This Drummer's Transformation
1/7/2016
Brian Baraszu, GCFP
Thursday, January 7, 2016
by: Brian Baraszu, GCFP

Section: Enriching Daily Life




Ever since I was a young, I have been passionate about music, especially about playing the drums. Nowadays, I enjoy playing more than ever. I teach and play gigs around the Atlanta, GA metropolitan area. I am also a Feldenkrais® practitioner and it is actually because of the Feldenkrais Method® that I am even playing drums at all.
 
I used to struggle with just being comfortable at the drums. This led to my developing serious problems with my back and hands. Over time, the discomfort and pain really took its toll on my enthusiasm for playing. And at one point, when I realized that I wasn’t enjoying playing anymore, I decided to sell my drums.
 
The trouble started when I was studying music in college. With longer practice hours and the stressful competitive environment, I began to experience various difficulties. Persistent back pain was the most prominent. I tried different ways to deal with it: stretching, lifting weights, chiropractors, and acupuncture. Nothing gave me lasting relief though.
 
Later, in my studies I developed a painful hand condition called tenosynovitis. It required an extended period of rest and time away from playing. I ended up leaving school. After many months, I did improve, but the pain and discomfort were still the norm, especially after gigs or longer practice sessions. And then things got worse again. My hands or back started to hurt when I would sit down to play. Sometimes they hurt even when I just thought about playing. I thought that was strange at the time. Eventually, I became totally frustrated with playing, and that’s when I sold my drums.
 
At that time, I had already been training in martial arts too for a number of years, and I decided then to devote myself more sincerely to that practice. I’d dabbled in boxing and Tae Kwon Do a bit as a youth, and I practiced a form of Tai Chi for a while to help with the symptoms of tenosynovitis. When I discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which is mainly a ground grappling art, I thought I found the perfect blend of practical self-defense, a good workout, and sound technical principles. I settled on a school that also taught a mix of other “stand up” martial arts too like boxing, Enshin Karate, and the Filipino martial arts.

My main interest in training was in using my practice as an avenue for improving myself as a human being. I got into meditation and started reading more Eastern philosophy. It was a complete lifestyle change. Over time though, I found myself struggling again with my old problem: back pain. Having pain seemed to go with the territory at the dojo. There were a lot of people training who were nursing one injury or another. It seemed to go with the culture, so most of the time I just “sucked it up.” I did what I could to keep going until one evening, while sparring, I twisted my back in funny way. It was very painful. I couldn’t move well for days afterward and I was barely able to work. Training was totally out of the question. I tried chiropractic again, and also an acupuncturist. Both helped, but not to the extent that I needed in order to keep training and working. I was desperate for a solution. That’s when I stumbled on the Feldenkrais Method.
 
One night, I was leafing through a bulletin from my local recreation center, looking for a “core strengthening” class-- they were all the rage at the time—so I figured that might help me. When I turned the page and saw a class called, “Connecting with Your Core Power: A Feldenkrais Method Awareness Through Movement® class,” it caught my attention. “What is this ‘Feldenkrais’?” I wondered. I’d heard the name before, but never learned anything about it.
 
The next night, I got myself down to the rec center with my mat to lay on the floor and to check out what this “Awareness Through Movement” was all about. I listened carefully to the instructor. She guided us through different movements. She told us to pay attention to ourselves and to focus on developing a feeling of ease and quality in the movements throughout the lesson. She had us attend to various things like the sensations of weight, pressure and effort while we moved. She said to "do less" and to sense how the parts of ourselves were connected from within us. She assured us that our brain and nervous system were “listening” and knew how to organize us to move with grace, ease, and even great power if we gave it the right kind of “input”. The right input, I would learn, had to do with attending to the quality of the movements. The teacher herself had a quality about her as well: a kind of quiet but powerful elegance. Having been around some high level martial artists before, I felt certain in my assessment that she held at least a 1st dan (black belt) rank in either judo or aikido. But later, I learned she only practiced the Feldenkrais Method.
 
I thought the whole process of the class was fun and engaging. It was a relief to not have to struggle to make results happen as I was used to doing in other practices. Many of the movements reminded me of the some of the movements in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that I was used to doing. When I stood up at the end of the class, I felt that something magical had happened: I didn’t sense any of the pain that I had walked into the room with an hour and a half earlier. Needless to say, I kept attending the class and throughout the series, I felt better and better. I was benefitting so much that within a few months my back was no longer a barrier to training or anything else. I was able to test for my black belt at the dojo and I went on to become a full instructor at the school. But still, playing drums wasn’t on my radar.
 
