When I was 11 years old, I auditioned for flute at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, in the Preparatory Department (for youth). The hopeful flute students were divided in two. I am deeply grateful to the Universe that I was assigned to Ya’ada Weber, a woman who became a tremendous influence in my life.
Mrs. Weber was a disciple of a lineage of monks tracing back a few hundred years ago. Back in the day, they discovered that they made different sounds when they prayed kneeling, standing, bowing, and so on. From that discovery came a music tradition of “singing” from various parts of the body. Each generation, a new master was chosen to teach the method to students.
I passed the audition, was accepted to the Conservatory, and studied with Mrs. Weber for the next seven years of my life. Had I been assigned to another flute teach, I only would have learned flute. But because I was assigned to Mrs. Weber, I not only learned how to play flute. I learned the foundation of mind-body medicine.
From a young age, I was not excited about visiting doctors or taking certain drugs. Perhaps a certain amount of that was just about being a kid, but I distinctly remember thinking it was a really bad idea when my dad pushed Dristan nasal spray on me, when I developed nasal congestion. Something about spraying chemicals into my nose just did not feel right.
(As it turned out, Dristan caused an addiction, exacerbated my nasal congestion, and ultimately damaged my olfactory senses – so that I had to more or less stick a flower up into my nose so as to smell it.)
Through Mrs. Weber’s guidance, I learned about breathing into and singing from different parts of my body. When I played flute “singing” from my shoulder blades, I got a very powerful sound. When I played flute “singing” from my “umbrella” (the area between the throat and the roof of the mouth), I got a very soothing sound. And so on. I was singing from all over my body – the arches in my heel, my groin, my nose, you name it.
I also learned about energy, though we didn’t call it that. When I wanted to sail over a high note, I cast my intention above that note. In addition, when I flew over high notes, I grounded into the earth by sending energy through my body – like roots of a tree. As I blew air out, I also absorbed it in, creating a clear, clean sound instead of a super airy or excessive or shrill sound. And on and on and on.
It’s not surprising that while I have barely picked up my flute since my mid-20s, except maybe three times, I played better than ever a couple of days ago, when I picked it up again. That’s because now, more than ever, I understand and master the flow of energy. And so playing those super high notes – the ones that used to make my palms sweat with anxiety – are now a breeze.
I also learned the power of visualization, the kind that elite athletes now regularly use. While I was playing notes, I was visualizing myself playing the upcoming notes. The idea was never to “crash into” a note, but rather, to prepare it mentally, then sail into it easily from that visualization.
I also learned to breathe into parts of my body that hurt. Which came in really handy, being that everyone on my dad’s side had back pain. I remember my back going out when I was 14 years old. I didn’t officially know what it was, but I just knew. My back is out. I breathed into it, as Mrs. Weber had taught me to do with regards to various body parts, and within a day, my back was 100% in shape again. In addition, whenever I got any kind of back pain throughout my childhood, I’d breathe into the pain, and poof! It would be gone.
Ironically, it was that ability to self-heal that left me overwhelmed following the first in a series of injuries in the mid-1990s. When my back went out, I could not make it go back to normal. Bedridden for a couple of weeks, I was extremely frustrated and scared that the condition might be permanent. But that’s a whole other story I will leave for another time.