In every discipline there are these topics which continue to make us engage with them for the whole life. For cellists finding a stable, comfortable posture for playing can be one of those. And when Cellist Jérôme Pernoo says “Every day I re-learn the Cello” I would like to emphasize on “..including your sitting coordination…”.
If the Cello “just won´´ t ” as you´ re sitting down to play there are many screws one can adjust with. The first one is normally the screw for adjusting the endpin.
And starting with this we often experience the so-called “moving target phenomenon”, which means that whenever one problem is solved another one occurs. The C-string-peg is out of the way, but now the cello doesn´ t rest at the legs anymore, the corner of the lower bout isn´t poking in your thighs anymore, but now the C-string peg gets the way… and so on and so forth…
Today I want bring one of these problem zones out of its shadowy existence into the spot light.
„My breast are getting in the way.“
In my coachings I experience the freeing impact of simply addressing this problem on female cellists. And also cello teachers are often helpless when it comes to this topic. And it speaks for every cello teacher to be insecure how to address it. Especially when teaching teenagers whose body is basically changing every day. So my hope is to provide some support and a first approach.
Corpulence is NOT the cause.
There are basically to causes for the problem. Your size or cup size does NOT belong to them. That´s really important to understand! But: it can increase with PMS and during pregnancy.
Cause #1: My own anatomy – the unknown territory
If you already had some experience with the Alexander technique you probably know that our concepts of how our bodies are designed determine the quality of our movement. This is equally valid for our genitals as e.g. for our joints.
That the medical profession – and there by the documentation of anatomy – was dominated by and oriented on the male body, doesn´t make things easier. So what I´ m sharing with you with the following exercise was only 4 years ago a shattering realization for myself: I had a alarmingly wrong concept of my own, female anatomy.
So please take the following exercise seriously, take time and space for it and start your own expedition:
Your own Anatomy – a little bit of orientation brings a lot of gain!
When your breasts interfere with your cello playing anatomical clarity helps. Here´s a possible routine:
- Make yourself comfortable and take care that you will not be disturbed.
- Start by noticing your breath and the movements that go along with it, especially of the ribs. Notice how your breasts also move along with the breath.
- Palpate your ribs. Choose one you can easily touch and trace the bone. Can you notice the downward slope? Can you trace where it´ s connected to the sternum?
- Be aware of the fact that your ribs originate at the spinal column and then go all around your chest.
- Put your left hand on your ribs of the left side and the right hand on your sternum, fingers pointing towards the navel. Check out how far you can slide your hands between ribs and breast and how your breast can slide on the ribs. Switch sides.
- Consider the fact that the connection between ribs and sternum is made of elastic cartilage – not bone!
- Realize the many tiny muscles between your ribs. Imagine how they´ re relaxing and how that narrows and widens the space between the ribs.
- Sit down on a chair and let your cello gently come towards you and let it land on your sternum. Allow your breasts to simply slide out of the way. Stay elastic in your chest. Can you notice how your breath moves your ribs, your breasts and your cello?
- Start with playing some open strings. Keep breathing! What do you notice?
Inextricably interwoven with our concepts about our design are habits and tension patterns that can be really subtle. So causes #1 and #2 like to show up in a “tandem” relationship.
Cause #2: The typical “Fake Confidence” tension pattern
Movement patterns always develop in a social context. This is why the changing of habits is really a special discipline. This is especially true for habits that were developed in a sexual connoted context.
That´ s also the reason why addressing these habits on a physical layer may wake up related memories and emotions. So please: take care for yourself and don´ t be shy to ask for professional help if you think you need it. And teachers: Your sensitivity is important too!
- Breasts attract attention in our society. During adolescence not only the own body image changes but also the way I am looked at. Is something wobbling during physical education at school? Can I tease my teacher or the cute guy with my deep neckline?
- If I consider my breasts as too big (or maybe they developed earlier than for others) a pattern can develop in order to contract the breasts. We round our thoracic spine and the shoulders drop forward. This can result in an overall impression of shame and passivity.
- On the contrary we perceive a lifting of the sternum, the pulling back of the shoulders and a lifting of the chin as an expression confidence and security (see picture above). But mostly we´ re just compensating with this pattern for our insecurity especially when we´re exposed to an audience. That´ s a fatal illusion. This pattern restricts the breath, narrows the voice, tightens your neck and weakens our back. And: the cello becomes wobbly.
The lifting of the sternum only provides FAKE confidence!
Try this – even if it´ s a bit weird: Push up your sternum and make a hollow back. Now try to move your breast with your hands. Because of the tension you can barely move them. With cello they would now push the cello away from you. Now exhale, letting your sternum and ribs sink. Now move your breasts again. Can you notice how flexible they suddenly are? Now they can easily adjust to your cello.
Look at this before & after – picture:
- The pelvis is pushing forward (hollow back)
- The sternum is pushing up.
- Thereby she´ s pushing the cello away. The contact with the instrument at the chest becomes small and insecure.
After: The release
- The whole torso is hinging a bit more forward from the hip joints.
- Thereby the lower back can release down…
- …and the thoracic spine can release up.
- Following this the sternum and ribs can soften down…
- …and the breasts stay flexible and give way for the cello
- Now the torso can take in the weight of the cello so that it can rest.
As always a blog post can only be an occasion to address a problem. But I´ m ever so curious if you found it useful. What in particular did you find helpful?
Please comment or eMail me to firstname.lastname@example.org . If you´ re interested on 1:1 online sessions contact me an eMail for details.
Best wishes – Yours, Stefanie