CHELSEA: I am so excited to introduce our special guest to you today Her name is Dr. Kimberly Hankins and so can really for those of us that don’t know you, welcome and give us a little bit of background information about you.
KIMBERLY: Thank you so much for having me, Chelsea. I’m so excited to be here. So I’m a violist and a violinist. And I kind of made my way into the musician’s wellness world and became interested in it through my own experience. And what happened was when I was an undergrad, I was I think, a junior and undergrad, and I started having all of these competitions and preparing for a recital preparing for grad school recital or grad school auditions.
I was just practicing a lot. And I think that a lot of violists can relate to this. But I switched from violin, my senior year of high school. And I always felt like I was behind, like, I had to do a lot of catching up, I had to do a lot of extra work to be just as good as my colleagues. And to feel like I would be capable of getting into graduate school.
So I applied myself and I practiced all of these hours. But I didn’t have a great sense of body awareness. And I didn’t have the best approach to playing. And what happened was, I got tendinitis in my left shoulder. While I was playing, I remember being in the practice room, and I was so disconnected from my body that I didn’t realize that I was in pain, I just realized that I couldn’t hold my Viola up anymore.
And that was a huge wake-up call, like, oh, my gosh, I need to do something about this. So I saw a medical professional, they told me, you know, maybe he’s trying not playing Viola for three months. And I was like, Yeah, not going to happen.
I ended up maybe really irresponsibly going online, and just Google searching like, it’s, like holistic remedies for tendonitis. And what I found was a hot yoga studio close by. And so I started going to yoga, I thought, I found that I felt so much better.
Because I wasn’t moving my body, right, I was just practicing my instrument for hours and hours. And so moving my body differently, being a part of a community that all seemed very supportive and uplifting of each other was a really helpful part of my healing process.
I was able to get back to playing, I successfully auditioned for grad schools, I went on with the rest of my life, but this idea that movements can be something so healing to us stuck with me.
And so when I was in grad school, I had the opportunity to take postural alignment for musicians class, which I loved. And then I did a Pilates certification, which I also loved.
It had a huge emphasis on postural alignment as well, and corrective exercise to get us back into a place of a healthy postural alignment on a very basic level, but I found that that was inspiring to me. And there was one point in my life where I wanted to do my dissertation on, like corrective exercises for musicians and, and life kind of brought me in another direction. But I’ve always been interested in the idea that movement is like being healing, and so after that, I got my yoga certifications.
I started teaching yoga, eventually started teaching yoga for musicians. And yeah, it’s just kind of all been this process of one thing after another of like, how do I offer more to help musicians with what they’re going through?
And I can now I’m at the point where it’s like, I am diving into my musicianship a little bit more. It’s challenging for me to find balance Ii my life because I am passionate about so many different things.
CHELSEA: Right, that’s so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing. And I wanted to have you talk a little bit more in-depth about what you were talking about body awareness.
And when you were struggling with tendinitis and not having a good body awareness, and then what kind of changes did you make?
And what kind of changes do you feel like are helpful for body awareness to not have pain to not have anxiety, things that might come from something like that?
KIMBERLY: I think that for singers, it’s a little bit different. And so I’m going to speak as an instrumentalist. But I feel that, in my own experience, as a musician, I think many instrumentalists can relate to this too. But when I’m focused on the music that’s in front of me, I find myself leaning forward, trying to get my eyes closer to the page just, you know, completely absorbed in whatever it is that I’m looking at because I want to understand what’s on the page. I want to be able to play this music correctly, I don’t want to miss read notes or play a wrong note.
So I’m looking and focusing on what’s in front of me. And when all of my attention is then externally removed from my body and is on something outside of myself, I’m no longer in my body, and aware of what my body is doing. And so things that have helped me I mean, I think that it’s been a long journey of realizing that I wasn’t even aware of what my body was doing.
I think that you know, it’s, you can visually see me playing an instrument, I can visually see myself playing an instrument. And so, therefore, it’s like, oh, I’m aware of what I’m doing. But when you’re asking yourself, how do I feel when I’m playing this instrument?
