Friday, November 27, 2015

More Alternative Medicine/Therapies (Part 2): Body Movement Awareness Methods (Somatics), Modifications, and Musical Exercises for Focal Embouchure Dystonia

PART 2: Body Movement Awareness Methods (Somatics).

In my last post I spoke a little about being mindfully aware during physical rehabilitation. This is a huge part of recovery for me; making adjustments and modifications to help improve or redirect my tension into a less tense state of contraction based on both mindful awareness, and understanding of anatomy/functional muscle movement.

There are quite a few body methods out there that you may have heard of. Why these methods are important is because most of them focus on reprogramming a more efficient body map. Your body map is the brains general perception and understanding of ones body/movement/function based on the sensory input it's been receiving. This carries over to how we use our bodies with our instruments.

Body Movement Methods are technically referred to as somatics. Somatics refers to practices in the field of movement studies which emphasize internal physical perception. The term is used in movement therapy to signify an approach based on the soma or "the body as perceived from within."

I'm listing them here as a resource because knowing a little about them or even taking the time to take a course in one of these methods may be helpful to you, as they can help with the rehabilitation doesn't mean that one method or any of the methods are the answer to overcoming dystonia, but can be used in aiding the physical rehabilitation process to an extent.  

I've noticed universities recently incorporating classes on some of these methods which is awesome to see!

Types of Body Movement Methods or Somatics
  • Alexander Technique - Most musicians know of this method, and it is not uncommon these days to see it being taught as a course or summer course within music programs at universities or institutes. Alexander practitioners are certified and teach the course between 10-40 sessions. Alexander's approach focuses on mindful action. The instructor uses guided modelling with light hand contact for detecting and guiding the student past chronic pain and effort. It should be noted that A.T. is also used to help with stage-freight and anxiety too. Suggestions for improvements are student-specific/individual-specific, and the instructors analyze the student's responses, as well as using mirrors, video feedback, or classmate observations. The practitioner is well-trained in guiding free-movement.
  • Feldenkrais - Feldenkrais was highly influenced by Judo. He taught that increasing a person's kinesthetic and proprioceptive self-awareness of functional movement could lead to increased function, reduced pain, and greater ease and pleasure of movement. The Feldenkrais Method is therefore a movement pedagogy, similar to the Alexander Technique in being educational and not a form of manipulative therapy. The method is experiential, providing tools for self-observation through movement enquiry. The practitioner directs attention to habitual movement patterns using gentle, slow, repeated movements. Slow repetition is believed to be necessary to impart a new habit and allow it to being to feel normal. These movements may be passive (performed by the practitioner on the recipient's body) or active (performed by the recipient). Feldenkrais is used to improve movement patterns rather than to treat specific injuries or illnesses. This holistic focus means that the primary intention is not to treat injuries. However, it can be used as a type of integrative medicine because correcting habitual movement patterns can help heal injury, pain, and physical dysfunction.
  • Mitzvah Technique - is focused on dealing iwth body mechanics in a state of motion. It is a development of the Alexander Technique, the Feldenkrais Method and health-oriented work on musculoskeletal problems and stress diseases. Each of these techniques are based on correcting common postural faults by addressing  the neuromuscular system through postural re-education. Yet the Mitzvah Technique encompasses both a unique philosophy and a set of procedures. This includes the discipline, exercises, the work that Mitzvah Technique practitioners do with their hands. The Mechanism consists of a sequence of natural body movements that magnify the ripping motion in the body. There are four components to the Mechanism; (1) The interplay of physical forces acting between the pelvis and spine, (2) the rippling spinal motion, (3) the dynamic relationship involving the pelvis, spine and head in a synchronized motion, and (4) the freedom of the head to balance on its spinal support. All of these together promote the operation of the Mitzvah Mechanism. It is designed to improve posture and release tension and stress through exercises and therapeutic table work. It claims to realign, re-balance, and exercise the entire body during sitting, standing and waling. It's aim is to replace long-term work by practitioners, to have people learn how to use the technique itself. Musicians, actors, and singers have been extensive users.

