October 9, 2019 | Arts & Culture
Over the past 20 years, I have explored numerous ways to help my students feel more comfortable on stage. Over and over again, I have watched gifted, well-prepared students, crumble in front of an audience and invariably walk away with a quiet sense of guilt, shame and frustration.
Performance anxiety is sticky. It can attach itself to any real, perceived or unconscious threat, and can “shape-shift” into highly diverse symptoms. Currently, there are great limitations of standard treatments of music performance anxiety due to a general lack of understanding of the underlying sources and to a strong demand for quick solutions. Fortunately, science is beginning to look at a shift in the conceptualization of performance anxiety. Now we have more options for brain-based (“bottoms-up”) approaches, of which EMDR, Bio and Neurofeedback and Inclusive Awareness training have shown beautiful results.
Inclusive Awareness, an aspect of Body Mapping training, is a fairly new mindfulness approach to performance anxiety. It is what we should cultivate in all performers! It trains the brain to take in the totality of one’s conscious experience, which includes information from inside and outside, in a state of non-judgement. Non-judgmental awareness is essential because the brain does not make good decisions while criticizing something. Judging one’s performance as it unfolds or one’s response to the presence of the audience leads to an increasingly narrow focus in performance, and to the inability to keep the bigger picture in one’s awareness. And then, there are the physiological responses that come along – constricted breathing, elevated heart rate and muscle stiffness.
Techniques such as Inclusive Awareness allow one not only to develop efficient, healthy movement in performance, but to include the audience as an active part of the performance space, thus eliminating the “I” and “Other” anxiety trigger. According to studies, 20 minutes of Inclusive Awareness daily practice for eight consecutive weeks leads to observable neuroplastic brain changes, both in the case of state and trait anxiety. A great self-screening tool for performance anxiety can be found at Peak Performance 101.
Having explored inclusive Awareness/Body Mapping training with my students for the past few years, I can say that this is a journey and not a quick fix. Performance anxiety does not magically melt away, students continue to grapple with it. But as we train in Inclusive Awareness and overall Body Mapping, we now have small breakthroughs, enhanced body awareness, and the ability to better self-regulate on stage to celebrate.
Interested in learning more? Sign up for Performance Wellness starting this winter or take private lessons with Bianca.