Or am I noticing the vibrations of my instrument on the surface of my body? I think that that’s a much more challenging thing for us to access, especially when we’re trying to focus on something external. And so I’ve had teachers that have suggested multiple different things.
Luckily, I had some great teachers that suggested that I try Pilates, that I tried martial arts, that I try to explore these and embodied practices. And for me, what always felt good for my body is yoga. And I gravitate towards yoga because I love the spiritual aspects of the practice. And I love meditation. And I just feel like when I do yoga, I feel better. And, and so that’s what I gravitate towards.
KIMBERLY: I don’t believe that Yoga is necessarily the best thing for everyone. I think it’s important as musicians to find an embodiment practice that works best for you, that makes you feel excited to show up for it.
Because if you’re not excited to do your exercises, or do your meditation, or whatever it is that you want to do so that you can prevent injury or just feel better when you’re performing, then, it’s not something you’re going to stick with.
I think that that’s something really important is finding something that makes you happy. But also that practice being something that has a semantic aspect or an embodied aspect. And what I mean by that is something that gets you thinking about how it feels to be in my body right now?
I think that that question is something we’re not often asked when we’re performing in an orchestra or performing even in our lessons, we’re not often concerned about what it feels like we’re more concerned about what it sounds like. And so if we can approach our musicianship from this place of, yes, I want to sound good, yes, I want to.
I want all the notes to be in tune and for me to exemplify what this composer is trying to say through music. But also, can I do that in a way where I’m not sacrificing my integrity as a human where I’m not sacrificing my sense of ease or comfortability or, or inner peace for something external.
I think there is a way that we can, that we can practice and prepare music in a way we’re also honoring ourselves in the process.
CHELSEA: I love that. And so if someone feels like they are completely out of alignment, they’re just like, Oh my gosh, I’m a mess, there’s a mess upstairs, there’s a mess going on. But they’re not quite sure how to start, or that may be the first practical steps, to follow to start to get themselves more in alignment. What would you say?
KIMBERLY: I think that, ultimately, first of all, I love that you use the word alignment. And it’s like, I started calling myself the aligned musician on Instagram a couple of years ago.
And it was at a time when I was focused more on the physical aspects of yoga and of other practices and of how there is a sense of postural alignment, and how having good postural alignment can help us feel better, right.
But also, there’s this other aspect of the word alignment, which I think came to the forefront a little bit later for me, which is this idea that our innermost self is being heard, and that you’re able to voice your truth, whatever that is, that your words and your actions are in alignment with who you are, and what you want in the world.
I think that it can be hard to feel in alignment when we’re music students. Because the way that we’re being asked to interpret music may not be in the way that we feel deep down, it should be, or that we can’t perform in a way that expresses our actual emotions that we’re feeling in a given time.
And I’m not saying that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. But I think that in general, many of the musicians I meet, and myself included in this, have had a hard time speaking our truth.
I feel that something really important for us is to reconnect to that and learn how to do that.
And so along with your question of like, how do we tap into that? How do we start, to know what our inner truth is, and to honor that, and then to feel confident speaking that those are all challenging things?
I think the first step is, I know this is like, so typical and practical.
And probably you’ve heard it a million times, but it’s started a meditation practice. When I first started meditating, I hated it. I hated it. And I struggle with some intrusive thoughts. And so sitting with my thoughts that were oftentimes overwhelming, very negative, that felt like an attack on myself, was hard.
It was really hard to sit with myself.
And I actually didn’t start by meditating. Because every time I was like, I’m going to download this app and like, sit here for five minutes and try to be guided through this meditation. I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t sit there with my eyes closed, and listen to myself, it was a very stressful experience. And what helped me and what got me into meditation, as I said before was yoga. But it’s because I think that the ancient Yogi’s were really onto something.
KIMBERLY: When you move your body, or when you are in certain asanas or yoga poses, it can be a lot easier to quiet your mind than if you’re just I don’t know, sitting in a chair or like, or even when we’re playing our instruments, asking yourself what you feel, it can be challenging.
And so I would say if you’re someone like me that can’t just download an app and start a meditation practice.
Start with the movement.
And if it’s not yoga, if it’s something else, if it’s going on a walk, or going on a run or you know lifting weights, whatever it is that allows you to tap in and hear what your thoughts are without judgment.