    *These next two listed are not so much a body movement method (except Rolfing is kind of), but more of a alternative physical therapy that integrates somatic education into it's foundation.
  • *Oral Myofascial Release (MFR) - This is what I currently have experience with. Myofascial release deals with built up/rigid connective tissue or fascia in the jaw-joint and muscles surrounding the face. My acupuncturist was a specialist in John F. Barnes technique of MFR, which is a much gentler approach to releasing the tissue tension than the traditional way. Typically they will wear a glove and push their fingers against pressure points inside of your mouth (in the cheek or back of jaw) and they hold it for 2-6 minutes until the tissue releases; this is highly painful but extremely relieving afterwards.When I think of the jaw-joint, I compare it to the wrist-joint. A lot of woodwind players or typist get carpel tunnel, which is connective tissue built up in the wrist. The same thing can happen to our too can build connective tissue and cause our jaw to be unaligned, in pain, cause TMJ, or build more tension.
  • *Rolfing - It is very similar to myofascial release to an extent. It is a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity. It is essentially identical to structural integration. The difference between myofascial release is the cumulative process over ten session. Although myofascial release techniques derived form the work of Ida Rolf, it does not have the same strategic planning as rolfing. The various parts of the human body relate synergistically to each other, therefore rolfing integrates the whole body or various parts of the body, rather than focusing on one central area.
  • Andover Educators - This is actually not a method, but a service. I wanted to list this here as a resource. is the home of Andover Educators, a non-profit organization of music educators committed to saving, securing, and enhancing musical careers by providing accurate information about the body in movement. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Some Alternative Medicine/Therapies (Part 1: Non-traditional Medicine or Treatment) for Facial Pain, Trauma, and Dystonia


Happy post-day-of-Halloween! Here are a couple of things that may possibly support the recovery process for various facial ailments such as TMJ, Nerve Damage, Muscle Tears, Bell's Palsy, and Focal Embouchure Dystonia.

Again! These do not cure, nor is there any guarantee that this will help you. There is research on some of the methods applied to specific issues, for example - Bell's Palsy and Acupuncture, which can be found online.

However, embouchure dystonia doesn't leave you with many options, and when there is no known cure, one cannot help but do what is natural and test/observe various treatments through trial and error in the hopes of finding a small glimmer of hope.

It is important to realize that there are few musicians with dystonia that go out on a limb and share their personal process and do trial and error publicly. It is important to share the process, even if it cannot be applied to all. It is my hopes to bring more awareness of this disorder and provide a rare look at what this disorder can be like by sharing my own experiences. Although my experience is subjective, I am someone who thinks objectively, therefore I posted the statement above.

  •  Acupuncture, provides blood flow/circulation to specific areas and activates the nerves. I received acupuncture for once a week, for a year. It wasn't until about my 15th session I started to feel and notice drastic improvement in reduced tension overall in my face. It cost about $65.00 a session, and my acupuncturist had a passion for helping people with facial trauma.

    She had previously helped many people overcome Bell's Palsy, Nerve Damage from car accidents or injuries, etc. She also was certified in John F. Barnes Myofascial Therapy, so that was also included in my sessions.

    Just a note of caution though:
     I did find that the acupuncture made my nerves in my face very overly sensitive and it took about 2 years to fully wear off. At times it limited me from playing because my muscles were so loose (like jelly) and my muscles/nerves could only handle so much playing. I had to be very careful when working on my playing. I also would not suggest playing at all if you are receiving re-ocurring acupuncture treatments because the acupuncture is actually quite exhausting on the face because it is bringing in so much blood flow to a centralized area. Most acupuncturists will tell you to drink lots of water and to rest a lot after receiving treatment.

    I also would say that if you are going to try acupuncture, to consider doing as a last resort. Although I felt it helped me in the long-run, it was scary how overly sensitive my muscles and nerves became. The best example I can give is if you received a muscle relaxer. It feels great and there's not tension whatsoever left, but you're also left with no endurance, strength, and the muscles and nerves are much more sensitive to playing and get twice as sore. So please be careful. Maybe don't do a years worth of acupuncture and only do it 2 times a month or not every month.
  • *Oral Myofascial Release (MFR), which released built up/rigid connective tissue or fascia in the jaw-joint and muscles surrounding the face. My acupuncturist was a specialist in John F. Barnes technique of MFR, which is a much gentler approach to releasing the tissue tension than the traditional way. Typically they will wear a glove and push their fingers against pressure points inside of your mouth (in the cheek or back of jaw) and they hold it for 2-6 minutes until the tissue releases; this is highly painful but extremely relieving afterwards.When I think of the jaw-joint, I compare it to the wrist-joint. A lot of woodwind players or typist get carpel tunnel, which is connective tissue built up in the wrist. The same thing can happen to our too can build connective tissue and cause our jaw to be unaligned, in pain, cause TMJ, or build more tension.
  • *Rolfing - I haven't received rolfing, but wanted to list it here. It is very similar to myofascial release to an extent. It is a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organizes the whole body in gravity. It is essentially identical to structural integration. The difference between myofascial release is the cumulative process over ten session. Althogh myofascial release techniques derived form the work of Ida Rolf, it does not have the same strategic planning as rolfing. The various parts of the human body relate synergistically to each other, therefore rolfing integrates the whole body or various parts of the body, rather than focusing on one central area.

