The "Letting Go" Muscle
In Mind, Body, and Heart
The bulk of traditional training, whether in athletics or piano or business, exists in only one direction of efforting. It is a striving with maximum energy. However, to maximize the effort's efficacy, much thought would also need to go to the "letting go". When you lift your arm up, it requires a strong effort. To control it coming back down requires the complementary muscle plus conscious thinking. This motion of letting go is often underutilized or just completely dismissed. Since my shoulder injury around the time of my Lincoln Center debut recital at the age of 23, I have been on a lifelong journey to understand what is health, and it started with how breath can help me release tension while playing. Today I enjoy coaching how to use breathwork for both playing music as well as for listening to music.
During the pandemic, I started working with Hanna Somatic teachers Laura Gates in Norway and Gabriel Posner in Denver. It is transforming how I both engage and release my muscles. As one side lengthens, instead of stretching it as much as possible, I am learning to release it only into full "natural length" while focusing on the engagement in the opposite shortened side. All this feeds into how we can create orchestral colors on the piano with nuanced muscle engagement.
This week's session with Gabriel improved my awareness of how much my back was engaging no matter what posture I was in, and that awareness is helping me to recalibrate a new "normal feeling". I asked him how he would translate this awareness to letting go of things mentally?
Gabriel: I think the answer to that starts with considering that your thoughts and mental state exist within your body. What is happening physically when you’re having a hard time letting go of something mentally? You have control over your mental state through controlling your physiology, breath, and movement. As you unwind, does your mental state shift?
The perspective of whether the mind exists inside the body, or the body inside mental consciousness, is a philosophical one. But what is certain is that here lies another complementary connection. The mind helps us to access physical awareness and create more options to better habits and patterns. The body helps us to release our mental tension. This is especially useful for dealing with performance anxiety, whether onstage, in personal matters, or with social demands.
Extending this idea to emotional tension, we have an option of acting on a thought/feeling or letting it go. The letting go is much harder and takes some work, but having that option is an incredible asset, moving our interpretion from feeling suppressed and reduced to feeling understood. The burdens of the heart are heaviest of all. And this is where the music listening process can become the letting go muscle for us, because in following the line of the melody, or the color changes of the harmony, or noticing the passage of time, our emotions can change and get unstuck.
Wishing you magical moments of "letting go"!
Hsing-ay Hsu ©2023