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The Piano-Yoga® Holistic Lifestyle Approach to the Piano

Piano-Yoga® Holistic Therapy

In Piano-Yoga® we believe that creating an optimal environment which promotes the student’s sense of well-being is the best approach to learning the piano. When we feel relaxed, think positively and our concentration is at its peak, we can learn more quickly and efficiently. In this state, learning can even feel like having fun, where studying and mastering something new become an effortless and pleasurable experience.

It is true that some of the best educational systems (like the Russian school, for example) are based on a strict, disciplined approach to learning, where competition is the upmost motivation for success and the strongest students are stretched to the maximum. Such systems have produced amazing results, but the weakest emotionally often give up, unable to progress and develop.

Whilst Piano-Yoga® aims to help students to perfect their technique this is only a tool, as our foremost motivation is to make the piano playing process as enjoyable and pleasurable as possible, within the wider framework of the student’s lifestyle. In order to do this not only do we instruct students specifically in the Piano-Yoga® technique, but we also show them how to efficiently schedule their practice sessions, and how to take care of their health and their body in order to get the most out of their practice and create a positive mindset.

I like to address this issue by using ideas taken from ancient Indian Ayurvedic philosophy – the traditional Hindu system of medicine, based on the idea of bringing balance to the body using diet, herbal treatments, yogic postures and breathing. In line with the discipline of Ayurveda we ask students to pay attention to what they eat, ask them to monitor how they feel each day, and if they are not happy with the results we teach them how to change their sense of well-being, correcting it through various exercises, simple posture adjustments and the use of aromatherapy. We very much encourage our students to create a practice environment full of clean energy, and where the student feels comfortable, safe, private and nurtured.

Would you like to try this for yourself? Here’s what you can do in just one week:

  • Notice when your energy is at its best and try to practise at that time

Are you a morning person or evening? Is the afternoon the best or the worst time for you? Try to practise when you brain is at its best and your muscles are not stiff.

  • Find out if there is a regular time you can practise and, if possible, stick to it.

Getting into a routine will help the body to feel comfortable in its environment and will enable you to concentrate faster and more acutely.

  • Try not to practise on an empty stomach, but also not on a full one. According to how you feel we recommend using the main principles of Ayurveda

According to Ayurvedic principles a person can either be TAMASIC (sluggish/slow), RAJASIC (hyperactive/fast) or SATTVIC (balanced) depending on their current state of mind. If you are feeling unsettled you will most certainly be feeling either Tamasic or Rajasic and therefore should aim to bring yourself back into a Sattvic (balanced) state.

  • Decide how you are feeling at this present moment: TAMASIC or RAJASIC?

For people in TAMASIC (sluggish/slow) state I recommend:

Going for a brisk walk before practice, if possible.

Playing the piano at a moderate or fast tempo but not too slowly!

Eating a moderate amount of RAJASIC foods before practice to induce more energy into your system (chocolate, tea, coffee (but not too much of these, otherwise you may find yourself in a rajasic state) as well as fish, eggs, chilli peppers and strongly-flavored herbs and spices to help bring yourself into a state of balance. Do some physical exercise. Yoga is excellent as long as it is a vinyasa sequence (dynamic flowing yoga practice). This encourages better blood circulation and warms up the muscles.

For people in a RAJASIC (hyperactive/nervous) state I would recommend:

Going for a slow walk or doing some simple slow stretches, mainly with forward bends (make sure that you do not have any back issues and know how to do stretches safely).

Playing everything on the piano slower then usual. Eat some TAMASIC food before the practice time to induce a calming effect on the body (i.e. meat, cooked vegetables, mushrooms, dried, tinned and frozen fruit).

Practising slow, deep breathing as it has an excellent calming effect on the body. (The yogic breath technique of Ujjayi is particularly good if you are familiar with it – otherwise I would recommend initial guidance from a qualified yoga teacher).

Trying to meditate and rest more between short practice sessions.

  • Make sure that you feel comfortable in your environment

In the morning have plenty of fresh air in the room (no dust, as not only is it bad for your health, but it is terrible for the energy of the place). In the evening make sure that the room is warm and well lit, but that the lights are not too bright, as this can make you feel tired.

  • Do some physical exercises before your piano practice

Doing some physical work can do wonders for your body and mind. Either walking, running, yoga, pilates or swimming: anything that keeps your body alive, well toned and oxygenated. 10–15 minutes of exercise before your piano practice can dramatically improve your playing and your ability to concentrate!