    *I've listed Myofascial Release and Rolfing also on my blog post over Body Movement Methods too. Since it crosses over into that area as well.
  • TENS unit, which sends electric pulses that interfere with the signal of pain being sent to the brain, it stimulates the nerves and endorphins, and helps control pain. This allows the muscles to relax instead of being in a state of contraction all the time (which dystonia causes our muscles to be in a state of chronic contraction...therefore the TENS helps me a lot). I use to receive a light does of TENS unit or electromagnetic therapy in acupuncture, but it wasn't until I started seeing a neuromuscular dentist that I used a heavier dose of TENS unit therapy which helped me tremendously. Now I  even have my own TENS unit at home after borrowing a friends for a while...decided I needed to invest in one for long-term relief.

    I feel like the TENS unit is more effective than acupuncture in relieving tension. Acupuncture was too over the top. Whereas TENS unit I can control the strength of output, and it doesn't overly-relax my face to the point of weakness. It helps relieve the right amount of tension. It takes time to get use to knowing how to use it and works best.
  • Po Sum On Oil, which can help with many ailments, including neuralgia. It provides deep muscle pain relief, headache relief, etc. It consists of Peppermint Oil 45%, Dragon's blood 1%, Cinnamon oil 1.5%, Camellia oil 100%, and Methanol 15%. It only cost about 6 bucks or more for a little bottle which will last forever. 
  • Ice packing/Heat packing. Alternating the two is highly important! Sometimes I will drink hot tea instead of heat packing, and then apply ice pack between drinks. I'll hold the tea in my mouth so that it warms up all my muscles.
  • Facial Muscle Stretches. i.e. Making certain facial expressions or movements to help relieve tension. I have various names for them too like duck lips/goldfish lips, the scrunchy face, the clown-frown, the angry brow, marshmellow cheeks, the horror screamer, the side-grin, etc. 
  • TMJ Jaw Stretches. i.e. Specific jaw stretches that help the mandibular joint. (I'll try to find a link to post on here of some stretches I use)....also buying a mouthguard may help relieve jaw pressure, even if you don't have TMJ.
  • Tongue Stretches
  • Neck and upper back stretches, which help relieve tension and keep the muscles flexible in the neck and upper back. (I posted a link somewhere in one of my posts on the stretches I use, I'll try to find it and repost it here)....this is important because the neck and shoulder muscles DO pull on the jaw muscles. They are all connected and work together. Think big picture! :-)
  • Taking off as much external pressure on your upper body as you can. Ex. Not wearing backpacks, heavy instrument cases, non-supportive or constricting bras that may dig too far into the shoulder, baby slings, avoiding lifting heavy things that require the shoulders or upper back. If you have pain at all on a certain side of your face, avoid sleeping on that side. If you have clenching problems with your jaw, avoid putting any pressure on the bottom of the chin/jaw when sleeping and practice holding the tip of your tongue in between your upper and lower teeth...this takes the pressure off the jaw immediately. Even if keeping your hair down and not pulled back it into a bun helps lessen muscle constriction on the face/head, then do it. 
  • Taking daily vitamins - keep your body provided with enough nutrients. I take women's one-a-day, and also GinkoSmart, and sometimes Fish Oil. There's also men's-one-a-day. It just depends on what your body needs or what you think will help boost your nutrients. It can even be in the form of a shake.
    I also write a blog on natural supplements.

I'm hoping to come back and add more to this post, because there's quit a bit more detailed information I'd like to share about each area. But for now, if you google any of the things I listed, you should find a wealth of information. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Home Moments...

Home Life Moments. (Wish I could figure out how to make photo albums on blogger)...

New couch...

A drawing my best friend Lizzie drew for us to display in our new apartment!

Skyping with one of my best friends James!

Happy Halloween!

Our backyard squirrel taking a nap on the fence post...

Onion rings and beer..yum!

Enchiladas and beans...yum!

My boyfriend playing hockey...

Stroll in the park...

Chicken for dinner...yum!

My boyfriend in his new hockey uniform!

First bed bought ever...

Healthy shakes...yum!

On the wall of my organizations center...

Love of my life.

Practicing horn!

Favorite restaurant...

Beautiful view from West Denver

Golfing with my boyfriend...

Meeting with family...

Sitting in on a CMF orchestra rehearsal...

My favorite professional hornist watching his son play violin on pearl street!

My boyfriend playing bass

Monday, September 14, 2015

Teaching Moments...

My first teacher photo taken...

Halloween informal classroom performances with students

Being goofy...

Halloween parade...

One of the ECE classes I teach music to...

After-school recess inside the gym...

