A Healthy Musician
by T. Perry Bowers
Ever since I was a young man, I have been conscious of the fact that my body is something to be respected. Even when I have struggled with addictions, I was always aware of the damage I was doing to my body. Even though, I enjoyed drugs and alcohol, part of me was disappointed when I would partake. It was like the devil and angel on either shoulder. One was telling me that I should just chill, enjoy myself and get wasted, the angel was showing me the magnificence of this physical form I was embodying. Eventually, the angel’s voice got so loud that I couldn’t hear the devil. I quit drugs and alcohol over 14 years ago. My life was about to take a tragic turn at that point. I was choosing escape over my relationship to my girlfriend (soon to be wife). I was living in a fantasy world of music and weed. I thank my lucky stars I was able to put all of that down. That was really the beginning of my adult life. I look at everything before that as my childhood. Now, I could really feel. It wasn’t easy, but it was what I needed.
Being healthy isn’t all about organic food and exercise, although that is very helpful, and I will touch on that in a minute. Being healthy is being willing to step into your emotional distresses and challenges. It’s being willing say what needs to be said. It’s about being conscious, period. There are all kinds of messages and signals coming at us at every moment. There are always people asking things of us. There is a certain amount of pressure one must deal with just to be alive. I just recently had a former client succumb to that pressure by killing himself. We as humans are like balloons. We have an internal pressure that is trying to balance itself with the outside pressure. If one or the other weakens, we either get smaller or larger. We may shrivel or we may pop. We need to strive for equilibrium.
As musicians, we are always creating. We are creating for ourselves and we are creating for others. Creating for ourselves is related to the internal pressure of our own balloon. And creating for others is the external pressure. To what demands, criticisms and commentary are we listening, when it comes to our music? I just met a man who is 42 years old. He has been in his basement creating music all of this time and just now he is coming out of his shell. He told me that he hasn’t shown many people his music because he didn’t want to be swayed by other’s opinions. Somehow this worked for him because his music is deep, beautiful and powerful. This strategy may not work for everyone, especially if one wants to make a traditional career in music. More than likely, by the time you’re 42 years old, you’ve given up on music and you’ve settled on another career. We all have different ways of dealing with the external pressure of being an artist.
This external pressure is powerful. I remember this winter I got the flu and I was in bed for a few days. I could barely move. It was one of the most powerful sicknesses that had ever invaded my body. But, the physical symptoms weren’t the worst part of being sick, it was not being able to keep up with my life that created the most stress. There were so many things that I “had to do”. And they weren’t getting done. It’s not like these things would just go away. They would just pile up. Especially because I’m my own boss. I can delegate certain things to people, but some of what I do, needs to be done by me. Being sick this winter made me realize a couple things.
The first thing I realized is that I should have a better strategy for when I can’t physically do things. I should have the potential to activate a back up plan. And part of that back up plan is to be willing to call the people who depend on me and tell them that I am sick and they need to put some projects on hold. I should do this without guilt. There is nothing shameful about being sick once in a while. I have to deal with my own shame and guilt about being sick. I need to give myself a break once in a while. Being on top of my game at all times just isn’t realistic.
On the other hand, the second thing I learned was that, If I really want to accomplish all of the things things I want to accomplish, I need to be healthy. Although, I have been getting up at 5am for the past few months to write this blog. I have found that sleeping well is absolutely critical to good health. Because I have been getting up so early, I have also needed to go to bed early. And in this business that’s not an easy task. Musicians are typically asked to perform late at night. The clubs don’t usually close until 1 or 2am. Even if you’re the first to play, you’re still expected to stay until the end of the night if you want to get paid. Needless to say, at this point in my life, I don’t do a lot of gigging. My life is mostly in the studio. I usually take day time sessions and my younger engineers take the late night slots. So I have set my life up where I can get my sleep and still be an early riser. If you’re a performing musician, you have to find your own strategy to get your sleep. I would highly recommend getting 7–8 hours of sleep per night. If you can’t muster that, try to schedule a make up day at least once per week where you sleep as much as you can.