  • Have some fluids by your side

Preferably have some water (ideally at room temperature, unless you feel hot) or some tea (herbal would be the best, but if you are feeling tired sometimes black tea or coffee can help – make sure that these do not make you too over-active).

  • Use aromatherapy as this can do wonders from your practice

Before embarking on the use of aromatherapy, I strongly suggest that you do some homework, find out what oils and smells you like and how they make you feel. The oils could either be applied to your skin as a cream or used as a room spray or in oil burners. You really need to know what products you are using and which method is the most effective for you, as it can create a very strong effect and this can really elevate your mood, improve your concentration or simply make you feel happier!

I use room sprays the most, and these days create my own fragrances by mixing various oils. It is so simple: fill a glass bottle with water and add various oils that you like; they usually change with seasons, the time of day and my mood, hence I have many different bottles. Use a diffuser to spray these out. My favorite morning mix at the moment is a combination of cypress, lemon grass, peppermint and lime.

Below are a few examples of how different oils can help you, but really you need to check out yourself what works for you. There are endless possibilities for creating various smells.

  • Bergamot helps to fight anxiety, confusion, depression, relieve headaches, and reduce irritability and stress.
  • Pepper is great for fighting apathy, relieving colds, cramps, flu, muscle ache, shock, creating calm and boosting energy.
  • Ylang-ylang helps to fight depression, stress, improve sleep and enhance mood.
  • Rose helps with anxiety, depression and fear, creating nurturing and positive feelings.
  • Clary Sage helps to fight hyperactivity, improve sleep, avoid panic attacks, and induce peace of mind.

Try to pay attention to these few ideas and see how they can improve your practice!

Having said all this, it is important to have a clear goal (know what you would like to achieve from each practice session) and maintain a planned practice process. Try to be undisturbed during your sessions. And always approach your practice thinking constructively: don’t see problems, only solutions!

Here is a little video about our Piano-Yoga® Retreat in Cyprus, which we have created as the ultimate holistic approach to piano learning. It includes piano masterclasses and seminars, yoga exercises, food tasting, wonderful sightseeing excursions and communication with inspiring, like-minded people!

Enjoy!

Namaste (‘I bow to you.’ Sanscrit)

GéNIA

Russian pianist GéNIA releases the new video of Sofia Gubaidulina

Russian pianist GéNIA releases the new video of Sofia Gubaidulina

GéNIA Relases Fragment No 3

Russian Pianist GéNIA released the third improvisation in “Fragment” series.

Enjoy!

GéNIA MUSIC Team

‘A Week of Piano and Warm Breezes on the Mediterranean Island of Eternal Springtime’: Guest Blogger Saori Tomoda Shares her Impressions of our Piano-Yoga® Retreat in Cyprus

You often hear horrendous stories about the lives of failed pianists: one who suffered an injury, or another who had a big mental break down and lost their lust for life despite being very talented. This retreat really revealed to us how important it is for us pianists to look after our body and to be healthy and live happily.

Yoga practice, breathing work, diet, posture… The list of topics covered was immense. As the week progressed, we felt our goals increasingly becoming within closer reach as we gradually became stronger pianists. Everything felt like it was falling into place. Our bodies and hearts grew lighter and lighter.

The lectures were all excellent – I enjoyed every one. There was so much useful information and the other participants also shared their very interesting experiences. What interested me the most was the ‘Working with Rhythm’ workshop, and it was very exciting for me to be able to work on a Steinway grand. GéNIA showed us how to incorporate breathing into musical phrasing of a piece. With this breathing, I became physically unified with my piece. I had always connected emotionally with the music I play (well, most of the time!) but I had never imagined being able to be at one with a piece physically in such a way. This was a new and thrilling experience.

There were a lot of masterclasses. Different pianists, different problems. We all analysed each other’s playing and benefitted enormously from working as a team.

We were completely detached from the real world over there. We worked on our music and well-being the whole time, with great food, lovely weather and good company.

I’ll never forget the sunset we saw at Aphrodite beach, our cosy chats at the dinner table, our pancake overdose (!) and our brilliant night out on the town… A very big ‘thank you’ to GéNIA and everyone at the retreat. I really REALLY had the time of my life!

Saori

xxx

Can classical music be ‘hip’?