Some of the kinder-violin students I teach...

One of my teacher friend's high school students performing at my organizations family picnic!

Paper (cardboard) violin making with fellow partnerships!

Baby violins for kinder and 1st graders.

Some of my ECE music teaching supplies...'s that song you're thinking about. 

Friday, July 31, 2015

Psychological Aspects of Recovery: Mental and Emotional Obstacles Faced with Musician's Dystonia (FTSED and FTSHD).

In the past I would have refrained from writing about this area of recovery because of the tendency of others to immediately hop on the psychological bandwagon belief that Musician's Dystonia is simply an underlying psychological or emotional disorder. As I have stated throughout many of my writings that I do not support that belief whatsoever, nor do I believe it is the true cause of this neurological disorder. That is not to say that there is no psychological effect involved that must be addressed.

It is what I consider one of the 3 major stages of rehabilitation; (1) Educating oneself on the disorder, treatments, rehabilitation methods, other related injuries/areas, the body (movement and anatomy), and literally anything involving musician's health. (2) retraining the mind (psychological cognitive restructuring). (3) Rebuilding Neuro-pathways (Physical Rehabilitation). 

These are my own opinions. However, it is safe to say that without a doubt anyone who has been marked with a major physical setback or injury naturally inherits emotional hurdles afterwards. As it takes a huge blow to ones self worth, it leaves us with doubts in our capabilities, dislike in our concept of sound, we start to over-analyze out of pure confusion and trying to fix what is going wrong with technique, and it leaves us overwhelmed and lost in the stages of grief. Sometimes we don't even realize that we are in grief or are in denial of it.

It is best to address the psychological aspects first and foremost before any musician tries to start physically rehabilitating. I believe they should be in a healthy frame of mind and emotionally stable. Many musicians who are hit with this disorder panic and want answers right away. They are very confused and don't want to accept the current state they are in. The only problem is that part of the answer IS embracing the current state. Mind you that embracing a temporary state/setback does not mean it defines you or that you're giving up. The disorder does not define who you are or who you will be. There is a difference.

Being diagnosed with what is considered a career-ending disorder is scary and devastating. It is hard to see the silver lining when it seems there are vague answers and not just one solution to overcoming it. It takes a great deal of courage and optimism to look at it in positive light, and no one is ready to do that until they've allowed themselves to grieve and face the possibility of their worst fears.

But I look at it as facing ones fears and saying, "Even though I believe I will beat this disorder, I'm not scared of the worst that could happen because here are the good things that can come out of it...." It's like facing your fear in order to overcome it. Once you experience it, it no longer holds a death grip on you.

I can already hear my musician friends saying, "What good could come out of this awful situation?" In order to come to that point, you have to go through the stages of grief. You must cry over the misfortune, get angry, yell, curse others, become bitter if you have to, go through highs and lows, desperately ask for help, ask "why me?"...whatever it takes to heal no matter how bad it feels. But then there comes a time where you do feel you have a choice; you can continue mourning or build up the courage and say, "I'm tired of being sad. I'm tired of hating the way I sound due to the spasms. I'm tired of fearing my instrument, being frustrated, confused, fearing the worst, and living like this in misery." Then you find the strength to fight. Once you are ready, there is a lot you must change about the way you think, and in a big picture type of way...

  • The first and most important thing I have found is learning to separate your worth from the instrument and center yourself.
We are gifted with the love of (sharing) music. It initially started off as a feeling and transferred to an instrument that resonated with us personally. Yet this gift of the love of music is still with us, even if we can not play for the time being. The instrument does not define who we are or our gift, just like our disorder does not. We must believe that our knowledge of music and passion is meant to be shared, that all we've done in the field is not for nothing. Being gifted with music means we have the choice to share it in more ways than just one. Focusing on another area of music or field/activity that reminds us of that love surprisingly allows us to still remain connected to the gift. It may not give us as "full" of a feeling as we had before, but it can as time goes by and we find our confidence returning in something music or non-music related that we didn't know we had a talent for.

Having Dystonia allows us to focus on other areas of our lives that we didn't get to do while focused on performance. We have more time to build relationships, explore new areas, work on our health, study something we never got a chance to do.  Some are too afraid to try to live again, to seek out something similar out of fear that it won't be the same.

We are literally brought back to the major question of "Why do we love our instrument so much? and where do our priorities fall? It also makes us question what is success? Did we love our success more than the music? Dystonia really grounds us and brings us back to why we love music. Success and failure are one and the same. There are no rewards/praise for success. The reward we found in music when younger was that feeling of exploration. We could make a million mistakes and still love the way we sounded. Yet the more advanced you become you lose that sense of exploration, creativity, curiousity, and unconditional love and acceptance of how one sounds.

