Excerpt From Jeff Smiley’s The Balanced Embouchure

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

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

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

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

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

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.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Harry
    Jan 26, 2013 @ 10:02:51

    A great article with a lot of good information. It is really important to over think heath and making music!


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