I think that that’s a big, huge step forward and really, this idea of learning how to listen to ourselves.
CHELSEA: Yeah, that’s so helpful. And I want to dig into it a little bit. You mentioned inner truth and speaking our truth? And can you talk a little bit more in-depth? If this is a new concept for someone? Like, what does that mean? And what, what exactly?
Does that all entail? And? And then maybe how did you find your inner truth? Was that like a defining moment? Or was it kind of like a gradual shift? And so if you could talk a little bit about that?
KIMBERLY: Yeah, I mean, I think that, depending on whom you ask, people will say different, slightly different things.
But I think inner truth is about really listening to listen to yourself, and what is true for you in any given situation. And that’s something that kind of takes time. And what I mean by that is, in conversations with other people, like in our conversation, right now, we can listen to our bodies and ask ourselves, am I feeling nervous right now?
Am I feeling anxious? Am I feeling? What are the physical sensations that are going on in my body right now? And just accepting and acknowledging that at any given moment, so that you can decide how you want to move forward, versus acting from a sense of urgency?
Or maybe a sense of like, social requirements, or I behaving or acting in a certain way to feel more comfortable. But most of us in our daily lives, we’re not tapped into our physical sensations or our inner mental landscape, we’re just trying to do our nine to five, get paid, eat food and survive, do the necessities of what it takes to be a human. And oftentimes, we can find ourselves in situations where we react, or we say something that we may not mean. And later on, we think back on it, and it’s like, why did I do that?
Why did I say that? or Why did I blow up at that person? And I believe it’s because we’re not, at that moment, actually listening to ourselves on a deeper level, to get beyond the reaction that may happen.
Without our conscious being involved, if that makes sense. And so, yeah, and so I found myself.
When I was in music school, I found myself wondering why it felt like there were so many, there were so many rules, right?
Like, you have to be in an orchestra at this time. You have to be at all these rehearsals, you have to do all these things, here are all the things you have to do. And it’s a lot especially, I mean, I’m a performance major, or I was a performance major. But, for education majors, I was always just blown away by how much education majors had to do.
It always seemed like so much more than what I was doing. And I felt like I had already maxed out my time and my energy. But we don’t get to take days off really, we don’t get to have breaks or whatnot.
We were expected to practice maybe for six hours a day on top of our full course load. And so I know for me, it always felt like my energy was being drained. Like I was always asking, being asked to do more, and that the better student you were, the more that you could sacrifice yourself to show up, then the more that you were going to succeed after you graduated.
And I think that that is a message that a lot of people are told us, students, whether it’s something explicit, or implicit, but at least for me, that’s what I felt was that like I was always being asked to do more than what I may have at some times felt like I was physically or mentally incapable of doing and so I have a very, you know, my wellness journey is very long.
KIMBERLY: And there was a lot of like if it was a roller coaster, there’s a lot of ups and downs to it. And so for me finding my voice kind of came to a head when I had a lesson with one of my great Viola teachers whom I loved. And he asked me he’s like, this is gonna sound out there. But I think you have a throat chakra problem.
And I was like, What are you talking about? What are our chakras? Like, what does that mean? And he’s like, it just seems like you’re closed off. Like in your shoulders, it seems like your shoulders are rounded forward, that also at the same time, that you’re afraid that whatever you’re going to say, for your instrument is going to be wrong.
And that hit me. And I remember I went home and I did my research on chakras, because I was like, okay, what is this? And I sat with that idea. And I took that in because, at that point in my life, I was in a graduate degree. And I felt like I was never allowed to truly express myself. And I think that is something that goes back to my childhood.
But I think in the music world, it wasn’t exactly cultivated, either, that a lot of times. In lessons, I was told what was wrong, and that was that. Like these are the things you need to fix, which is great, awesome. I love that, like, tell me what’s wrong, so I can fix it, right?
But when we’re constantly being told that speaking your voice through your instrument is wrong, it’s hard not to start to make that judgment about ourselves. And then, how do we get the confidence to make music in the way that we feel deep inside of ourselves, like deep in our soul, if we’re constantly being told that, you know, you got to do this, this technique is wrong.
