Yoga Ameliorates Performance Anxiety and Mood Disturbance in Young Professional Musicians
- First Online:
- Cite this article as:
- Khalsa, S.B.S., Shorter, S.M., Cope, S. et al. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback (2009) 34: 279. doi:10.1007/s10484-009-9103-4
- 1k Views
Yoga and meditation can alleviate stress, anxiety, mood disturbance, and musculoskeletal problems, and can enhance cognitive and physical performance. Professional musicians experience high levels of stress, performance anxiety, and debilitating performance-related musculoskeletal disorders (PRMDs). The goal of this controlled study was to evaluate the benefits of yoga and meditation for musicians. Young adult professional musicians who volunteered to participate in a 2-month program of yoga and meditation were randomized to a yoga lifestyle intervention group (n = 15) or to a group practicing yoga and meditation only (n = 15). Additional musicians were recruited to a no-practice control group (n = 15). Both yoga groups attended three Kripalu Yoga or meditation classes each week. The yoga lifestyle group also experienced weekly group practice and discussion sessions as part of their more immersive treatment. All participants completed baseline and end-program self-report questionnaires that evaluated music performance anxiety, mood, PRMDs, perceived stress, and sleep quality; many participants later completed a 1-year followup assessment using the same questionnaires. Both yoga groups showed a trend towards less music performance anxiety and significantly less general anxiety/tension, depression, and anger at end-program relative to controls, but showed no changes in PRMDs, stress, or sleep. Similar results in the two yoga groups, despite psychosocial differences in their interventions, suggest that the yoga and meditation techniques themselves may have mediated the improvements. Our results suggest that yoga and meditation techniques can reduce performance anxiety and mood disturbance in young professional musicians.
Yoga is a holistic system of mind-body practices for mental and physical health and incorporates multiple techniques including meditation, breathing exercises, sustained concentration, and physical postures that develop strength and flexibility. Yoga and meditation techniques can improve mood (Harinath et al. 2004; Kirkwood et al. 2005), increase resiliency to chronic and acute stress (Malathi et al. 1998; Michalsen et al. 2005), and enhance performance on a variety of cognitive (Manjunath and Telles 2004; Ray et al. 2001), psychomotor (Manjunath and Telles 2001; Ray et al. 2001) and physical (Harinath et al. 2004; Tran et al. 2001) tasks. Research documenting the therapeutic benefits of yoga has grown steadily for the past three decades and now includes controlled clinical trials on psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, breathing disorders such as asthma, cardiovascular disorders such as hypertension, endocrine disorders such as diabetes, and a variety of musculoskeletal and neurological conditions (see Khalsa 2004 for a review). Yoga therapy—tailoring a custom yoga regimen to treat a client’s specific psychological and physical health concerns—is increasing in popularity and acceptance.
Many predisposing factors, including erratic work and travel schedules, and financial insecurity, make the music profession highly stressful (Kenny et al. 2004; Middlestadt and Fishbein 1988; Parasuraman and Purohit 2000). Musicians commonly experience stress-related problems such as performance anxiety and performance-related musculoskeletal conditions that negatively impact their ability to perform (Langendoerfer et al. 2006; Wan and Huon 2005). Survey studies have revealed that performance anxiety affects as many as 69% of musicians (Cox and Kenardy 1993; Fehm and Schmidt 2006; Miller and Chesky 2004; Spahn et al. 2002). Musical performance anxiety typically involves self-defeating cognitions and related behaviors accompanied by intense autonomic nervous system arousal (Miller and Chesky 2004; Smith et al. 2000; Wilson and Roland 2002). Anxiety can become so severe and chronically distressing that some musicians choose to end their performance careers (Clark 1989).
Treatments for musical performance anxiety include pharmacological, psychological, and behavioral approaches (Kenny 2005; McGinnis and Milling 2005; Smith et al. 2000; Wilson and Roland 2002). Pharmacological treatment is not a viable option for many musicians (Birk 2004; Kenny 2005; McGinnis and Milling 2005; Smith et al. 2000) because anti-anxiety drugs may disrupt the fine motor control that is critical to performing music at an elite level. Psychological and behavioral treatment approaches have been more widely evaluated and, in general, have been shown to be effective (Kenny 2005; McGinnis and Milling 2005). These approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, systematic desensitization, hypnosis, psychotherapy, and a variety of mind-body techniques including biofeedback, music therapy, Alexander technique, progressive muscle relaxation, breath regulation, and meditation (reviewed in Kenny 2005; Kenny and Osborne 2006; Kesselring 2006; McGinnis and Milling 2005; Powell 2004; Smith et al. 2000).
