Your stress response does not end with invisible changes to the neuro-chemical processes in your brain…
Stress also has the power to adversely effect our entire body posture… often without our permission and sometimes without our awareness.
In my case, I discovered that I have a tendency, whether by predisposition or conditioning, to withdraw into the fetal position. I curl my back, scrunch my shoulders scrunch, pull my elbows to my sides, and pull my knees together. An unconscious attempt to become small and motionless and therefore invisible to a predator perhaps?
No matter the reason, such a closed posture is devastating to a performance in at least four ways:
First, such a closed posture is inherently full of muscle tension… tension that spreads everywhere.
Second, this system-wide muscle tension leads to awkward technique and unmusical timing.
Third, the tension can be so severe that it distorts the sense of where your body and the piano are in space and time, leading to feelings of insecurity and missed notes.
Fourth, because you did not practice this way, your body is in a situation that it has no experience with.
Of course, none of the above are conducive to an enjoyable, artistic performance. Instead of being fully present with the music you are making, you begin thinking about all those things can go wrong.
So what’s a poor piano player to do?
One remedy is to simply observe yourself in the course of your routine activities… typing at the computer, driving your car, washing the dishes, signing a check, standing in line. You just might notice that you carry this this closed posture around with you all day long.
The antidote, of course, is to cultivate the habit of a free and open body posture in everything you do, no matter what… a la C3PO! (Would anyone like to see a video demonstration of this?)
Stay tuned for lots more in the series on how to tame the stage fright monster. In the meantime, check out… Performance Anxiety: Micro-Lessons