And I’m not here to say that those things aren’t needed. Because when you’re in the classical music world, at least, like there’s such an emphasis on hate to use this word, but perfection that you do have to have a certain clarity in your sound, and you have to cultivate certain skills to succeed.
I think just like every other profession, but as a musician, it can be very hard to separate the technique from the self.
And so I started, I think, for me, it was when I started my DMA, I moved to a new place. I had a different teacher, I had new friends, and I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna start.
Like, it’s gonna be really scary. I know that it’s gonna be imperfect, I’m gonna feel super anxious, I’m gonna feel super awkward. I’m an introvert anyway, so I already don’t tend to go out of my way to meet new people and spark up conversations. And so I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna go for it.
I’m gonna try to be more authentic. And this idea of like, what it means to be authentic. And like, I think kind of is similar to be in alignment, right?
KIMBERLY: This idea of like, I’m not going to sugarcoat things so much, I’m not going to withhold speaking up when I feel like I should speak up. And I’m just going to try to show up as that person that I want to be someone that’s able to, to be more confident. And I think it was like, in some ways, it was like a fake till you make it kind of thing.
For me, finding my voice. I think a huge part of it was when I became a yoga teacher, and when I became a group fitness instructor, and I started teaching those classes where I had to yell over the music to be heard. I found that that was such an empowering experience for me, and I think I don’t talk about this very often. But when I was in grad school, even my first DMA recital, I was always too shy to talk in my recitals.
So I didn’t introduce pieces. I didn’t, didn’t do anything or say anything. I just showed up, play the gig. And it was like my second DMA recital. So after I’d been teaching yoga for like a year, it was the first time that I walked on stage with like, even before my concert, I was like, you know what I want to speak at this, I like, I want to make an authentic, genuine connection with my audience. And I want to share what I find interesting about this music because I think it needs to be shared. And, you know, that was the first time that I was able to do that. And I think yoga was a big part of it.
And also just this whole idea of listening to my inner self and being like, you know what, yeah, things are scary. Things are hard. But, you know, I can do scary hard things. Because I’m in music school, I got into music school, I’ve graduated from degree programs already, like, there’s no reason why I should be feeling the sense of overwhelming fear. And so it took me time, many years to work through and to get to a place where I feel like I can speak my inner truth.
CHELSEA: Yes, that’s so wonderful. And so that was my next question, is if you had any experiences with performance anxiety, and it sounds like that was very much connected to what you were just talking about.
KIMBERLY: Oh, absolutely. And for me, performance anxiety started coming up when I was an undergrad, as well. And it’s really interesting because I just mentioned Throat Chakra issues, but it’s like, throat chakra shoulders, neck like I had shoulder tendinitis. Around the same time, I had performance anxiety. So I just find it interesting, these kinds of connections between the mind and the body. But yeah, I started having a lot of performance anxiety, I think because when I was practicing all of these hours, something that was coming forward, for me, aside from these, like intrusive thoughts I was having about myself, I would also constantly tell myself, like, I need to do more, because I need to, I’m not good enough, yet, I have to practice more. So I can be competitive so that I can get into grad school.
And I think that I am telling myself that messaging over and over and over again, in the practice room consciously and also subconsciously, there’s a connection there as well with like, well, if you’re not good enough, now, right? If I’m not good enough now, then why am I performing? Why am I like it, if I’m not good enough now? And that’s what I keep telling myself, I’m not good enough. Now, I’m not good enough.
Now, I’ve just taught myself to tell myself, I’m not good enough when I get on stage, right? Because that inner voice, that inner messaging that we tell ourselves to try to get us amped up and motivated when we’re in the practice room, is something that can be taught, and is something that doesn’t just exist in the practice room. It exists anytime we go to play our instruments. And so when I went to go perform, I found myself, you know, shaking a lot. Sort of like losing my sense of focus.
KIMBERLY: I remember there was a performance I did as an undergrad where my mind went completely blank while I was playing a piece from memory by myself. And it was terrifying. I like that I had to stop playing. And then I had to try again. And it was just like that experience for me was so awful. It felt like such a judgment about myself. And I wasn’t in a place mentally where I can accept failure. And so it was like, it was scary. And I think my performance anxiety just kind of got worse and worse after that. Every time I went to perform, I was like, Oh, this is gonna happen. My mind’s gonna go blank. And so it was like, every time I went on stage, it felt like it was a worse experience.
