There wasn’t a lot of playing in the past months. But since my work is shifting towards a new direction, I don’t need to use the computer mouse as much as I used to*. Lately I noticed that there is more energy left in my hands and fingers at the end of the day. So, I decided it was time to try a new approach to overcome Focal Dystonia.
Thanks to ‘the mindful pianist’ Akiko Trush** I gained more confidence in doing exercises that involve very little playing and more focusing entirely on sensations in my mind and body. I have come to realize that you must get rid of the idea of playing ‘the way you used to’ if you want to overcome Focal Dystonia.
But this week, on three days in a row I felt some tiny, tiny progress while exercising arpeggio! What made this small achievement possible? I’m still not exactly sure but this is what my exercise looks like.
I start by taking a short walk for about 15 minutes. After that, while back at home, I do some simple stretching exercises. I put my right foot over my left foot and put my right arm upwards and ‘reach’ as far as possible. Then the same for the left arm. After that I get on my chair and try to become aware of the sensations in my body; feet, legs, arms, hands and fingers. When there is a sense of calmness, I pick up the guitar.
With the guitar on my lap, I place my left hand on the neck and my right hand and fingers on the strings; the thumb on the lower A-string, the index finger on the G-string, the middle finger on the B-string and the ring finger on the E-string. In the meantime, I try to stay aware of the sensations in my body and the thoughts in my head.
With the fingers on the strings, I slightly put some pressure (very little) on the strings and feel what happens in my arm, hand and fingers. This Is usually the moment I realize that my hands are cold. So, I reach out my arms again and do some more stretching;-)
When I feel comfortable enough, I initiate the first arpeggio; P I M A. Although for most players P A M I feels more comfortable, P I M A always felt much easier for me. Then the second realization comes; the first notes ALWAYS feel uncomfortable. No matter how well you did the previous day… don’t let this discourage you, just keep going.
Try to play as softly and gently as possible. At first your muscles must adjust to the movement, but I always find that after only a short while it starts to feel good. As soon as I feel a contraction in my arm or fingers I stop playing and wait without forcing anything before starting again.
I use a mirror in front of me so I can look at my right hand without bending my neck too much. It adds visual feedback to the sensations in my body, arms and fingers so I can also see what is going on when I do a certain movement. But I also practice with my eyes closed. I have come to realize that (because of the FD?) the sensations in my fingers are somewhat distorted or blocked. By that I mean; I can’t really feel where my fingers are exactly at a certain moment or at what angle they are bent. (Not that I have lost the sensations to feel for instance when I touch something.) It could also mean that my focus is all over the place.
To put it in simple words; be aware of the sensations in your body. For that to happen, you must slow down and you need to be fully relaxed. If that is not the case, exercising is useless. That still happens too. There are moments in which I can feel the struggle in my muscles fighting for control. There is still a long way to go…
(*) (I will write a separate blog about the computer mouse as one of the sources that can trigger the onset of FD.)
(**) The Mindful Pianist, Akiko Trush is fully recovered from Focal Dystonia. You can read more about her approach on her website.