Stress and Shakuhachi (Part 3) – Practices to reduce stress

I don’t know for you, but for me 2021 is being even more challenging than 2020. Or is it that, thanks to my meditation and shakuhachi practice, I become more and more aware of my own stress? And others’ stress as well?

In any case, I would like to give a follow up to the two posts about Stress and Shakuhachi that I wrote last year (Part 1 and Part 2).

In those posts, I wrote about the stress you can experience while playing shakuhachi (or any other music instrument) in front of others (teacher, public performance,…) and how to practice to reduce it.

In this post however, I’d like to address how the wisdom of shakuhachi can help you in your daily life to become aware of your own stress… and work on it.

I think that stress is an unavoidable reaction to the pressure of our busy modern lives. It’s different for everyone, depending on your own situation and background, but I believe that you shouldn’t be fighting or denying it. On the contrary, it’s an indication of your inner state and on the perception you have of your life’s situation. Even without getting entirely rid of it, there are ways that you can learn to release consciously and regularly some of the pressure, so that you can keep it in control.

Trying to distract yourself from your stress might be the most common reaction, but is it the most effective?

Another approach would be cultivating awareness. Do you feel that you are stressed, but do you think that you cannot do anything about it?

Yes, you can.

Don’t listen to your mind saying that you cannot.

As you get to learn yourself better, you can work on your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, perceptions, etc. It’s a long way to go, but as the taoist proverb says:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”
Lao Tzu

In the meantime, here are some tips and practices, inspired by my shakuhachi practice, to hopefully give you some release.

Four Practices to reduce stress

1. Breathe

In any situation, notice how you breathe. It might be your first indication that you are stressed. So take a deep breath in through your nose and breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat it as much as necessary.

Shakuhachi Wisdom #1

Shakuhachi traditional music is based on long breathes. If you are a shakuhachi player, practice RO-buki for at least 5 minutes, concentrating on your breathing (and not on your sound). For non-shakuhachi players, play or sing one note (the ground note of your instrument for example) while breathing slowly and deeply for a few minutes.

Practice “Deep breathing “with me

I recently published a short breathing meditation based on the shakuhachi honkyoku Hi Fu Mi Chō, to take 20 deep breaths, IN through the nose and OUT through the mouth, following the music.

Listen to it here (méditation guidée en Français) or below (music only)

Hi Fu Mi Chō, Breathing Meditation

2. Slow Down

If you are stressed because you have too many things to do, SLOW DOWN. It feels counterintuitive, I know. I would have the tendency to work even more, and faster, in order to get it all done…

Wrong idea.

Because there is always something that will not work the way I want, or take more time, and then I get even more stressed…

Instead, MAKE CHOICES. Slow down and take a moment to prioritise your tasks and ask yourself this question:

“What is the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?”

Sometimes the answer can be: “asking myself this question“!

This one of my favorite quotes by Greg McKeown in his book Essentialism.

Another useful quote from this book:

“I can do anything but not everything. “

It’s not easy to push back and slow down. But it is necessary. Otherwise you add up pressure and it becomes a vicious circle: the more pressure, the more stress, the more stress, the more pressure.

So what choices can you make? What is your TOP PRIORITY ? (which is a singular word!) What can you let go of? What can truly wait?

Identifying what it is important from what is secondary or incidental is key. Even if you feel that you don’t have the choice of the decision, ask yourself honestly the question and see what you can do about it. Maybe delegating some tasks, maybe asking for help, for extra time, maybe saying NO to some requests,… ?

We are very good at making our lives complicated for ourselves, so that our sense of self (ego) is happy and feels important!

On this aspect, the shakuhachi is a very good instrument to remind you to SLOW DOWN.

Shakuhachi Wisdom #2

When you play traditional shakuhachi honkyoku, instead of going faster and faster as your technique improves, go instead slower and slower. Make longer phrases. Keep all the ornaments quick and clear in order to keep space for the long notes.
In other words, when you need to play long phrases containing lots of notes in one breath, don’t rush. To practice these phrases, first identify what notes are important for the melody line and rhythm of the phrase, and what is accessory, like repetitions and some ornaments for example. What could you miss or skip without changing the music, but making it more clear for yourself to practice? Then, see how you can implement the missing elements without changing the balance of the phrase.

Practice “Slowing down” with me

I wrote an easy composition, Simplicity, to remember to look at the simplicity of things, to ask yourself how you can simplify your life, to remember that Less is More. You can listen to it here.

3. Rest

Do you think that taking some time to rest is wasting your time? Then you are stressed.

This is my best takeaway of Greg McKeown’s book: there is an entire chapter about… sleeping! Not only having a good night’s sleep, but also taking a nap during the day if necessary. Even a break, a real break. A moment to unplug and reset. That’s where it often goes wrong with me: I tend to relax “doing something else” instead of “doing nothing“!

In any case, take breaks regularly.

Shakuhachi Wisdom #3

When you play shakuhachi, it is normal to build up physical tensions. To avoid cramping or even injuring yourself, identify moments of rest in the music: moments to fully relax your fingers (open all the holes), take your flute off your chin and replace it (at least relax your mouth and lips), relax your shoulders, wrists, wherever you feel tensions. You just need a fraction of a second to do it if you have the awareness of the tensions in your body and know how to release them quickly. Nobody will notice.
When you play solo, it’s easy to prolong the silence between two phrases. When you play with other instruments, learn to relax while playing, while breathing. In any case, stay connected with your body and keep on breathing deeply.

4. Meditate

Meditation is an active training and can be practiced with different techniques. I like to practice chakra meditation with shakuhachi, to stay connected to my body and my inner energy when I play. I also feel closer to my emotions in daily life situations and it helps me to release physical, mental and emotional tensions faster.

I also practice meditation without shakuhachi, to learn to know myself better, to change thoughts patterns and old habits, and become a better person.

Shakuhachi Wisdom #4

I already wrote several posts about shakuhachi and meditation, find them back on this page.

Whether you play shakuhachi or listen to it, allow yourself to get inspired by the music. What is it about? What does it mean to you? How does it affect you? How does it help you in your daily life?

For example, I love Takiotoshi to “trust the flow of life“, Echigo Sanya and Jinbo Sanya to stay “stable as a mountain” through the ups and downs of life.

Make your own playlist, your own repertoire. Make your practice a meaningful one. Make your listening a fulfilling one.

Practice “Meditation with Shakuhachi” with me on Insight Timer

Last summer, I started to upload shakuhachi recordings on the meditation app Insight Timer. It’s a fantastic app I have been using myself already for years and there is a lot of good music there.
However, most of it is music for relaxation.

But shakuhachi has an old tradition of Zen Buddhism meditation, which I think is different from relaxing music. So I am working on sharing this approach with the Insight Timer community of meditators.

If you want to support my work and approach, follow me on the app, listen, rate, share my meditations. It’s free! And it means a lot to me.


Playing shakuhachi is good for your health…!

I hope these practices will help you to feel better, reduce some stress in your life and give you some insights to become more aware of what is in your capacity to change: perception, beliefs, thoughts, habits,…?
I’d love to hear your feedback!

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Thanks for reading my post! Be well!

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