A Healing Journey through Music: playing the cello and RSI
A Healing Journey through Music: playing the cello and RSI
I grew up in a family of performers. Music was around me every day and was a natural part of life.
I began playing the cello when I was 6 years old and was supported with this by my family throughout my childhood and teenage years. It was a hobby that was taken seriously, therefore I was required to commit to daily practice, and it brought me lots of fun in the way of being involved in orchestras with my friends.
On entering music college at the age of 19 the cello then became a prospective career, and although I still loved to play my instrument, my musical life changed dramatically. Suddenly it was full of pressure – to get it right and to perform well. My training was in how to perfect pieces of music and deliver them in a way that impressed and moved people. I embraced this and spent hours in practice rooms perfecting my playing, and when performing would pour my emotions into the music and move people to tears.
After my initial years of college I then travelled to America to study further at a Conservatory of Music. The pressure increased tenfold, the focus became more about the technique than the feeling of the music, and my enjoyment of playing started to dwindle.
I started to feel like a robot, just churning out music with no feeling and no soul. My body became really hard and tense, my frustration and anxiety increased, and my days became a struggle instead of a joy.
I channelled all my pent-up emotion back into my cello and my music, and my body became even harder and even more tense. I was playing for around 8 hours a day with this tension in my body and was persisting with a drive to achieve. The joy I had once experienced playing the cello was replaced by an empty feeling coupled with misery and physical pain. I was playing in this state and just kept going, putting my body under more and more strain.
Eventually my body gave up. I developed a severe case of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) in my right arm and had to stop playing. This was not unusual within the music world among string players – so much so that there were classes provided at the Conservatory of Music to help people recover from it. It didn’t make sense to me how it was widely accepted as a problem, yet there were no guidelines as to how to prevent it.
I now know that developing the RSI was a blessing for me, as my body was just showing me that it needed to stop and heal, but at the time it was devastating.
Devastation turned to depression and years of not being able to play. My arm was wrecked, my identity as a cellist gone and my dreams were shattered. I started again without the cello and re-invented my life. I sold my beloved instrument after years of it sitting gathering dust, and I left my musical years behind.
I embarked on a healing journey with my body to heal my arm, and after a long while of searching for the healing modality that felt right to me I began attending Sacred Esoteric Healing workshops with Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine in 2007. With the awareness I gained from these workshops and help from Esoteric Healing practitioners, I began to make changes in my life, taking more care in the way that I lived and conducted my body.
I gained an understanding that it was the emotional state that I was in while playing the cello that had caused my Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and that by playing with this emotion it had simply magnified this harmful energy throughout my body.
I began to become aware of the way that I used my arms, and I started to touch things in a gentle way instead of expressing any emotion I felt through my movement. Over time my arm has healed completely, and I no longer suffer pain or tension in the same way. Choosing gentleness, respecting what my body needs, and being willing to express and move without the intense emotion helped me to heal.
A few years ago (twenty years after leaving music college) I started attending the workshops of Chris James, a musician who brings people together to sing and play music with joy. Singing for me was a beautiful way of coming back to music without the pressures of my old experiences with the cello, and also a gorgeous confirmation that I still have the beauty of music inside of me and can use it as a way to express from my heart.
Little did I know at the time that these were the first true steps on my way back to playing the cello, the instrument that I know and love, and that I would end up playing the cello with joy, enjoying every note and movement, and banishing Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) from my life permanently.
In 2015 Chris James announced that he wanted to set up a band and that he wanted to include the cello; after some surprise and resistance on my part, I agreed. With crowd funding we bought a new low cost cello, and it entered my life once more.
When I first sat down to play the new cello I could feel that my body was totally different, and the way that I played did not resemble the way that I had played before. My body was not twisted around the cello or tense in any way, and my arm flowed in a way that felt so natural and free.
I could really feel how the healing that I had done had changed the state of my body and therefore the way I was moving and playing.
I then attended Chris James’ Healing Power of Sound Retreat and brought my cello along to play with the band. It was interesting to notice that playing in front of people brought up all my old patterns. I started to feel all my old emotion, and my body started to configure itself back to the way that I used to play.
The way the weekend unfolded was nothing short of amazing. Chris James holds these events with the intent of enabling the healing of any issues we hold that stop us expressing as our natural selves. As a result, as we sing or play from love – from our true inner essence, without the intense emotion, competition, rules or strict discipline – our old issues can come up to be exposed, felt and ultimately released.
When I sat down to play the cello with the band, in front of the rest of the group who were singing, all my old patterns were right there – the feeling of pressure, wanting to fulfil expectations, the need for perfection, the tension, the feeling of not being good enough and needing to prove myself, the belief that I had to entertain.
I felt miserable at not being able to sing, disconnected and isolated from the rest of the group, very rusty after years of not playing and all my resentment and frustrations came flooding back. There were lots of tears and a huge internal struggle. It felt like I was a very long way from playing with joy! However I persevered and just played, trusting that the environment Chris had created was holding me with love and that I simply needed to be willing to be there and go with the process.
The morning of the second day of the retreat I turned up feeling entirely different. The issues that I had identified and allowed myself to feel the day before had shifted and cleared overnight. I felt fresh, alive, clear and absolutely full of joy. I felt like the true me without all the stuff. I picked up the cello and started to play. My body felt free and easy again and there was a warmth and fullness in the sound that I was making that had not been there the day before.
My feeling towards the cello was one of love rather than resistance, I felt connected with the rest of the group and I found myself claiming the cello as I played it, allowing it to make the most beautiful sounds. No emotion, no stress, no anxiety, just pure fun and love and joy.
Playing with the rest of the band was absolute heaven and I felt fully supported by them and by Chris. I continued to play with joy for the rest of the weekend, and instead of dreading playing I found that I really wanted to play; instead of feeling shy and avoiding attention I was claiming the spotlight and actually enjoying it!
This was such an amazing shift over such a short period of time. It felt like magic, but in truth it simply showed us all the power of the healing environment that was set up by Chris with so much love. His willingness to accept where people are at, his keen attention to detail, his absolutely hilarious sense of humour, his ability to keep things light, and his depth of awareness and understanding all provide a space in which we can relax, surrender, let go and heal. The power of love and the power of music are phenomenal, and Chris James’ ‘Healing Power of Sound’ retreats are an absolute testament to that.
This journey is also an absolute testament to my own application and willingness to heal. I feel that I have shifted an enormous amount of stuff that was still sitting there preventing me from stepping into my full potential, both with the cello and within my life. Without this commitment and willingness the healing process could never have occurred. The old patterns from my music college days were still in my body and affecting me until I was willing to allow them out by accepting the support offered in a loving environment, leaving me with a huge appreciation for myself for making changes in the way that I live.
This experience and healing has stayed with me and has supported me to embrace playing the cello – the beautiful instrument that is loved by myself and so many – in a new way. It has also shown me that music does not have to be pressurised or serious – we can make music with a lightness, playfulness and joy that can inspire others to bring these qualities to their lives. The unity and joy we experienced together in the band is also shared and felt by others.
I feel and hold a deep gratitude and appreciation for all those and everything I have encountered along the way on this powerful reclaiming and healing journey that has allowed me to let go of my pain, leaving me free to express my true self through music.