Performance-related musculoskeletal disorders are also common among musicians with surveys reporting a prevalence rate as high as 87% (Ackermann and Adams 2004; Bejjani et al. 1996; Spahn et al. 2002; Zaza 1998). These disorders include musculoskeletal pain from overuse, peripheral nerve disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, and muscle cramping and involuntary contractions, and can limit or terminate performance careers (Bejjani et al. 1996; Brandfonbrener and Kjelland 2002; Parry 2000; Zaza et al. 1998). Some evidence points to an interaction between performance-related musculoskeletal disorders and anxiety (Brandfonbrener and Kjelland 2002; Jabusch et al. 2004; Spahn et al. 2002; Van Galen et al. 2002; Zaza and Farewell 1997). Treatments for preventing or healing performance-related musculoskeletal disorders in musicians include rest and various relaxation methods, playing technique modifications, postural adjustments, physical or occupational therapy, exercise, pharmacological agents, and surgery (Ackermann et al. 2002; Bejjani et al. 1996; Brandfonbrener and Kjelland 2002; Green et al. 2000).
Yoga and meditation techniques seem ideally suited to prevent or alleviate the psychological and physical problems encountered by musicians (Brandfonbrener and Kjelland 2002; Green et al. 2000; Heinrichs 2000; Hogg 2001; Montello 1997; Shapter 2000; Smith et al. 2000; Soen 2004; Weilerstein and Neal 2000; Wilson and Roland 2002). Components of yoga practice, such as muscle relaxation (Bejjani et al. 1996; Medoff 1999; Reitman 2001) and breath regulation (Bejjani et al. 1996; Kim 2005; Medoff 1999), have been incorporated into combined treatments for performance anxiety and musculoskeletal conditions. However, few studies have examined meditation and yoga as effective interventions for performance anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders.
Chang et al. (2003) conducted an exploratory study in which an 8-week meditation course was provided to college music students. Participants trained to meditate showed a significant reduction in post-performance anxiety relative to their pre-performance anxiety, whereas control participants showed no change. The meditating participants also showed a trend towards more focus and less interference by intrusive thoughts during a solo concert performance relative to controls. More recently, additional analysis of these data (Lin et al. 2007) explored the relationship between performance anxiety and the quality of musical performance.
Previously, we reported a preliminary study of a yoga lifestyle intervention with young musicians participating in a summer music training program (Khalsa and Cope 2006). Yoga participants showed a reduction in musical performance anxiety in solo performance conditions and general mood improvements relative to the control group. As with other meditation studies (Chang et al. 2003; Lin et al. 2007), participant feedback showed that these practices were favorably received. The yoga techniques conferred benefits to musical performance specifically but also generalized to the musicians’ daily lives. The purpose of the present study was to extend our preliminary findings with more outcome measures using a larger sample.
Participants were residential musical fellows in 2006 of the prestigious summer program of the Tanglewood Music Center, a training academy for advanced musical study and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, located in Lenox, Massachusetts. The 8-week summer fellowship program provides elite musicians the opportunity to work with internationally renowned artists including members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, resident faculty, and special musical guests. A limited number of fellows are accepted into the annual program following a formal competitive application process with auditions held in major cities across North America. Tanglewood fellowships covered the costs of tuition, room, and board. All fellows were required to attend the full duration of the program and to be available every day for study and performance.
