This section is about health. Health comes first in any educational process. If your mind is dull and your body in a low energy state, learning is impossible and progress halts. As a teacher, I am keenly aware of the normal challenges everyone faces when learning the trumpet. The last thing a player needs, on top of everything else, is a health problem. And yet, students abuse themselves far beyond their limits and almost always suffer the consequences.

Whether experiencing symptoms of a cold or flu, or feeling the effects of more long-term conditions such as ADHD or asthma, most suffering is self-induced. We create most of our own problems because we push ourselves beyong the stress limits our mind/body can tolerate. And since we are also not educated to know to what degree the mind/body can heal itself, we accept suffering as a normal part of life. Further, instead of knowing how to activate our natural healing mechanisms and taking responsibility for our well-being, we instead mistakenly take on the role of victim or patient and expect someone else to fix us.

In this chapter are basic tips about taking charge of your health. I warn you, however, the ideas presented here will sometimes sound new or unusual. Actually, most of them are very old, waiting for the right moment to once again be recycled into mainstream thought. As the saying goes, there really is nothing new under the sun.

The Choice: Reduce Or Expand?

Ah, what would life be without different points of view? In the field of health, as in the field of trumpet playing, there are competing philosophies. Of the two main health points-of-view, the difference can be summed up in a single phrase: reduce or expand?

First, there is the medical doctor who promotes the idea of reducing disease to restore or maintain health. From his prospective, health is the absence of disease, a base line of human functioning which is defined as "within the norm." When disease is present - and the base line lowers - the doctor focuses on reducing the disease in order to again bring the patient back up to "within the norm". Methods applied by medical doctors to reduce disease are invasive and always have side effects, some more serious than others.

On the other hand there is the alternative health practitioner who seeks less invasive, nontoxic ways to maintain health by boosting the body's natural immune system, expanding the mind/body's innate ability to ward off disease. Instead of directly attacking the disease (which he considers to be a symptom, not a cause), the alternative practioner instead works to raise the baseline of health to "above the norm." In other words, health is not treated as simply absence of disease, but as an expandable robustness and vigor of the whole being. From the alternative perspective, boosting health to higher levels leaves little room for disease to occur.

Using the common cold as an example, we can see how the two approaches differ.

The medical doctor sees the obvious - mucus, sore throat, general achiness - and concludes that you've come in contact with some nasty germs. He then proceeds to attempt to reduce each symptom. Using one drug or several, he tries to kill the germs in the throat with a spray or gargle, dry up the mucus with a decongestant, and dull the pain receptors so the patient feels less discomfort. And yes, within a few days the symptoms actually reduce, although new symptoms may temporarily appear because of the drug side effects (note: all drugs are toxic to the human body. This is not opinion, but fact).

An alternative practitioner sees a different picture. To him, opportunistic germs are a surface level symptom and not the cause of a cold or any other disease. Germs, in fact, cannot cause disease any more than flies can cause garbage. Rather, excessive bacteria and germs are the effect of a weakened immune system which has broken down to the point where it cannot maintain a proper balance. Getting rid of germs is like getting rid of flies. Unless you clean up the garbage, they come back.

The alternative practitioner knows that cold symptoms have a purpose - to rid the body of "the garbage" - and will end in a few days when the cold has run its course and the job is done.

He also knows that suppressing cold symptoms with toxic drugs just further weakens the immune system, driving the cause of the disease deeper underground. Left unreleased, it eventually surfaces again, often in a more serious form than a simple cold.

Most alternative methods are designed to speed up the purification process by triggering the mind/body's natural ability to heal itself. A practitioner may use nutrition, physical manipulation, or other specific healing-response modalities. Again, the intent is to expand health. In the process, disease symptoms tend to spontaneously disappear without side effects.

As a musician, your ability to perform is in part determined by your health choices. Obviously, I'm in favor of the alternative approach. But whatever your choice, it helps to view health problems from a deeper, more causal level. In other words, why does our body/mind system become "garbage" in the first place?

The Real Enemy

It turns out that common, ordinary everyday stress is responsible for most health problems - the kind of low level stress that just keeps grinding away without any real beginning or end, or potential for resolution. Endless traffic snarls, a supervisor who puts you down, the barking dog all night long, homework after band practice, to tired to eat anything but junk food - these are typical stressors which can have the cumulative effect of overloading your mind/body and triggering a so-called "stress response" state. You can remain in that state for a long time - sometimes years - with a weakened immune system, struggling to function at or below the disease threshold.

Even the medical establishment is coming around to this point of view. The cover story in the June 14, 1999 issue of Newsweek looked at the current scientific view of stress. According to the article, "Stress isn't just a catchall complaint; it's being linked to heart disease, immune deficiency and memory loss. We're learning that men and women process stress differently and that childhood stress can lead to adult health problems." (For a transcript of the article, go to the Links page)

Stress is part of life, and learning how to deal with stress means understanding which stressors impact you the most. There are three main stressors:

1. Emotional Stress - includes experiencing divorce or relationship problems. The mind and body are intimately linked. Anxiety or other fear-based emotions can lead to physical disease.

2. Physical Stress - gravity is the most common stress, followed by lack of sleep. Professions or activities which require physical exertion beyond your limits can also trigger a stress response.

3. Chemical Stress - the poor air you breathe, the junk food you eat, and the short and long term effects of all drugs taken needs to be considered, especially if you are a teenager. Lifetime habits begin at an early age.