And eventually, I ended up deciding to start taking beta-blockers for it and trying to work through it, you know, like, with the physical sensations being removed by the beta-blockers, maybe I could train my mind to not be so overwhelmed in those situations. But in the practice room, I was still telling myself how I was not ready. How was not enough and how I needed to be better, which, I mean, if you’re telling yourself I need to be better, it’s like, that’s not that far away from telling yourself that you’re not enough now that you’re not enough, and that’s just simply not true? Right.
And it’s interesting because as I worked through my performance anxiety, I feel like my performance anxiety and my other anxiety issues are very related, and also very different at the same time. Because as I was able to heal my performance anxiety, I found that my everyday, just like being Kim Pinkins, anxiety amped way up. And so that brought about a whole other, mental health journey, like, how do I stop being so anxious all the time. And so it was, for me, a very long process. And now, I’m in a place where I still get nervous, I still feel the physical sensations of my sympathetic nervous system amping up and getting ready for me to perform.
But now I understand that those physical sensations are also correlated with excitement, that I’m genuinely excited to share what I’ve been working on because I’m proud of it. Because it’s like, it’s been a big part of my life for the last few months, you know, whenever I do the concert. And so I’ve been able to come into a much more positive mindset about it. And the way I did that was I created a practice room detox for myself.
Essentially, I decided that I was no longer going to tolerate myself bashing myself, mentally, that that was simply something I was no longer willing to tolerate. And so anytime I picked up my instrument, if I found myself engaging in any kind of dialogue, where I was saying anything negative about myself, I would put my instrument down, and I would go for a walk, or I would meditate about it.
I’d say, Oh, this thought coming up for me. This thought that I’m not enough is coming up, what is that thought telling me? Is that something that I’m telling myself? Or is that something that a teacher or a parent or a colleague told me at one point and that I’ve started taking on as something I tell myself now? And I started diving into that and trying to unravel it?
Like, why is it that I, every time I pick up my instrument, I tell myself that I’m a horrible human being like, that’s not a normal response. But I wasn’t even aware that I was doing that until I set that boundary. And I started developing a meditation practice where I was listening, started listening to the thoughts that I was having on a subconscious level. And, and so I started with really, you know, shorter amounts of practice time and I built up and over the course of like, I think it was like four months.
I went from not practicing at all, because I was like, anytime I pick up my viola, I’m being so negative to myself, to to a point where I had trained my mind not to even go there when I’m practicing, because that’s not what I’m here to do. And so that was, I think, a big part of my performance anxiety journey.
Because once I was able to get myself to a place where I could pick up my instrument, and set these loving boundaries with myself of like, right now, for the next 45 minutes. I’m just gonna focus on doing the best I can with this music and it’s not a judgment about myself as a human. And that it’s acceptable if even if I don’t get anything done today, just the fact that I tried and I showed up is valid.
And I just started from there. And it, yeah, now I’m at a place where I feel great. I’m happy I’m excited to perform now. So I’m no longer taking beta-blockers.
CHELSEA: That’s such a wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing and thank you so much for coming on here. And giving So much value in so much insight, I know that I’m so excited for everyone to hear this. So for those that want to maybe dig a little deeper, learn a little bit more about what you’re doing, where can we find you?
KIMBERLY: You can find me at thealignedmusician.com and I have offered a lot of yoga classes in the past. And I’m kind of transitioning more into offering breathwork facilitation. And I think that breathwork is similar to a lot of this work that I’ve been describing. Because it’s, it’s, it’s an active meditation. And through the breathwork, you’re also thinking about, you’re focusing on your thoughts, and what it is that you’re truly feeling deep down.
And so I love breathwork so much. It also has a lot of practical benefits, of course, if you’re a singer or brass player, but I found that breathwork has been really, really helpful for releasing anxiety and getting more in touch with my inner self. So you can find me there. I have something right now called breathe and arrive. And it’s a free community. And when you join, you get access to recorded yoga and breathwork sessions. And you can also sign up for free or very low-cost, live group classes because I believe that these practices should be accessible for everyone.