Tanglewood summer fellows were invited via email announcement to participate in Kripalu Yoga and meditation programs at no cost. This email announcement was sent to the entire incoming group of 150 Tanglewood fellows prior to their arrival on campus. The goal was to have a randomized controlled trial with three arms (n = 15 per group). However, only 31 Tanglewood fellows initially volunteered to participate. These volunteers were randomized into two yoga intervention groups (n = 15 each), described below, with the remaining one fellow assigned to the control group. A second email recruitment announcement was sent several days later to all of the remainder of the music fellows who had not already volunteered to participate in the yoga groups in response to the first email invitation. The purpose of this second email was to recruit the 14 additional participants for a no-intervention control group (n = 15 total in the control group). This study is therefore not a fully randomized controlled trial; the yoga participants were all interested in yoga and therefore self-selected to participate in the yoga intervention, whereas the control subjects were all summer fellows who did not volunteer to participate in the yoga intervention (except one). Two yoga volunteers were Tanglewood fellows during the previous summer and took part in the yoga program and contributed data to our pilot study (Khalsa and Cope 2006).
The research component of the program was approved by the Institutional Review Board of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and all participants signed informed consent before data collection. Control group participants were each remunerated with a free massage at the Kripalu Center after the study via an email that provided contact information for scheduling a massage valued at $75.
The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, also located in Lenox, Massachusetts, is a popular yoga and non-denominational holistic retreat center that offers diverse courses and workshops taught year-round by internationally renowned experts in spiritual and holistic health disciplines. The center provides a relaxing setting with recreational opportunities, health-oriented meals, and therapeutic services. Kripalu Yoga classes are offered several times throughout the day.
Kripalu Yoga is a complete yoga practice system incorporating classical yoga postures, multiple breathing techniques, and meditation (Faulds 2006). This style of yoga emphasizes introspective focus while coordinating breath and physical postures as a meditation in motion. Kripalu Yoga instructors encourage students to maintain a consistent flow of deep breathing throughout the progression of physical postures and students are guided to lessen the physical intensity when breathing becomes shallow, laborious, or erratic. Kripalu Yoga instructors emphasize the rich experience of internal physical sensations and tend to offer less anatomical alignment cues than yoga instructors of other styles (e.g., Iyengar Yoga). Kripalu Yoga is thus a very personalized and compassionate physical practice in these ways. Through being more intimately connected with visceral sensations and breath, daily life becomes a practice “off the mat”. Kripalu Yoga offers practical and contemporary spiritual teachings that empower the individual to optimize psychological growth and meet life challenges with self-acceptance, strength, equanimity, and openness to change.
Participants in both yoga intervention groups attended three yoga and/or meditation classes per week during the 8-week program. The Kripalu Center offered morning, mid-day, and late afternoon yoga classes 7 days per week in gentle, moderate, or vigorous physical intensity levels. Participants could attend any of these classes, which were all offered regularly at the center and also open to Kripalu guests who were not part of this study. Morning meditation classes were offered 5 days per week in a Tanglewood facility and were available only to study participants.
The yoga lifestyle intervention featured a number of other specifically tailored and instructed learning and practice opportunities that were not available to yoga only participants. First, the program began with a 2-day intensive retreat that included two group yoga practice sessions, and discussions of yoga practice and philosophy, meditation techniques, breath control, and conscious eating. Designed as an introduction to a yogic lifestyle, the retreat was led by four instructors, who also directed some of the yoga classes and all of the morning meditation sessions available to study participants during the program.
Second, beginning with the second week of the intervention, the yoga lifestyle fellows attended a weekly problem-solving group discussion (45 min to 1 h), which was followed by yoga practice (90 min of yoga postures and breath control). The weekly group discussions addressed practical issues frequently encountered in practicing yoga and meditation, as well as psychological challenges relevant to musical performance and advancement in the musical profession. These discussions reinforced that having a yogic behavioral approach to everyday life can cultivate a psychological state that can enhance musical performance skills and optimize the subjective enjoyment of playing music. Group discussions were facilitated by the senior Kripalu instructor, who is also a Licensed Independent Social Worker with extensive training in counseling and psychotherapy, and one assistant. One group discussion session was canceled because it conflicted with the fellows’ concert schedule, resulting in a total of six sessions.
