Staying Fit During the Holiday Season

Christmas cookies

Although the title may suggest it, this is not a gym advertisement, nor a plan for a special low-fat diet. And, while we consider our vacation time as a way to take off from work for a few days, hang with our friends and family, and eat lots of goodies, our practice schedule usually falls victim to this time of year. I was personally reminded of that during my extended Thanksgiving vacation, and despite that I had gigs booked for most of the week, I knew that I had “let myself go.” So, here are a few reasons why most of us tend to put our bass on the back burner during the holiday season and a couple of things that you can do to get back in the saddle.

Despite the joys of the season, there are a few factors that potentially break any type of routine or habit that we’ve adopted. The usual culprits are time away from work, kids being out of school, special events and holiday dinners, irregular errands such as buying presents or preparing for entertaining, and, most of all, traveling. Diet, exercise, and practice time are the most susceptible habits, since we usually plan for them in accordance with our regular schedule. Although it’s difficult to make time to pick up your instrument, you’ll be more likely to do so if practicing can be fun and therapeutic, as opposed to a chore. That way, you’ll go out of your way to make time for it.

With all of the hustle and bustle going on, try to use practicing as an escape, rather than as another stressor. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself by expecting to make huge improvements and instead, work in small increments, focus on maintenance, and give yourself creative time. Since practicing is usually goal-based, don’t get disappointed when you don’t see immediate improvement; you have enough to worry about. Maintenance is an essential part of practice and is certainly less stressful. Play through songs you already know in order to keep them fresh in your mind and take a slow-and-steady approach to technique exercises. Giving yourself freedom to be creative can act as a great stress reliever and may result in a “lightbulb” moment such as writing a song, soloing ideas, or coming up with new transitions through familiar chord changes.

If you happen to have a crazy family and need some way to separate yourself and calm down, your bass can be the perfect safe haven. While everyone is still arguing about where to have dinner or what movie to see, you can take a few moments to regain your sanity and achieve a sense of control. Play through your favorite bass line, come up with a groove, or work with a metronome for a few minutes. By detaching from everything else and assigning your focus to something familiar and comforting, you’ll be better equipped to deal with all of the crazies.

Another approach to the holidays involves a short vacation or “free pass.” This is the same free pass we give ourselves when it comes to indulging in holiday sweets… we break our regular eating (or practicing) habits for this special occasion. However, understand that this time off may have both positive and negative results.

After a few days away, you may come back to your instrument with excitement, new inspiration, and a desire to finally tackle those new songs or scales. On the other hand, you may pick up your bass again and feel as if it’s a foreign object… suddenly your fingers don’t land where they’re supposed to and you get frustrated. At that moment, you feel like you’ve regressed and lost your musical super powers… you fumble through scales or bass lines and your plucking hand is having a hard time keeping up. It’s easy to freak out and get discouraged, but remember that this time away and the added stress of the holidays can act as kryptonite, especially if you’ve been traveling. The key is to give yourself some time to recover, and with a bounce-back-workout, you’ll find yourself fully reacquainted with the instrument.

Traveling is by far the most inhibiting aspect of this season since it impacts us both mentally and physically, whether or not we are traveling with our instrument. First, the mental stress and worry that goes into traveling makes it difficult to focus and set aside time. We get caught up in trying to book flights, we have to drive during high-traffic times, coordinate picking up friends from busses or trains, or travel with people we may not want to spend that much time with. Physically, it’s exhausting and draining, especially if we need to wake up extra early for flights or spend long hours in the car. Dragging around heavy suitcases and gripping a steering wheel can put added stress on our hands, making it difficult to play when you finally do get the opportunity to pick up your bass. Plus, caffeine and dehydration can make you jittery and tighten up your muscles.

While traveling, try to take it easy on yourself and find ways to de-stress. Without sounding trite, drink a lot of water, try to ration the caffeine, and eat healthy whenever possible. I also suggest setting aside some music-listening time, whether it’s on the plane or in a car. Create a playlist or buy a new record specifically for the trip. That way, even though you’re not physically playing, you’re doing a bit of mental practice or taking some much needed “enjoyment” time with new music. It can be refreshing to take a long drive and listen to music just for the sake of listening and singing along… this is “vacation time,” after all.

And finally, no matter what approach you take to the holidays, make sure your first New Year’s resolution is to reestablish your routine. It’s easy to get stuck in the comfort zone of playing instead of practicing but it won’t do you much good to stay there. If you’ve never had a routine, this may be the time to create one.

So, happy holidays, safe travels, and new bass gear for all!

Photo by rose design

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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