Positions vs Conditions

ImageTwo aspects of life’s balancing act that we must constantly grapple with are positions and conditions. The two are often at odds with one another, although they don’t have to be.  Whether referring to a position of the arm in relation to the viola or an appointed position (otherwise known as a job), if the condition(s) of the mind-body are not in the required state that the position demands, the position will be exceedingly difficult to “hold on” to and may cause physical, mental, and emotional distress if the position is held for too long (if it is even obtainable in the first place).

Most people associate positions with rigidity, stiffness, and holding – however, this does not have to be the case. The typical approach in learning to master a position is to do it (force ourselves into a shape) as best we can and hold on to it as long as possible with hopes that we will eventually build enough stamina to stay there for long periods. What we are usually doing at this point is practicing our misconception of what the position requires (also known as our habit).

While we may build stamina in holding a rigid pose, the advantage of the position (why it was thought up in the first place) is probably being negated by this excess tension. In fact, if moving into a position without first creating satisfactory conditions is the habitual response to the stimulus of any activity, not only will any mechanical advantage of the position be lost, the result may be worse than if he or she was in no particular position at all during the activity.

I can’t even begin to count the number of music students I’ve seen trying to find the “perfect position” for the instrument (or hands, arms, etc.) without taking into account what they are doing with their bodies. The students that do bring the body into the picture typically impose a posture that to the untrained eye looks upright and erect, however, underneath the skin there often is a ball of knots. This rigid forced upright may look and sound better than a collapsed posture but it won’t look, sound, or feel nearly as good as natural upright; something which is not imposed on the body. Natural upright emerges when the postural mechanisms are un-interfered with.

How does one achieve natural upright and improve conditions?

One must first value freedom of the joints, maintaining one’s length and width between the joints, and allowing energetic flow through the whole system; and prioritize those values above the molding of the body.

To translate that back into the career example, one must value freedom of thought (keep an open mind and don’t act habitually), honoring and balancing every aspect of the job, and connecting all of the different aspects of the work.

If one continually values positions over conditions, he/she will eventually find that they are unable to do what is required of them in a satisfactory manner. Take for example a violist whose habit is a little slump and has decided to force herself into an upright playing posture advocated by a teacher. To her teacher she looks pretty good externally, but internally there is no sense of flow, her joints are held, and her muscles are stiff and shortened. Instead of stopping the downward pull of her deep postural muscles (improving conditions) she creates a new habit of hauling herself out of the slump with the superficial external muscles. Essentially one group of muscles is fighting another to stay upright, and anytime she needs to move the muscles that hold her in her position have to be overwhelmed by the muscles moving her. She notices that her intonation has suffered and holding herself up is incredibly exhausting. She goes on practicing the new posture and gains endurance; however nothing seems to improve other than her ability to stay in the posture for longer periods.

Take the member of an organization that was only appointed to his management/administrative position for political reasons. He has no practical experience (unsatisfactory conditions) doing the job he was hired to do, but his father donates large amounts of money to the organization. He proceeds to make a mistake that costs the company a large contract and they have to fire several low-level employees. When the company fires the individual, his father ceases to donate any money to the organization.

Take the tenured professor that has a great deal of knowledge and experience but she is teaching at a third rate school and the students can’t even begin to grasp the material she wants to focus on. The professor becomes uninterested in teaching due to the lack of stimulation and her students suffer. In the music world this happens often as the number of positions and good students are so limited. Perhaps a very talented student chooses to go to this third rate institution for the exceptional teacher; however, this puts the student in a worse position to improve his conditions.

In all of these examples it is clear that if we force ourselves (or others) into positions we are not ready for, we can harm ourselves and others. However, if the conditions are satisfactory, positions offer a wonderful framework with which one can work on his or her self.

Grow to your full potential within the construct of the position. Keep yourself free enough that you don’t get stuck in the position. Maintain balance between your needs and the demands being put on you. If thought of in this way, positions can provide improved stability, efficiency, and accuracy.

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