Sleep is a huge factor in maintaining a healthy immune system. If you are tired, sooner or later, you will be sick. And if you’re a singer, having a cold can be the death knell for any performance. Napping can be very helpful too. There is a lot of research that says that taking a short nap (as little as 5 minutes) during the afternoon can greatly increase health and stamina. Our society has a strange reaction to people who nap. There is a stigma attached to it. It is like we’re lazy. When I am napping I am just listening to my body’s natural rhythm. When I take a short nap I can get completely re-energized. I call it “touching god.” I wake up and I feel like I drank from the fountain of youth. We can break these stigmas. We as artists should have a little leeway. It’s not about hedonism or sloth. It’s about health. We don’t have to buy into the same frantic lifestyle of the suits.
I’ve talked about diet on the road. Being on the road makes it particularly hard to eat right. But, even in our regular environment, we are bombarded with images of fast food, soda, candy and other junk food. It is so prevalent on billboards, TV and radio that we start to believe that everybody does it so it must not be that bad. But really, it’s bad. Most of what you find in a gas station market is poison. There are so many chemicals in these foods. Even in a run-of-the-mill grocery store, the foods are mostly genetically modified. I’m not here to convince you that these foods are bad for the human body. If you want to find out for yourself, just do a little internet research. We can’t poison ourselves and expect to stay healthy and feel good. I’m not a preacher, but I can say that putting away junk and fast food has made a huge impact on my health. If there is any way one can limit these foods, you will feel a difference. And there will be more time for feeling good and playing music.
I’m not going to go into drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. We all know these things are horrible for us. We all have to cope with our own level of addiction. Deep down we know if we’re in trouble or not. All I can say is listen to your inner voice. Is it easier to ignore the voice or easier to just surrender and put the vices down?
As musicians, we are used to vibrating at a high level. Music makes us feel high. Let’s face it. That’s why we do it. Some of us want that feeling to continue that feeling even when we are not playing. Some of us want to amplify the feeling while we are playing music. After 14 years of being sober and playing music, I can say that it still does give me that high. And the high remains even when I’m not playing. It’s not always a euphoric body high. It’s a more subtle high. And, it doesn’t go away. Music trains us to vibrate at higher and higher levels. If we can maintain presence, it can be very healing. If we numb ourselves, the increase in vibration is only temporary. And the “come down” is very harsh and painful. Well, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
Exercise is important, too, but I would put it below sleep and diet (and limiting drugs and alcohol). I have been running since I was 15 years old. I have a regular yoga practice. I feel strange if I don’t exercise. But, even though I am disciplined in my exercise, I know that my diet and sleep affects the way I feel more than anything else. If you can, get out and move your body. Walking is great. Just being outside is very healing. We are in human form, so we might as well enjoy it!
Living on this planet in this era is very challenging. We are force fed all kinds of propaganda all day long. “We should be thin, but not too thin! We should eat this protein drink or that energy drink. It’s fine to consume whole bottles of rum. This actor does it, so it’s no problem. How about a candy bar for lunch? Everybody is doing it. How about a Mountain Dew and a can of chew?” These messages are all around us. Just stop and think. What is real? What was designed by a marketing company and what was designed by mother nature? And if a little anger arises in you when you think about how all of these companies are attempting to manipulate you at every turn. That’s a good thing. We should be angry. This is our world. We deserve to be healthy and happy. Let’s use our awareness to say no to these manipulations.
My advise is to take a measured approach to your health. Make some minor adjustments over time. Take note of how you feel. Look at your habits, especially if you’re in your teens or twenties. These are the times when these habits are formed. That candy bar that you eat every time you fill up your gas tank is going to go straight to your ass or belly in your thirties and beyond. Your metabolism slows down and your immune system is more difficult to maintain. Just take some time and listen to your higher voice, the one that knows you. The one that wants you to be a healthy and whole human (artist). Make some changes if that voice is suggesting the changes. I’m not your inner voice. I don’t know what you need, but it does.