17. Measured Breathing (for everyone)
Here is a simple pranayama (breath and energy control) exercise that you can do anywhere:
Sit or stand tall and balanced, and breathe in through your nose to a comfortable count of four. Hold for a count of four. Exhale slowly and gently to a count of four or more.
As you bring the air through your nose and deep into the lower parts of the lungs, your brain immediately responds by reducing the output of stress hormones. This helps your mind enter into a more relaxed yet focused state. These benefits only work when you are breathing diaphragmatically, and not just in your chest. Your shoulders need to stay relaxed the whole time. Feel free to increase the count, but don’t make it a will-power event, or take it so far that you get light headed.
18. Find your center in a sea of sound
When practicing in the midst of others, it is very easy to become overly self-conscious or distracted by the sounds of those around you. Comparison will kill any small spark of inspiration, so here is a way to achieve a single-focused concentration in your own practice:
Take a minute to listen, without judgment, to the notes of those around you. Do not latch on to their imperfections or seeming flawlessness. Allow yourself to appreciate their music, no matter what the quality. As you learn how to appreciate their music, you will allow yourself the opportunity to enjoy your own. Breathe slowly and deeply, immersing yourself in the sea of sound around you.
As you begin your own practice, however, bring your awareness with singular focus into your own sound. Do not concern yourself that others can hear you. Practice fearlessness and release any thoughts of what they might think of your sound. Immediately feel for and relax into the physical, mental, and confident freedom that naturally comes.
The less you compare yourself to others, the more you will find inner peace and singular focus blossoming within you.
19. Find Your Backstage Calm
The moments before you perform are crucial. The last minute details, the scoping out of the audience, the triple checking of the instrument and music will demand your attention, but make sure to take just a few minutes to dive as deeply into your center as possible.
This demands active courage, especially if everyone around you is bustling with nervous excitement.
1. Find a place to sit or stand. Chances are there won’t be many, and they might not be at all quiet or peaceful. Doesn’t matter.
2. Close your eyes. Forget about everyone around you and the fact that some may think that you are just being silly.
3. Use your will power to breathe deeply. Let go of your zooming thoughts (they will still be there in a moment) and focus on your breath for as long as you can. Dive as deep into the calmness that you have experienced in meditation. You’ve created the space. Use it.
20. Use Caution to Your Advantage
Sit or stand upright. Tense and relax your body 3 times while breathing deeply. Feel for a complete relaxation throughout.
Become aware of your breath. Coax it deep into your lower lungs. Feel your exhalation take your body into deeper dynamic stillness. Go as deep as possible with the time you have.
Then play or sing a phrase of your music, and return to stillness. Use thecareful attention of caution to discern a burgeoning energy within.
Repeat the phrase, heeding the energy that is coming alive inside of you: not your nervousness, but what lies beyond your notes.
Be a cautious scientist as you continue this process of playing/singing, relaxing, and feeling. Pay keen attention to what is happening. This is how you’ll know it’s Real.