Have you ever thought about an upcoming performance and instead of joy and excitement there's a tightness in your gut and an anxiety that just won't go away? Have you ever been in an actual concert and you were so nervous that it was difficult to concentrate? Or your hands shook? Or you couldn't catch your breath? Well, I can tell you that many, if not most, artists have experienced some type of performance anxiety in their careers. I know I have. And I knew all the standard strategies to deal with it--deep breathing, positive self-talk, no caffeine, high-potassiam foods like bananas, etc. They all work. However, for me, they didn't work dramatically enough; I still struggled with anxiety to the point where I questioned whether or not I wanted to continue to be a performer.
And then I found a teacher who, although not a musician, quite literally changed my life. I guess I would describe her as a holistic practitioner or a meditation teacher of sorts--the labels don't matter. She taught me about the Chakra system--the energy centers in the body that affect our lives in very deep ways. I will focus here on the one chakra that, through a particular kind of awareness, "cured" my performance anxiety. The Crown Chakra. The crown chakra at the top of your head opens with inspiration and closes with fear. And since it's impossible to feel fear and inspiration at the same time all you have to do is STAY INSPIRED. It's that simple. Now, if you happen to subscribe to a particular spiritual practice or religion you can view the crown chakra as an opening to the spiritual realms (think halos in the depictions of religious figures). And you may also see the connection between Inspiration and those same spiritual realms ( in-spirit = in-spir-ation). But you can be a complete atheist and this will still work for you. Here's how:
Think of a piece of music that gives you chills up and down your spine--maybe Puccini's Nessun Dorma or the opening sounds to Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. It doesn't have to be classical music--maybe a Bruce Springsteen anthem does it for you. Regardless, when you feel those "chills" from that music, that's your crown chakra opening. So, here's the prescription. Listen to that piece of music on your way to the concert. Sing it to yourself while you're walking into the hall. Hum it while you're putting your clarinet together. If you have a long rest during the concert where you won't lose your place if you stop counting for a few seconds you can think of that musical phrase--even for the briefest of moments--and get your crown open. Of course, it will close the minute you start focusing on your fear but with practice it will stay open and you will be able to perform with a kind of joy and freedom you never thought possible. This is not pie-in-the-sky, New-Age self-help. Well, maybe it is a bit New-Agey but I can tell you, unequivocally and from years of personal experience, THIS WORKS. Just remember, you can't feel fear and inspiration at the same time. So, keep feeling those chills up and down your spine as much and as often as possible. Let them lift you and free you.
Have a great concert!