned.

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