After receiving the latest piece of music from the Electrik Project, a subscriber raised an interesting, although personal point. It brings up an important subject critical to many musicians, not just trombone players.
He wrote, “I am amazed that you find time to keep up your chops, do your writing and recordings plus your job as a financial executive while raising two sons.” I think the implied question is, how to you find the time and/or energy? So lets talk about maximizing personal energy. (Finding time is a subject for another day!)
My guess is that this will resonate more with older folks than younger simply because when we are young, we enjoy virtually limitless energy and vitality. After all, we’ll live forever, right? But young or old, immediately apparent or not, your level of energy dictates the quantity and quality of your day’s activities.
Playing trombone requires energy. For me at least, it requires a lot of energy. Diaphragm, arm, facial, back muscles and more all working in coordination to pull music from this slippery tube of brass.
I see a lot of older players struggling with their horn, and when I see their physical condition I wonder if they could significantly improve their playing by making a few simple lifestyle changes. Changes that would charge them with more energy which could elevate their playing more effectively than simply practicing more.
No matter your age, the furnace providing energy for your everyday activities, let alone playing trombone well, needs proper fuel, care and attention. A reality too few of us consider.
Our bodies are incredibly resilient and can seemingly withstand years of junk food, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, too many recreational substances and stress, but what if we actually give our body some help?
This doesn’t mean you must live a lifestyle of deprivation. Instead, perhaps look at some of your lifestyle choices and see if some incremental changes might be worthwhile.
Below are the three main categories within which lie my personal strategies for maximizing short and long-term energy levels.
Around a dozen years ago, I started learning the importance of food and beverage consumption habits from none other than Tony Robbins. Tony has a four day weekend/Monday event in which Monday is dedicated solely to diet. He starts the day by explaining the defensiveness and anger that occurs when dietary changes are suggested. So, let me just say that I am merely sharing what I do, and without proselytizing, offering you up some “food” for thought.
Around that time, I also had the privilege to stay for a week at the Hippocrates Institute in Hollywood Florida. Hippocrates was the ancient philosopher who famously suggested to “Let thy food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
Residents at the institute learn about nutrition, the various systems within the body, and are given access to a variety of fascinating tests that illustrate our individual level of health and vitality. After that week of eating, learning, testing and talking to other residents (many come to Hippocrates to overcome their cancer) I dramatically changed my nutritional habits.
I eat mainly a plant-based diet. Robbins calls it a water-based diet since plants are largely water-based. I start my morning with a juice I squeeze from about half a dozen vegetables. I mix the veggies since I believe that variety is beneficial. Lunch is light – a bowl of granola or a bit of turkey on a slice of sprouted bread like Ezekiel. Dinner is usually a salad composed of sprouts and veggies. Again, variety is key, so plants like sunflower sprouts, broccoli sprouts, sprouted beans and legumes, cucumber, micro greens like Kale, radish, and mixed varieties, and miscellaneous vegetables like spinach, purple cabbage, red bell peppers, and sometimes steamed broccoli. And every salad with a half an avocado. Avocado is key. It contains lots of high quality clean burning fuel.
Since this article is about maximizing energy, it’s only appropriate that I elaborate a bit on fuel – the stuff we eat and drink.
It’s been said that we should get 20% to 35% of our calories from fat. But there’s good fat and bad fat. Polyunsaturated fats are beneficial and can be found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils such as corn and safflower oil, and fatty fish. This category encompasses omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are known as essential fatty acids because our bodies don’t make them—we have to get them from food.
You can also get calories from sugar/carbohydrates, but 68
sugar fuel is a bit like lighting a match. You get a big burst of heat/energy that doesn’t last long. Fuel from good fat is like lighting an oil lamp. You get steady long-term heat/energy. That’s why I eat a salad with a lot of avocado and fish before a big performance. I need my energy to last.
Why sprouts? Because at the stage of a sprout, the plant contains the highest amount of nutrients of which it’s capable. Do I eat all organic? No. I think the label “organic” is often a marketing term. Read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for the details. Plus, I’m unwilling to pay $2 for an organic cucumber at Whole Foods!
I don’t eat much dairy, although I’ll always love cheese. I eat some fish (salmon and trout) and poultry. I don’t like beef. Never have. I keep my alcohol consumption to a minimum so if you’re looking for a drinking buddy at a party, I won’t be much fun. Sorry.
This is easier to explain. Just do it.
I’ve always loved exercise. In earlier years, I played daily basketball games and did distance running. Now, I ride my road and mountain bikes up the hills in my local Arizona streets and trails. I also walk since that’s good for the back. I lift moderate weights for reps and to keep my upper body strong and limber. Trombone playing seems to require more of that upper body strength and coordination than other instruments.
Find an activity of exercise that you love. You’ll never develop the habit if you dread working out. I love being outside, so running and biking has always been something I looked forward to. I used to do the Insanity Workouts, but as I got older, the pounding and relentless exertion of them became counterproductive. If you have lower back issues like me, get the big exercise ball and use it as a chair at your desk. It prevents you from slouching, works the necessary muscles and keeps the lower back from becoming compressed. Think swimming, running, dancing, walking, hiking, lifting, jumping. Get your body moving.
This is probably the most difficult part. My energy levels are suppressed when I am not in what Tony Robbins calls a “peak state”. Think of a peak state as when you feel positive, optimistic, and empowered to accomplish your goals. Feel the energy in you at those times when you are getting applause or kudos for a job well done. How do you feel when you’ve accomplished something worth while yet difficult? Feel the energy in those moments. Remember that feeling and learn to create it at will as often as you can. That is another example of modeling: modeling yourself in peak moments.
The reason you walk across 15 feet of hot glowing coals at a Tony Robbins event is because at the end of the walk, you really believe you can do ANYTHING!
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical released by your brain when things are going really well. Increasing your body’s production of it of will make you feel better and will have many positive side effects.
Exercise increases blood calcium which stimulates dopamine release and uptake in your brain. Dopamine has been tied to feelings of wakefulness, so in order to get that wakeful feeling, get 7 to 8 hour of sleep a night. I would be lying if I said I get that much sleep, so I try to make up for it in other ways. But, sleep is a good thing! And eating colorful vegetables increases your intake of antioxidants. Dopamine oxidizes easily, and antioxidants reduce free radical damage to the brain cells that produce dopamine. Think red berries, red peppers, purple cabbage, etc.
That’s a long answer to the question of how to maximize your energy, but try some of these things. Start slowly and work your way up. Along the way, you might lose weight and start feeling better about yourself. And in the end, you just might even find yourself playing trombone better!