  • That leads me to the second thing. You must embrace the way you sound and love it.
I am dead serious when I say it is vital that you revert back to that childhood state of mind in order to embrace your dystonia. Dystonia must be confronted with that same feeling of exploration, curiosity, and unconditional love and acceptance of how one sounds.

Seeing other people play music, even small children, reminds me of what a tremendous blessing music is in this world. It's meant to be used as a form of expression whether or not it sounds good or has meaning and that is all that matters. Technique no longer matters, all the blabbering about breathing, hitting the notes, using articulation, etc. All that matters is embracing the love of music and letting go of the ego, the success, or judgement, and really appreciating what a gift it is to have music in the world. I imagine my feeling is similar to that of someone who has lost one of their senses like sight or hearing. We don't realize how truly miraculous something is until it is gone. We appreciate it more, aim to protect it, and love it in a way that is no longer criticizing, demanding, or taking it for granted as we did before.

I'm serious when I say I absolutely love hearing beginning band students play.
I believe that is the kind of love it takes; to embrace music with no judgement, or at least an appreciation for it that is much deeper than before.

  • Third. Shift your focus from the performance mentality to relaxed awareness. 

I learned to not fight my symptoms or judge them, but to let them happen and just relax into a state of awareness. (ex. "I'm noticing that it's easier to grab an F than a G, and the angle of my mouthpiece made a difference today"). That way you are focused more on feeling things out than fixing things with technique or judging the way you sound. Your body knows what to do and is trying to tell you something, so listen to it and get to know the symptoms well. I started taking an inventory of my symptoms and recording myself. The more I played with an open, loving, and aware mind, the more I discovered and adjusted my playing over time and saw improvement.

Performance mentality focuses on analyzing technique, physical agility, skills and accuracy. Relaxed awareness is what is needed instead. Focusing on embracing the symptoms, getting to know when they happen, looking at them with curiosity, exploring ways to lessen them through adjustments and modifications.It seems pretty simplistic and basic, but it works if you have patience and don't rush the process of recovery.

Though this may sound odd, there are some other things I did to help embrace my dystonia sound; telling my horn thank you and that I loved it no matter how it sounded, recording myself and listening to it with love, sympathy, and curiosity. Also practicing mantras, visualizations, building self-esteem, and treating myself like a survivor and not a victim were other major factors in changing my state of mind. Also farther down the road I liked listening to recordings of the horn before I fell asleep and visualized that my playing felt just as smooth and effortless. Pretty soon I started having vivid dreams about playing easily and this boosted my energy and happiness the more it occurred.

I started off practicing in a practice room with a piece of paper over the window. As I got more comfortable with accepting my sound, I removed the paper. Eventually I moved into a larger classroom, and then a stage. I adapted myself so that I did not fear the way I sounded in front of others. Whenever the thought that someone might be judging me popped up I would tell myself, "They are not judging me, I must be judging myself harshly to assume so. Even if they are, they do not know what they are doing. If they are, I feel sorry that they have been brainwashed to look down so shallowly on the act of making music which is a beautiful thing. I must remember I am now at a higher state of mind than what I had before and I love the way I sound no matter what. I must let go of the inner critic. I love myself. I love my sound. I accept it."

  • This leads me to the fourth thing that I have learned. It is important to surround yourself with people and environments that help promote a healthy state of mind.
Teaching beginning band students helped me a lot, and this is actually why I'm going into teaching. I love working with students who are just starting to learn music because that is when I most clearly see the importance of music. In a way it is living my life up to my ultimate rule...that it's always about the expression of music and imagination more than anything else. It is similar to developing strong morals and values and sticking to them, living them, breathing them, becoming them.

My students never judged the way I sounded and instead thought it was the best thing on earth. It reminded me of how children are much more centered (mentally and emotionally) than adults can be. They are in that state of daydreaming and imagination all the time. I am happy to influence them in a positive way and help them find balance in not only their abilities, but way of thinking/approach too. It was much healthier for me to be around children with this state of mind than performing in a group full of adults that are way too hard on themselves and others.

Many Dystonic musicians who talk to me usually ask me how I feel about playing in a group. They hate it when I tell them that I am against people playing in an ensemble of high caliber or even of musicians that would not understand what they are going through. I think it is important at the beginning of rehabilitation to focus on yourself and spend time playing alone and not aggravating things. Later on as playing gets better, then maybe if psychologically prepared for it, but playing in a group can add even more anxiety, pressure, demands, fear, frustration, and stress that you already deal with when facing the dystonia symptoms; not knowing if things will come out correctly, or if you'll be able to play a passage, etc. Live concerts are the worst because it adds in adrenaline, and the adrenaline heightens the dystonic symptoms just like loud noise heightens or triggers a migraine. It's best to remove oneself from anything that worsens the symptoms for the time being.

