Recently, I had the very great pleasure of interviewing GéNIA, Russian pianist and teacher, and creator of innovative piano technique, Piano-Yoga®. We met at London’s prestigious Steinway Hall to talk about many aspects of piano teaching and performing, and, in a departure from the usual format of the At the Piano….. interviews, our conversation was filmed.
The videos will be published in six short instalments. In the first, we discuss GéNIA’s musical heritage, her first piano, the influence of her great-grand uncle Vladimir Horowitz, significant teachers and other influences that affected GéNIA’s musical development.
Piano-Yoga® is a unique method of piano playing, performing and teaching designed for all levels of pianists. It has been created and developed by Russian virtuoso pianist and educator GèNIA.
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!
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