Last night I went to Lang Lang’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall, where the audience were clapping between the concerto movements as they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to! The people sitting next to me were eating chips with 3 different types of dips whilst listening to Chopin’s Piano Concert No. 2 and the members of the orchestra actually danced during the performance, in which manner they left the stage, followed by a massive roar of applause and standing ovations… There were no signs of death; only celebration! People were there because they loved the music, and Lang Lang…

Yet there is a popular belief in modern society that classical music is dying out. There is talk of empty concert halls, and the idea that the classical music community is losing touch with reality, partly because of the common interpretation of classical music as elitist – chosen by, and only appropriate for, the ‘prepared ear’…

OK. But if we look to literature, do we say that Tolstoi or Balzac or Jerom K Jerom are no good any more because they are old fashioned? Surely even though you don’t read them on a daily basis, you can still appreciate the quality of their mastery. So where does this attitude to classical music come from?

Perhaps it would be good to reflect on why music was invented in the first place. Why do so many love music, and have it as a part of their lives? Because it allows us to dream, to release emotions, to change our mood, to go deeper into our own state and to get to know ourselves better…

Many argue about whether classical music is purely old-fashioned, or whether it can still relate to modern society. In recent years there have been many attempts to make it more sexy and less stuffy, which younger generations of performers donning jeans and leather jackets on stage, and even tales of classical pianists following in the popular music tradition of attending ‘rehab’.

My theory is very simple. First of all, lets go back to why music is so important – why it is a part of many people’s lives and is played in so many households on a daily basis. Often, people don’t sit around and listen to it; music is sometimes played while they are doing other things like cleaning, exercising, having friends for dinner. This music is not analysed; it is simply there to elevate or complement the mood… It works on, and affects, emotions. People can relate to it, to its sounds and moods; it makes them feel better.

One of the reasons classical music is not so popular these days (and the main one in my opinion) is not so much because of the complexity of some of the compositions, but because of the ‘perfection’ in the style of the performance these days. If you listen to the old recordings from the first half of the 20th century by Cherkassky, Horowitz, Cortot, Moriz Rosenthal, Eugend’Albert, were they perfect? Of course not! Were they always rational in their interpretations? No. Were they predictable? Usually not. And that is what made them so interesting. Sometimes Chopin didn’t sound like Chopin, but who cared?; it stirred emotions, stimulated interest and curiosity. Today only the top artists attract this kind of attention, and although some of them appear to attain perfection – which is admirable and really appreciated by musicians – their playing often leaves amateur listeners cold. When it comes to lesser-known pianists, very often their interpretations are similar, where the aim to become note-perfect makes their music more refined, but at the same time more predictable.

Why has this happened? Most likely because of the demands of the record industry, where it has become possible to make any performance note–perfect. Anything less has now ceased to be acceptable. In fact, it has developed into a ‘perfection’ competition, where the purest sound is not contaminated by any external noise (which is considered to be a disaster!). But in real lif, performance is not quite like that. When Horowitz released a recording of one of his concerts, which started with a few wrong notes, the producers asked for his permission to amend it – but he refused! In this day and age this would be unacceptable. This is why in international piano competitions the winners are often very virtuosic pianists, admired for their stamina and inner strength. Those who are weaker, less traditional and not so note-pristine don’t usually win; but often those pianists who connect more with the audience do stir up endless debates…

I remember being at one of the late Pogorelich’s concerts where he played Chopin’s Preludes. He changed everything, his interpretation was totally unexpected and he kept me sitting on the edge of my chair. It felt like Dostoevsky on the keys. I have never heard Chopin played like that – it was an unforgettable experience. A few days later I was reading a review of this concert and poor Pogorelich got completely slated. ‘How could Chopin be played like this?!’ But for me that was one of the most amazing concert experiences of my life. While listening to his playing my emotions and the whole world were turned upside-down.

So why not go back to basics, to the raw art of piano playing that allows for the unpredictability of interpretations, emphasising the full spectrum of piano sounds, and accepting that it is OK to come up with a completely different interpretation as long as this can be delivered on a professional level? To show you what I mean, here is an example of something that really moves me: Stanislav Neuhaus playing Scriabin’s Etude Op.8, No. 12. It is not note-perfect, but it has that fire and originality that makes it unforgettable experience:

So to finish off, whilst some argue whether classical music should be put to rest, it is very much alive and kicking, like life with all its ups and downs. I can admit that some classical music traditions (like the total silence of the concert pianist during performance, or not allowing the audience to clap between movements), can be quite restricting, but if we can get past them, it would allow us to see the real music and its never-ending beauty. Lets embrace it rather than push it away and enjoy the discovery of how much more happiness and pleasure we can have in our life when classical music is a part of it.

If you have any thoughts on this issue, let me know at info@piano-yoga.com.

With love,

GéNIA

Are Russian piano teachers really that scary?