Then, disaster struck: less than a month after my black belt test, I was injured quite badly during a sparring session at the dojo. The ACL and MCL ligaments of my right knee had been torn while trying to block a throw from my training partner. I had to be on crutches for a couple of weeks. The doctors advised me to have reconstructive surgery to fix my ACL. I did get the surgery, and afterwards I received a series of private sessions, known as Functional Integration® lessons, with a Feldenkrais practitioner. I also attended the Awareness Through Movement classes when I could, moving very slow and even doing most of the movements only in my imagination. The Functional Integration sessions gave me a lot of added help and insight for what was a very complex healing and learning process to get back on my feet. I gained an even deeper appreciation for the principles of the Feldenkrais Method and it was then that I became more interested in joining a professional training program to become a practitioner of the method. My luck was that there was a training that fall, in 2005, near where I lived at the time in southeast Michigan. It would be a big commitment for four years, but somehow I was able to work out the details of my schedule at the dojo.

The Feldenkrais training for me was the richest learning environment I’d ever been involved in. With a large group of likeminded people from all walks of life, I was able to go deeper into the dynamics of the method and learn about myself in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible otherwise. Together with the group and on our own, we explored how the processes of movement and attention can be powerful tools for change and self-development. We also learned how to apply the principles of the Method with others in the one-on-one sessions Functional Integration lessons.
 
It was during the middle of my first year of the training when I had an epiphany about playing the drums again. One day, at the end of one of many Awareness Through Movement lessons, I stood up and sensed something was different. I felt so “organized,” as they say in the Feldenkrais Method. And standing there I suddenly felt in tune with the movements of a certain West African dance that I had learned in Ghana many years before, while I was on a study abroad trip during college. It was something that I couldn’t do so well back then, but I had a very clear understanding of how to do it in this particular moment in the training room. It seemed that I could easily coordinate the movements very fluidly through my whole body, from my head to my feet, with precise control at any point. It was a stunning experience for me. I seemed to just float out the door at the end of the training day, totally elated by that discovery.
 
After that moment, the idea of playing drums again was reawakened in me. It was like I knew first hand what Moshe Feldenkrais meant when he referred to one of the aims of the Method as being to “make the impossible, possible,” because before that day in the training, I didn’t think playing drums was a real possibility for me anymore. At least not with the kind of skill or feeling that I had been working toward in my playing. And on that day, all of that was just blown away. I began thinking about playing again all the time. I would hear a lot of rhythms in my head, like I had in my youth and start to work them out in my imagination. Because I didn’t have a drum set, I would go to drum stores and hit their drums. (I was somewhat of a nuisance for a while at certain stores). But I bought a kit of my own soon enough and then found some musicians to play with again. And playing was definitely a new experience! I didn’t really have the chops to begin with, but that didn’t matter. I was coming from a different place, with some new skills to help me improve and not trying to force anything. My feeling and comfort level behind the drums was just so much better and I was hearing music with more clarity too.
 
Playing the drums today is now a much more satisfying experience and a real adventure. What is still funny to me is that I never really saw it coming. I mean, the Feldenkrais Method was great for my back, but more than that I credit the Method, the practitioners I worked with, and Moshe himself, with giving me back this mode of expression where I get to hit things for fun again. I realize that in the past, I had this compulsion to get better, and I didn’t have a real sense of the pace of my own learning process. I often forced things, which created a lot of unnecessary tension, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But through the Feldenkrais Method, I found that I am able to work with myself, and other drummers and musicians, in a way that opens up new possibilities for doing what we already do behind the drum set, and this is very powerful. Its is a unique kind of learning process that helps us to harmonize the various elements of how our body and mind work together so we can approach the instrument and making music in a way that is enriching to ourselves. And hopefully to whomever else is listening too.

In addition to his experience in the Feldenkrais Method, Brian has an extensive background both as a musician and as a martial artist. His Feldenkrais practice is in Atlanta, GA metropolitan area where he also works as a drummer, playing professionally and teaching privately.
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Comments (1)
Dan Baraszu
6/29/2016 9:36:19 PM
A very well written piece about your journey to becoming a better musician through your personal struggles and then finding The Feldenkrais Method as a solution along with meditation. I hope you can give this knowledge to other musicians struggling with the same issues. Good Luck.


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