5 Steps for A Meaningful Shakuhachi Practice

The first meditation lesson I listened to this year was by Charles Freligh about “10 Principles for Daily Living”. It resonated deeply with my shakuhachi practice, especially when he came to talk about Authenticity.

Authenticity is a combination of vulnerability and courage to show who we really are.

The answer to his question “when do you feel most authentic?” was immediate: “when I play shakuhachi“.
At the end of his lesson, I realised that when I practice shakuhachi, I cover all the 10 themes he talked about.

I found it so interesting that I translated his lesson into a “5-steps meaningful (daily) shakuhachi practice”.

1. WARMING-UP

Make space for silence .

A good warming-up is essential to a good session. It is the moment to connect to your flute and reach the place of deep silence inside you. I am happy to notice how the habit of properly warming up improves my students concentration and confidence during the lessons.

The 4 warming-up levels

physically: deep breathing, physical awareness of your body and the physical connection with the flute (fingers, lips, air resonating in the flute, release physical tensions, etc.)
mentally: concentration, being in the present moment
emotionally: letting go of expectations and negative judgement, thanking yourself for taking time for yourself and preparing to enjoy your practice
spiritually: connect to the spirituality of the shakuhachi with playing a few minutes of Ro-buki or Chakra Meditation for example.

For more details, I wrote a booklet about Warming-up Routines.

The warming-up is the moment to become aware of the way you listen to yourself.

2. Set an intention

Give a direction to your practice.

Setting an intention for your practice will help you to focus and measure your progress.
The intention can be a GOAL: a specific tone, register, technique, a piece, etc. If you work on a long piece, you can set your goal on ONE aspect or ONE part of the piece.
It can also be a FEELING or a MOTTO, like “Enjoy each sound“, “Release excess tension”, “Keep going”, “Nail the higher register“, etc.
Keep it positive (“Enjoy each sound” works better than “don’t get frustrated about your sound quality“).

3. Study

Zoom in.

Studying means practicing specific techniques and difficulties in order to correct mistakes. It involves your full attention and critical yet compassionate judgement in order to make progress. Repeating the same mistake automatically without questioning the result is counterproductive. Pay attention to details without loosing the big picture. Keep your intention in mind.

For example, if your intention of to play all tsu-no-meri at the right pitch, start with some exercises in otsu and kan with checking the pitch with a tuner. Notice what you have to do to get the right pitch. Then identify the motifs where you find tsu-no-meri in your piece and practice them separately. Then integrate them in the full phrase. Notice if you manage to keep the right pitch and if you have to adjust something (check on your breathing!). Repeat the phrase again and again until it becomes easier. Play it by heart.

4. Run-Through

Zoom out.

Keep a moment for playing a piece entirely. It can be the same piece you are working on, or another one, or an improvisation . The most important here is that you can play it without stoping, thus without breaking the breathing circle. Be yourself, follow the lesson that “honkyoku is a way to express your deeper self”.
Play with your heart, create, experiment, enjoy. Accept your vulnerability and imperfections. Recognise your strong points.

5. Process

Identify the benefits of your practice.

Take a moment to reflect on your practice. I recommend to journal it, even in a few words: what did you do, how did it go, what happened, how did it feel, what would you like to focus on next time, etc.
Find at least ONE POSITIVE POINT to write down (“I felt more relaxed after the long tones”, I managed to play … phrases without mistakes”, “I learned … by heart”, “this part of the piece / tone / sounded really good”, “I could play this challenging phrase in one breath”, etc.).
Thank yourself again for the time you took for practicing shakuhachi.

Happy practice!

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