Each yoga lifestyle discussion session began with the senior Kripalu instructor briefly lecturing about a key concept in yogic philosophy. Session 1 introduced the Bhagavad Gita and the prescription in this ancient Hindu text for optimal performance and discovering one’s dharma or calling. Session 2 focused on how doubt undermines authentic expression and optimal living. Session 3 explored how to know one’s calling and the problem of discernment as it relates to following one’s musical calling. Session 4 discussed the classic doctrine of unity of action (i.e., a psychological flow state when action and awareness effortlessly merge) and modern psychological research defining the factors that enhance optimal performance states. Session 5 emphasized the doctrine of relinquishing the fruits of action, the inherent dissatisfaction of grasping and clinging to outcomes, and how practicing non-attachment increases an individual’s capacity to be fully present in each moment. Session 6 explored the doctrine of inaction in action and the experience of transcendence in performance.
Finally, yoga lifestyle participants were required to undergo a 60-min session of private instruction with one instructor to individually address their questions and concerns about yoga postures, breath control, and meditation—there was no counseling, or yoga psychology or philosophy involved in these sessions. Participants in the yoga only group were invited, but not required, to schedule private instruction sessions as well.
The yoga lifestyle fellows signed informed consent and completed baseline questionnaires on the day before the yoga lifestyle retreat. The yoga only and control group participants met 3 days later to do this. All participants completed the same battery of questionnaires with an additional yoga evaluation questionnaire on the same day, approximately 6 weeks after the program started (47 days for the yoga lifestyle group, 44 days for the yoga only and control groups). All participants were contacted 10 months later (i.e., one full year after the program started) by email and telephone to complete the same battery of questionnaires together with another yoga evaluation questionnaire for a followup assessment by mail and received monetary compensation for their time by mail with a check for $25 after their completed questionnaires were received.
The Performance Anxiety Questionnaire (PAQ) of Cox and Kenardy (1993) rates the frequency on a Likert scale (1 = never to 5 = always) of 20 common cognitive and somatic performance anxiety symptoms under practice, group, and solo performance conditions (total score range from 20 to 100 for each performance condition). Ten items are cognitive symptoms of anxiety (e.g., “I worry about my performance”, “I feel that I lack confidence”) and 10 items are physical symptoms (e.g., “I have sweaty palms”, “I find that I shake”). This instrument has excellent construct validity and there is a growing literature using the measure (Kenny et al. 2004; Fehm and Schmidt 2006).
The Profile of Mood States (POMS) is a very well known and extensively used questionnaire of 65 affect adjectives each rated on a 5-point Likert scale (0 = not at all, 4 = extremely) that provides a total mood disturbance score and subscale scores for six mood states: tension/anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, vigor/activity, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment (McNair et al. 1992). Normed on a broad range of populations, the POMS has high internal consistency and its subscales show appropriate divergent validity with other mood measures. In this study we report only the results from the tension, depression, and anger subscales.
The Performance-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (PRMD) questionnaire utilizes a 10-cm linear visual analogue scale to assess the frequency (from 0 = never to 10 = constantly) and severity (from 0 = none to 100 = maximally severe) of PRMDs and perceived exertion during musical practice on a numerical Borg scale (from 6 = no effort to 20 = maximum effort). Its reliability and validity have been established in musicians across a range of difference ages, experience levels, and performance contexts. We used a slightly modified version of that used by Ackermann et al. (2002).
The Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) is the most widely used psychological instrument to globally measure the degree to which life situations are appraised as stressful, unpredictable, or uncontrollable (Cohen and Williamson 1988). The scale includes 10 items with responses on a 5-point Likert scale (0 = never to 4 = very often) to descriptive statements of behaviors, feelings and perceptions with a total score range from 0 to 40 and good reliability and construct validity. Throughout its extensive use with both clinical and non-clinical populations, this instrument has had its basic factor structure repeatedly replicated and its scores have been correlated with other self-report measures and physiological indices of stress.
The Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) assesses sleep quality and sleep disturbances over a retrospective 1-month interval and shows acceptable measures of internal homogeneity, consistency (test–retest reliability), and validity (Buysse et al. 1989). Its 19 items sample 7 components including sleep latency, sleep duration, sleep efficiency, sleep disturbances, and subjective sleep quality. Having been widely used now with many samples of both disrupted sleepers and normal sleepers, the PSQI affords good diagnostic sensitivity in clinical settings to discern various sleep pathologies.
