Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wellness Activity: Harmonica Healing

I think my very first post 16 months ago was about Harmonica Healing. I was going to a doctor of integrative medicine, and she recommended breathing exercises. The first night I tried to do them I was bored stiff. What she was talking about was a progression of relaxation exercises in which I was supposed to segment different parts of my body, relax them, and breathe.

She recommended a book I couldn't find. And the more I tried the exercises, the more tense I became. For example, I would focus on my left hand, try to relax it, breathe, and I would begin getting so tense, my hand would become cramped and then almost paralyzed (a writer's exaggeration), but you get my drift.

Let's segue-way to music healing. For years I had wanted to learn how to play the harmonica. I'd bought a few books that came with cheap harmonicas, and despite the fact that this was supposed to be a really easy instrument, I didn't make much progress. But I'd continue blowing and drawing on it (breathing in), and although I couldn't play one song, I found it highly relaxing.

So...after after a few nights of failing at breathing exercises, I was lying on my bed thinking, why can't I use my harmonica for breathing? I love the sound. I had progressed so that I could play single notes. Playing it always made me smile. Well, the end result was that "breathing on my harmonica" was a great success.

But I still wanted to play songs. So I bought Harmonica Americana by Jon Gindick, and made some progress. Oddly enough, not a lot. I had gotten way better at making notes, and breathing, but I still couldn't play a song without concentrating so hard that it defeated the purpose of playing.

So I stopped focusing on the songs and continued focusing on breathing. I bought a new harmonica that is much better and I bought Jon's second book Rock 'n Blues Harmonica. I still enjoyed it but I still couldn't play a song. But, more importantly, the harmonica was significantly helping me in my breathing relaxation program. And by now I was playing the Autoharp at my mother's assisted living facility with Monroe, a 90- year-old-resident who played the harmonica, and I was having a great time.

When my mother died last October, I had to stop playing the Autoharp for months because every time I played any of the songs I'd played for her and her friends, I started crying. A few months later, when Monroe died, I had to stop playing my harmonica --because every time I picked it up tears came to my eyes.

But...a few weeks ago, I learned that Jon Gindick was living about 30 miles away from me at the beach. I get his newsletter and I was thrilled to find him so close by. Then I saw that he was teaching at his house. Finally, I wrote him that I would love to learn to play the harmonica.

Today at 1:00 is my first harmonica lesson. I'm so excited, I have to remind myself to breathe. When I go to his house today for a group lesson, I'll be thinking of mama and Monroe, and smiling. Time is a healer. Somehow I know that my mom and Monroe will be smiling down on me from heaven. And my dad will be laughing out loud!

P.S. Since Coco and Bradley are already expressing interest in harmonicas, I'm going to list a few good sites. You can see John Gindick on his U-Tube site. He also has these jam camps throughout the country. You can learn about the harmonica on the following sites:, The Blue Tongue Harmonica School, Dave Gage's site, and so many more.


Coco said...

Dear Susan, that is so wonderful! I am really thrilled for you. I agree about breathing/relaxation excercises being boring. How creative to come up with a way of making it fun. I'm excited to hear how your group lesson goes :)

Bradley said...

Wonderful post and what an inspiration. I use to walk down Venice Beach at night and there was a flute player playing softly. I would sit on a nearby wall and enjoy the music and always wanted to learn to play.

I think you've inspired me to go buy one for myself today. Thank you

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Coco,
I'm so excited myself, I can hardly wait. I'm going to post his page on U-Tube on my earlier post.


Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bradley,
Isn't it grand? You'll either want a Hohner harmonica or Lee Oscar and you want to buy one in the key of "C." I'll post some sites for free lessons.


Gianna said...

what a wonderful story...
I hope you have a wonderful time at your lesson.

Jazz said...

Oh, Susan, that's wonderful! I hope you let us all know how your lesson goes!

Jazz said...

Oh, and I should add...I used to play the harmonica with my dad. We only ever seemed to play on our summer vacations up at the lake, but every year for those two weeks, our harmonicas would come out and we would play all the old folk songs we could figure out.

I tried a book on harmonica once and couldn't make head nor tail of it. I do much better just improvising.

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna and Jazz,
I've been gone for five hours--it was a long drive and there was a lot of traffic. I had an amazing lesson. I'll post about it tomorrow. Thanks for your comments!

P.S. Jazz, I think improvising is better too.

Annie said...

Susan, It is so delightful that you stretch yourself into so many areas of wellness and fun! I am working out at a gym and find focused breathing on the machines is helpful. Enjoy! Annie

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Annie,
Thank you. For me, none of it is a stretch. I've always loved to try new things and after a long time of having to conserve, I have a little extra spending money.

I'm just so grateful I feel well enough to pursue the hobbies I find so enjoyable!

P.S. I would imagine that it does feel good to work out at a gym and concentrate on breathing. But...for is my greatest to writing.