Looking at the list, you may be able to easily single out the main cause of stress overload in your life, or you may identify with all three. But the real question is, are you taking charge of your life and doing something about it, or are you playing the role of victim, powerless to do anything and allowing yourself to be less that your best?

Even though you can often resolve stress issues by yourself, sometimes you may need to seek outside help. It is not my intent to exhaustively examine all of the different alternative helping systems available. The most effective approaches are well documented through the internet, books or videos. Choosing the right one is sometimes confusing, with a wide variety of processes available. My best advice is, don't get mired down in the decision process. If you need help, follow your intuition and go for it. You can read about it all day long, but only by doing it will you know if it works most effectively for you.

Health Tips (non-medical)

I do not have - nor want to have - a medical degree. For years I have been involved in helping trumpet players and others function better through non-toxic, alternative methods. In that spirit, these common-sense tips are offered.

1. Get enough sleep. According to a recent study, an average teenager needs nine and one half hours sleep each night. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that 6 hours or less doesn't cut it. Students commonly tell me how they sleep through 1 or 2 class periods each day. Our young people face more stress each year than their parents did in ten years, or grandparents did in a lifetime. As a result, they are contracting more stress-related illnesses than ever before. Sleep is the first line of defense in the battle against stress. As old-fashioned or non-hip as it sounds, get more sleep and improve the quality of your life.

2. Take vitamin supplements. The vitamins and minerals you normally get from plants are slowly disappearing due to soil depletion. Farmers attempt to restore mineral content with fertilizer, but each year it gets less effective.

Your body needs vitamins and minerals to grow and function properly. The problem with most supplement pills is that they are hard to assimilate, passing through your intestines nearly intact and undigested. Choose supplements that are in food form or include digestive aids like bioflavinoids. Standard brand names available at the supermarket are usually worthless. A health food store will often have a better selection and people to help you.

Vitamin C can be very useful for boosting the immune system. The body does not produce its own vitamin C, so you must take supplements. From personal experience I can tell you that not all brands are created equal. You may need to experiment a little. One hundred to five hundred milligrams per day is a good starting point. Again, find brands that are easy to assimilate.

3. Asthma. For many kids with asthma, playing trumpet often turns out to be the best "therapy." Exercising the lungs seems to change the whole physiology. Many of my students have thrown away their inhaler after the first year or two.

For the others, I have a possible non-toxic solution. It turns out that for asthmatics, a muscle located near the shoulder blade - called the infraspinatus muscle - tends to become extremely tight (in spasm) and painful to the touch, especially during times of respiratory distress. When this muscle is relaxed, respiratory symptoms reduce or disappear entirely.

As every massage therapist knows, muscles can be brought out of spasm by simply pressing on the muscle center for about 10 to 15 seconds. To do this procedure, locate the infraspinatus muscle by probing the general area (as shown in the picture) and press the tender spot firmly with your thumb. It's a simple process, but it is usually quite painful and requires a bit of courage from the person doing the pressing.
4. Hyperactivity, ADD, ADHD. This most overprescribed of conditions is due to a lack of arousal in the brain. Unable to think clearly or focus thoughts, the attention wanders around like a bouncing ball. The medical drug of choice is ritalin (methylphenidate), often decided upon long before investigating alternatives such as nutrition or biofeedback.

Particularly troubling to me is how parents seem oblivious to the amount of junk food their kids consume, from solid sugar breakfast cereals to massive sized sodas several times daily. Junk food can really affect behavior. One of my more unfocused students used to talk incessantly about candy - how much she had, how she was going to get more after school, on and on. Then she would reach into her pockets and pull out handfuls of the stuff. After about three weeks of this, I called her mother. "Oh no, that's not true," said mom. "She hardly has any candy at all!" And, I couldn't convince her otherwise.

Before drugging a child, I would exhaust the nutrition research on the internet. There are links on my website to practical alternative research. And be strong enough to trust your instincts. Remember, if it's not a drug, the family doctor probably won't recommend it.

For a great article by Colorado State Board of Education congresswoman Patti Johnson, go to the Links page.

5. The Emotional Keyboard. We come into this existence with the ability to experience a wide range of emotions. Each emotion is like a key on a piano which we can play or not play. What's important to remember is, pushing down the key is a choice. And every choice has consequences.

Mind and body are intimately linked, a centuries-old observation which continues to be confirmed by today's science. Because of that connection, thoughts and emotions can have a powerful effect on the body.

When dwelling on a negative thought and feeling anger, for example, we don't stop and consider what we're doing to ourselves. We tend to think that because we have emotions that we can use them in any way we want. Later on, when a physical symptom arises - like a headache or lower back pain - we can't easily see the connection, so we blame it on something outside of ourselves.

But the real problem is inside. As we continue to play the emotional keyboard in a negative way, lifetime patterns form. Eventually, more chronic physical symptoms manifest, as headaches become migraines and backaches turn into bulging discs. Thinking becomes less clear. We get old before our time.

The good news is, people often figure this out early in life and change their emotional habits. A good way to start is to observe your behavior during the expression of a negative emotion, and ask your self if it truly benefits you in any way. Or, are you simply a prisoner of a habit, captive to a knee-jerk emotional reaction developed after years of practice?

Many alternative methods are specifically designed to help break the lock of emotional patterns by calming the mind, including meditation, visualization and prayer. These methods can be done by yourself, without assistance. For those that need help from a practitioner, there are dozens of good choices available. Scour the internet and visit local establishments like health food stores to find the best practitioners in your area. Many will offer money back guarantees if not satisfied.
A complete chapter from
"The Balanced Embouchure"