Additionally, all yoga participants evaluated the program at its completion on a 10-cm visual analogue scale with extremes of “not at all” to “very much so” to questions assessing general and musician-specific benefits, recommendation of future continuance of the program, and their plans to continue with yoga practice. In a separate version of a yoga evaluation questionnaire administered at the long-term followup all yoga participants also were questioned about the frequency and duration of yoga practice since the end of the program, whether they had practiced yoga prior to the summer program, and to what extent participating in the yoga program had changed their music performance experiences.
After statistical tests confirmed equivalence of groups at baseline on all questionnaire subscales, the end-program and followup data were converted to difference scores by subtracting each participant’s baseline score. Most of the statistical tests were conducted on these difference scores; any exceptions using raw scores are identified below. Comparisons were made across the three groups using between-subjects ANOVAs and independent two-tailed t-tests (with the yoga groups’ data combined). Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients explored the relationships between scores on different questionnaires.
Subject Assignment and Participation
Group assignment (n = 15 per group)
Mean ± SD
24.5 ± 2.4
25.4 ± 3.9
24.0 ± 1.6
Years of musical training
Mean ± SD
15.4 ± 3.6
14.8 ± 5.0
16.1 ± 3.2
Attendance in both groups was excellent at the beginning of the program, but decreased at the end of the program when the Tanglewood training schedule became more demanding and the fellows often performed late in the evening. The yoga lifestyle group attended mostly afternoon yoga classes, while the yoga only group frequently attended the morning meditation sessions. Females in the yoga lifestyle group mostly attended the vigorous intensity yoga classes; males in the same group preferred gentle or moderate intensity yoga classes. Subjects in the yoga lifestyle group routinely had meals together at the center, whereas fewer than half of the yoga only participants had meals at the center. Of the 15 yoga lifestyle participants, 13 underwent the 1-h private instruction sessions, whereas only 9 of the 15 yoga only subjects did so.
All participants completed the yoga program and the baseline and end-program questionnaires. Evaluation of the baseline data confirmed that the three groups were equivalent at the beginning of the study on all questionnaires. Eleven of the yoga lifestyle participants (73%), nine of the yoga only participants (60%), and eight of the control participants (53%) responded to the long-term followup questionnaires.
Changes in Performance Anxiety Questionnaire scores
End of program
−4.70 ± 2.52
−2.75 ± 2.92
−5.23 ± 2.37*
−3.25 ± 3.09
−5.29 ± 2.45*
−5.06 ± 3.35
−6.47 ± 2.30*
−5.20 ± 2.62
−5.23 ± 2.38*
−7.30 ± 2.02*
−5.87 ± 2.69*
−8.21 ± 2.75*
−1.60 ± 1.74
−1.88 ± 1.68
−0.40 ± 2.12
−3.38 ± 3.19
−0.57 ± 2.15
−5.00 ± 3.63
Performance anxiety was most pronounced in the solo performance condition and least severe in the practice performance condition. Females consistently reported greater levels of performance anxiety (2.4–8.4 points higher on average for each PAQ subscale) than did males in all performance conditions and at all three time points measured. Although female musicians began the study (baseline raw data) with greater anxiety than their male counterparts in practice, group performance, and solo performance conditions, these differences were not statistically significant (p = 0.05–0.15).
Correlation coefficients were computed on the difference scores for the PAQ and the three POMS subscales reported above to examine any interrelationship. Scores on the tension/anxiety subscale were positively correlated with PAQ practice (r = 0.62, p < 0.001, n = 30 pairs), group (r = 0.50, p = 0.005, n = 30), and solo (r = 0.42, p = 0.023, n = 29) performance conditions. Scores on the anger/hostility subscale were positively correlated with PAQ practice (r = 0.66, p < 0.001, n = 30 pairs), group (r = 0.42, p = 0.020, n = 30), and solo (r = 0.56, p = 0.002, n = 29) performance conditions. Scores on the depression/dejection subscale were positively correlated with the PAQ practice (r = 0.48, p = 0.007, n = 30 pairs), group (r = 0.41, p = 0.025, n = 30), and solo (r = 0.37, p = 0.049, n = 29) performance conditions. Similarly, the POMS total mood disturbance score was positively correlated with the practice (r = 0.52, p = 0.003, n = 30 pairs), group (r = 0.40, p = 0.028, n = 30), and solo performance conditions (r = 0.40, p = 0.034, n = 29).