Recently, I had a number of friends reporting that when they mentioned me to their friends the reaction was usually something along the lines of: “Is she really strict?”; “How scary is she?”; “Is she nice!?”

When this happened the first time, I thought that particular person had probably just had a bad experience with a Russian piano teacher, and I didn’t give it a second thought. However, when one of my student’s friends was shocked on meeting me (I think he was expecting to see a big 60-year-old babushka), that got me thinking…  Another time, a student of mine invited me to come and celebrate his birthday (in a club, of all places), and when we were on the dance floor one of his friends asked, “And where is that piano teacher of yours? I knew she wouldn’t show up!”  So I just had to introduce myself once again…

Why do English people find us, Russian classical musicians and teachers, so intimidating? I just had to write about this, to get to the bottom of this myth.  When I ask, some say that it’s because Russian musicians are famous for having the best technique in the world, and Russian teachers are therefore feared for the big demands they make on their students, expecting them to ‘practise 8 hours a day’ (my grandmother used to say, “Four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening”), and for placing them under considerable pressure to achieve the best possible results.

I believe the word ‘Russian’ also still makes some people think about Soviet times, when Russian people appeared on TV or in public with stony faces, devoid of any sign of a smile… These popular beliefs combined have conspired to create the scary ‘dragon’ image of a Russian piano teacher.

It’s true: being Soviet during the Soviet Era meant distrusting your colleagues in fear that you may be reported; there was no suggestion of original ideas unless they were in line with Communist Party ideology (which was extended to science and art as well as economics and politics); and if you didn’t want to support the Communist Party openly (I personally never went on a single demonstration, even when it was compulsory), at the very least you had to keep quiet.

But times have since moved on….  Now there is a new generation of Russians who were allowed to leave when the iron curtain came down, brought up in the times of Perestroika and Glasnost. I remember preparing my school history homework only to discover that everything had changed since the previous night and what we had learned was no longer applicable…  The history teacher didn’t know what to teach us as the Soviet Union and its neighboring countries were dramatically changing.

Having said that, there were good things: you were expected to be good at everything you did (Dance, Music, Maths, etc.) and the standards were extremely high.  Just to give you an idea: some of the Maths syllabus from year 10 at my school covered the same topics that were on the first-year Maths programme at University!  So, when our generation suddenly gained the opportunity to leave our homeland, whilst many of us sincerely wanted to leave behind all the bad things of Soviet Russia, we continued to cherish and bring forward many of the old traditions, including the quality and integrity of our work.

As teachers, that doesn’t make us unfriendly, cruel or unreasonable; we simply try to teach to the highest level of our ability. Russians sometimes have a reputation for been too straightforward and not very diplomatic. Perhaps…  But if you can accept this and get past it, you may be surprised to find a genuine interest and enthusiasm for conveying knowledge to a student to help them realise their full potential. In my memory, my Russian piano teachers (Sergei Yushkevitch, Victor Makarov and Regina Horowitz – although the latter was my great grand mother), never counted the hours when they were teaching; they gave me and many of their other students as much time as was required to teach them, whether it was one hour, three hours or five… The goal was to educate the student however long it took.

Amongst the most famous teachers in the world who were either Russians or taught in Russia using Russian methods were: Anton Rubinstein, John Field, Alexander Villoing,  Anton Door, Theodor Leschetizky, Vassili Safonov, Alexandre Siloti (the teacher of Sergei Rachmaninov), Heinrich Neuhaus (teacher of Richter, Gilels and Lupu),Alexandre Goldenweiser (teacher of Bashkirov, Berman and Nikolaieva), Konstantin Igoumnov (teacher of Ashkenazy, Davidovich and Feltsman) and Felix Blumenfeld (teacher of Horowitz)to name a few. They were all famous for their principles and total dedication to music and education. Some of them were stricter then others, but they are all warmly remembered by their students all over the world.  I know many current Russian pianists who are both performers and teachers, and I wouldn’t associate any of them with the word ‘Scary’.  Here is an interview with the incredible Russian virtuoso pianist Boris Berezovky, who is the one of the most modest people I have ever met:

So what do you you think – are we, Russian Piano Teachers, really that scary?  The only way to find out is to be open-minded and try a few Russian piano teachers…

As for me, you can judge for yourself!  : )  Take a look at the clips on the Piano-Yoga® Education Youtube Channel:

Better still, come and meet me in person on the 15th May at Kings Place in London at the next Piano-Yoga® retreat:

It’s now time for my piano practice…

Namaste,

GéNIA

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GéNIA's Blog

News, Events, Information and random thoughts from GéNIA