Instead, surround yourself with a network of people who understand; whether it be the musician's dystonia group on facebook, write or visit with other musicians from the group or who you've come across online with dystonia, lean on a supportive teacher/mentor, etc. If you feel comfortable with talking to me, then by all means call me or message me if you need to. It's the least I can do for others.

If can, speak out about your dystonia. It is oddly relieving. Not everyone is comfortable with that, but for me it is a way of healing. Knowing that I am informing others (non-dystonic people) about this disorder that is rarely spoken of, makes me feel like I'm not wallowing in pain while keeping my mouth shut. I want others to know so that some day others who are in the same boat won't feel as alone or outcast. Yet, I always speak positively of it; never victimizing myself, but instead aim to promote awareness and understanding of the disorder.

I know this is not how everyone feels, but I believe that my dystonia was meant to happen for a reason. I may not understand the reason, but I choose to believe that it is because I am strong enough to handle it and navigate the tremendous loss, and that I am to help others and promote awareness about this disorder. I believe that what I'm experiencing is unique and it is rare to see anyone share their experiences about this disorder, so it must be done for the sake of healing and helping. I see a lot of injured musicians do this, and it makes me happy to see them channeling their love and support to others in need before themselves. This leads me to the importance of belief or hope....
  • Last, but not least. Do your best to find the silver lining and say it out loud.
Physical rehabilitation tests your patience unlike any other. There are many days where you will get better, then relapse. There are many days where one adjustment might work and the next not. There are even more days where you just plain sink into depression again. The wound from losing what you love never truly goes away. It is not easy to stay optimistic about it all the time, and I don't suggest that anyone avoid their emotions; whether it be sad, angry, happy, excited, etc. It is important to go through the motions and let whatever you feel happen so that you can heal.

Creating some strong beliefs in yourself and your recovery will carry you further and support you when things get tough. When you are able to find the silver lining...even if it's not something you necessarily completely 100% believe yet...say it out loud no matter what. It could be something as simple as, "Maybe not today. But tomorrow." or "Can't have progress without some relapses." I always say it out loud, whisper it, or say it to myself in a mirror because it somehow feels more grounded and reassuring. I know I sound crazy for doing such things, but it makes a difference and that is all that matters. Whatever gives you strength, believe in it and hold onto it....not matter how ridiculous it may seem, look, or sound to others.

The psychological aspects of recovery are a huge obstacle to overcome! It is probably the most difficult part of rehabilitation. I see these psychological aspects as a very heavy fog that blinds us from the physical obstacles beyond that. Once the fog is lifted you can focus on the dystonic symptoms and alleviate them through physical therapy and rebuilding the neuro-pathways slowly over time. But first and foremost you have to be willing to embrace what is right in front of you and keep tremendous patience. Not everyone is ready to do that or needs help with it. Some good options to help find what centers you is meditation, hypnosis, or it could be something spiritual or religious like going to church, it could even be helping others...whatever allows you to reflect inwards and face the grief at your own pace and allows you to think about a meaningful purpose of this experience. The good news is that you will see progress without a doubt, and time really does heal both the mind, body, and soul.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Good Times: Friends, Horn Players, Traveling, and TENS unit therapy!

I've had a busier month than expected! A lot of great blessings despite several car problems. I currently work in Denver while living in Boulder. It's quite the commute, but I don't mind since I love driving long-distance. However, my car has broken down three times in the last month....let's just leave it at that and hope the terrible 3's are finally over. I'm so thankful for the many friends and family that have helped out throughout that stress-ball.

Back to the positive stuff! A fellow FTSED musician lent me their TENS unit to use! My neuromuscular dentist wanted me to undergo several sessions of using the TENS unit since it showed signs of improvement, yet I couldn't afford it. I'm literally a broke college student again. Boy am I grateful for this generous person to let me borrow their unit!!! It's helped tremendously. I'm already experiencing less pain. Even when the pain does happen it goes away quicker. I just have to make sure that I keep up the ice/heat packing and the TENS unit consistently especially after practicing.

They lent me four electric pads, so I've been using it on my face and my back shoulder and neck. My jaw is popping less, but still just enough to keep me worried. However, I have to say that my jaw feels more sticky in a good way...before I felt like it would pop or crack so easily by the slightest touch, and now it doesn't feel as loose or crackly or off. It's weird, the more I use the TENS unit along the line of my shoulder blade in my back, the more relieved I feel.