So definitely join me there. You can also find me on Instagram at the aligned musician, and please reach out to me and send me a DM. I always answer DM’s. And if you have any questions about anything today, or just want to say hi, I’d love to hear from you there.
CHELSEA: Thank you so much, Kimberly.
KIMBERLY: Thank you so much, Chelsea.
CHELSEA: Yeah. Awesome.
KIMBERLY: Okay, that was great.
CHELSEA: You are amazing. Thank you so much for coming on.
KIMBERLY: Oh, thanks so much. I’m so excited. So is this a podcast that you’ve had for a while?
CHELSEA: I have to release about one episode a week. And I’ve had it since I thought October was not, or maybe October or November. So not very long. It’s still pretty new. But yeah, and you have a podcast?
CHELSEA: Have you had yours for very long?
KIMBERLY: It’s been about I think it’s been a year, it’s just over a year now. Since I’ve had it. It was like last March. And I started it before, I don’t know if it was March or February. Like I started making episodes before COVID happened. And then I was like, oh, I’m gonna just like to lean into this. But I don’t know if you relate to this at all. But like, I’m a total introvert. Like, as I was saying, In this episode, I really like that I’ve trained myself to be able to be more outgoing.
But I really, like to find it recharging for myself to be by myself. And so having a podcast is kind of weird. But like, what I originally had a blog, and I was putting all this time in my blog, and I found that a lot of my emotions around perfectionism are coming up in that blog, because I was like, Oh, I have to edit it. Like all the grammar has to be correct. Like, everything has to be perfect. And then like not a lot of people were engaging with it.
So it’s like, you know what, I need an outlet to be able to share some of this like musician’s wellness stuff that I’m learning, and my friends are sick of just like me talking about.
I needed an outlet. And I was like, You know what, I’m gonna go for the I’m just gonna try it as a podcast and see what happens. And I think it’s been really helpful for me to learn how to like public speaking a little bit because it’s not something I naturally think I’m good at.
CHELSEA: Oh, gosh, you did a beautiful job. I mean, I have never had guests just from that. So I mean, you’re doing amazing.
KIMBERLY: Thank you so much. Yeah, it’s been fun to like to do this and to meet so many different people. That’s the thing that I find amazing from having a podcast is like, I get to talk with amazing people all the time. And stuff and it’s like, and yeah, like, this is but this is why I’m doing it.
CHELSEA: Now I’m super glad that I found you on Instagram. So I think your content is wonderful. And I think that your message and everything that you’re doing your passion for it, it’s just a beautiful thing. And I admire it.
I wish there is more of it in the world. But I think the world is shifting a little bit. And I think it’s more in the norm to talk about mindfulness and meditation and alignment and things. So I think the world is headed in a good direction.
KIMBERLY: Yeah, I hope so. I mean, it’s been shifting over this last year, I feel for sure. And yeah, thank you so much. I love your Instagram too. And you’re doing a real switch. I like your reels.
CHELSEA: Thanks, they’re kind of fun sometimes.
KIMBERLY: I just need to be more creative in that way.
CHELSEA: Well, honestly, I don’t think I’m that creative with them. And usually, I just watch other reels. Or I go on TikTok and see some of the popular things. And then I’ll just use some, like, use that as inspiration and just put my spin on it. So I don’t take any credit for creativity and tears anyway.
Anyway, yeah, yeah, I think it would be great. I’d love to see some reels popping out from you. So well, thank you so much, and have a wonderful day, it was so nice to meet you.
KIMBERLY: You too. It’s so nice to meet you too. And I hope that your voice gets better.
CHELSEA: Oh, thank you. Luckily, there’s not a whole lot of performance going on, you know, so it’s not that big of a deal. But yes, it would be nice to have it back. So all right, well have a wonderful day.
KIMBERLY: Thank you so much.
CHELSEA: You take care. Bye.
CHELSEA: Thank you so much for tuning in this week. I hope that you enjoyed it and learned something. Don’t forget to like it and subscribe to the channel. I post new videos every Wednesday and a new podcast every Friday. Thanks.