Another risk I'm taking is bringing back slight playing into my daily activities. My friend Thomas Jostlein the associate principal of the St. Louis Symphony is here in Boulder for the CMF festival and wanted to see where I was at playing-wise with my disorder. I'm VERY picky about who I play for because it requires a deeper understanding of the complexity of what I'm dealing with (a combination of injuries and disorder), and also an unorthodox approach vs standard lesson approach when giving advice or suggestions. But I trust him as a mentor.

The best thing is that I feel like I've contacted my inner horn geek again...which I've missed a lot! hahaha! It's therapeutic in a way feeling like I'm included in the horn playing world even if it's just talking to another horn player. Even better, one who isn't afraid of my disorder and is genuinely interested.

Many years ago when starting my (horn performance) grad school audition process by visiting campuses, the University of Illinois (Champagne-Urbana) was on my scheduled list. After visiting Thomas, I realized I favored his horn pedagogy and approach to music best out of any other schools, so U of IL became my top choice for schools to apply for. I liked that he wasn't like other typical professors; lost in technique or standard methods of solving playing issues, nor taught by the textbook....he had a unique and innovative approach due to his former teacher, Arnold Jacobs' influence. However, grad school on horn never happened due to my injury and then disorder. However, I consider him one of the best horn players of our time (if you haven't heard him, you need to...he really needs to make a solo recording), so it means a lot knowing he believes that I'll make a full recovery and has been supportive of all the hard work I've done to rehabilitate.

 I also had some of my closest friends in Colorado this summer! I went and visited my friend James at the Aspen music festival. He use to play principal clarinet in the orchestra I was in, and we played in a woodwind quintet together. My best friend Lizzie, also from my undergrad, visited me in Denver. She's working on promoting her artwork and trying to make it as a solo artist. I know she will because she has such a diverse set of skills!

For the first time in MANY years I felt myself again. Just being around people who get me, who have known me throughout my music endeavors and all the challenges, changes, and growth in brought me a sense of relief being around what feels like family. My friends are family...even if I'm not the best at keeping up, I would do anything for the few close friends I have. Even my own family (except my twin sister) hasn't attended any of my concerts, recitals, performances, or tours after I left high school.

Music has always provided the family, support, and sense of purpose I strived for and needed. Even if I could play, it wouldn't mean as much if I didn't have others to share my pursuit of music with. I miss performing with friends, people that I love, and sharing good memories. No, the performance world is not always pretty, there can be drama, but in the end when I look back, it's my friends I miss the most. I proudly watch them grow into professional musicians, already establishing their names and professions. And while I wish I could share in the same things, I can't complain too brings me tremendous joy seeing them shine and accomplish their dreams.

On a completely different note and change of subject, I'm in a committed relationship; something that is a huge milestone. It's taken a lot of courage on my part, but so far I feel like my heart has healed a lot and I'm ready to see the world through a more positive lens again and embrace whatever comes my way without fear.

I'm still learning how to let go of control and to not fear the worst, but I've come a long ways since then. In a way I felt like all these wonderful reunions with musicians I admire and friends I care deeply about, was a gift from God as a reminder of who I am, that everything that's happened in the past, all that I've accomplished, the gift of music I was wasn't all for nothing, and it really did happen. I really could play. Just when I thought the former me was dead and gone, I was reminded that passion and fire inside is still alive. I just needed a jolt to wake me up again. I honestly haven't felt this alive in a very long time, and I'm grateful for it. I can daydream about the future and look forward to every day with the faith that my talent and skills will serve a purpose again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

31st Birthday Blog!

Finally making some time to update my blog. It's my 31st birthday today and I wanted to write! First off, thank you to everyone who contacted me this year, for those who have driven all the way to visit, and for the phone calls and e-mails! I hope I have been of some help and support. It has moved me to see others speaking up about what they are dealing with and sharing their own research and findings too.

This summer I am working on writing an article over FTSED, and a lecture/presentation to give at possible conferences this coming year. It is a lot to undertake and a bit overwhelming because I'm of course not a medical professional, but just a musician who can only share their experience with FTSED. However, I think it is important to not only make others aware of injuries through writing...but to speak about FTSED, music performance-related injuries, and resources out loud. It needs to be brought up not just at conferences, but around peers, and especially in schools where advanced musicians are training.

On a personal note, I have unfortunately experienced a lack of motivation to write lately, mainly because of my recent diagnosis of TMJ. The fact that I have another hurdle to overcome makes me frustrated. I don't know whether or not the TMJ is a result of trying to rehabilitate on my horn with a dysfunctional embouchure for the last couple years, OR if it has always been an underlying issue creeping up on me overtime and caused the damage and dystonia.

At least when I was dealing with my nerves flaring up and my dystonia symptoms setting off, I could manage it and still play/rehabilitate. But with TMJ now it's almost impossible to play my horn due to overwhelming pain, or even try...and that is what has thrown me into this slump. I still have hope that someway, somehow, I'll be able to afford medical care later on (probably not until I graduate) and get the jaw splint/guard.

Despite feeling down I have a lot to look forward to! One of my favorite professional horn players will be in Boulder playing principal horn with the Colorado Music Festival. During my undergraduate studies I had planned on going on to study with him for graduate school while he was teaching in Illinois at the time. However, I ended up with dystonia, and he ended up taking a job with an orchestra. So we haven't seen each other since 2010!

I think being around a horn player that I admire so much will be therapeutic for me and remind me of my roots and bring back some life to me. With FTSED, after so long of not playing with a group or being able to play your instrument, you begin to forget who you's almost like a long lost memory...but every now-and-then, that passion that you felt for your instrument comes back at unpredictable times (at times it can be a happy feeling, and other times a sad feeling); it could happen while sitting at a coffee shop and your favorite horn concerto comes on the radio. Or when I am walking to a class and hear an orchestra rehearsing in a concert hall, or coming across an old photo of myself playing horn.

I've been missing horn playing more and more lately. I do feel no matter how much progress you make in rehabilitation, you go through not only physical relapses, but emotional too, but they become less intense over time. For instance, right now I am feeling down, but it is a bittersweet feeling. I am glad to look back on the past, but I am not devastated over it...just like missing a loved think of all the good memories and think, "I sure do miss them, but I know they're still here with me in the little moments like this." I still hold faith all these years later that I will beat this embouchure dystonia!

Not to get off track. I'm also working out a lot this summer. Time to get in shape! I started a new job not long ago and am still involved in concierge work. I can't explain how much this area of work has helped me to get where I am today...even if it's not what I love, I do enjoy it and getting to know the people who travel through. I also have one year left at CU and I've worked SO HARD, I can't wait to graduate!!!

If anyone wants to share any links of interest related to performing arts related injuries, please feel free to comment or send me an e-mail. I'll gladly share! Thank you again for all those who have kept up with me over the years, and I will write more soon.

- Katie

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Month of May Links of Interest

I haven't written a blog in a long time! I've been so busy. My summer feels like it won't begin until July. I'll be back soon to update with more!

The first link is by Round Earth Publishing over head/neck/upper body pain.
The second is an article in Peabody's Magazine of Fall of 2009 over musician injuries.
I'm pretty sure I already have this link on here, but just encase: Embouchure Dystonia Ireland
A recent and wonderfully written and well informed post by Wilktone over FTSED diagnosis and treatment and criticism.
An Altenmuller article: From Embouchure Problems to Embouchure Dystonia? A survey of self-reported embouchure disorders in 585 professional orchestra brass players.
An article by Fruscht over Embouchure Dystonia.  
A flute player starting to document their journey through a blog too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

My Academic Year (Photos)

Well. It's been a busy school year! I'm almost done....5 weeks left. Whew! I just wanted to share some photos I've took throughout the year. It's been extremely challenging yet rewarding; 3 deaths in my life, lost my job, lost my car for a while, and way too much drama, on top of full-time work and full-time school, but on the positive side a scholarship, plenty of opportunities to teach, make friends, and let go of my past. This summer I'll be focusing a lot on work, getting in shape, and preparing for presentations over musician injuries. Cheers to my first year at CU, and looking forward to summer soon!
Learning/Practicing Timpani
Outside Macky Auditorium
Teaching a trombone sectional on Holst Suite

Macky Auditorium

Hiking in the Flatirons
More hiking....

My nametag from the school of education.

Macky Auditorium

Downtown Boulder

Pearl Street

Snowfall on CU campus

My bus pass and ID...I was so excited to receive these!

More snowfall on campus

More snowfall on campus...

Saying goodbye to some kids moving away from graduate family housing! My roommate and I always played basketball and football with them during the summer.
More campus photos...

We were learning how to do basic colorgaurd during Marching Band Techniques class.

Saying goodbye to the children moving away from graduate family housing. My roommate and I played basketball and football with them all summer. We miss them very much!!! :'(

The hour before my very first conducting experience. Dvorak Wind Serenade.

My first Music Educators Journal! I open it up and there's my high school band director Dr. Burrack.
Fireworks at Farrand Field

At an elementary school in Denver visiting my roommates mom's music class! I taught them about brass and introduced them to the horn and trombone.

Walking home....

More walks....

Conducting high school band on Halloween

More snowfall outside...

Teaching flute basics

Teaching solfege / hand signs.

Working on subdivision charts with a high school trombone section

More conducting....

More conducting photos