Analysis of the scores from the PRMD questionnaire showed that the frequency and severity of performance-related musculoskeletal disorders and the amount of perceived effort required to complete a typical daily music practice routine were low for this sample. Most of the mean frequency and severity scores were below 24 (all were below 32; possible range 0–100) at baseline, end-program, and followup. The mean scores for perceived exertion throughout the study were between 11 and 15 (possible range 6–20), which correspond to a “fairly light” level of exertion on the scale. Both between-subjects ANOVAs and independent t-tests comparing difference scores for the individual (yoga lifestyle or yoga only) or combined yoga and control groups were not significant for the end-program scores. The analysis was redone omitting the vocalists’ data, but the results were still not significant.
There were no statistically significant differences in perceived stress (PSS) or sleep quality (PSQI) between the individual or combined yoga and control groups by between-subjects ANOVAs or independent t-tests. Average scores on the PSS for the three groups across all time points ranged from 13.3 to 19.1. Average PSQI global scores for the three groups consistently ranged from 4.0 to 6.0.
Using a visual analogue scale with extremes of 0 and 10, participants in both yoga groups evaluated the program very favorably and independent t-tests showed no significant differences in their responses to the four questions described below. The yoga lifestyle and yoga only groups had mean scores of 8.56 ± 2.06 SD (95% Confidence Interval = 1.14) and 8.28 ± 1.66 (CI = 0.92), respectively, when asked if they felt the program was beneficial generally; mean scores of 8.10 ± 2.62 (CI = 1.45) and 7.99 ± 1.92 (CI = 1.07) if they felt the program was beneficial specifically for them as musicians; means scores of 9.11 ± 1.68 (CI = 0.93) and 8.74 ± 1.76 (CI = 0.98) if they would recommend the program for future Tanglewood participants; and mean scores of 8.75 ± 1.96 (CI = 1.08) and 7.82 ± 2.59 (CI = 1.43) if they planned to continue practicing yoga and/or meditation techniques as a result of the program. Ranging from 9.05 to 10.04, the upper bounds of the 95% confidence intervals were quite close to or even overlapped the maximum rating of 10.
The long-term followup questionnaire revealed that the yoga lifestyle group practiced an average of 2.2 ± 2.0 h per week (range 0–5.5) in the previous 10 months and 1.9 ± 1.8 h per week (range 0–4.0) in the 2 weeks immediately before responding to the questionnaire. Similarly, the yoga only group reported practicing an average of 1.2 ± 1.8 h per week (range 0–5.0) in the previous 10 months and 1.1 ± 1.7 h per week (range 0–5.0) in the previous 2 weeks. Although a subset of the participants had discontinued yoga/meditation practice altogether (3 of 12 respondents in the yoga lifestyle group and 4 of 10 in the yoga only group), many individuals reported practicing 2 or more hours per week over the previous 10 months (8 of 12 respondents in the yoga lifestyle group and 2 of 10 in the yoga only group). All of the 10 yoga participants practicing 2 h or more reported some yoga/meditation experience prior to the program, whereas 6 of the 7 that had discontinued practice reported no yoga/meditation before the program. Finally, all respondents reported that the yoga/meditation program had changed their music performance abilities. The yoga lifestyle participants averaged a score of 6.26 ± 2.97 (range = 2.3–9.1; CI = 1.33) and the yoga only participants averaged a score of 5.31 ± 2.63 (range = 1.7–8.5; CI = 2.02) on a 10-cm visual analogue scale in which 0 was “not at all” and 10 cm was “very much so”. The lower bounds of the confidence intervals did not approach zero.
To evaluate clinical significance in improvements in performance anxiety, the mean baseline PAQ score in the solo condition for all subjects of 52.7 was used as the basis for an arbitrary clinical cutoff score. The numbers and percentages of subjects in each group scoring 53 or less at end-program who also scored higher than 53 at baseline on the PAQ solo condition were calculated and are as follows: yoga lifestyle: 3 of 7 (42.9%); yoga only: 5 of 9 (55.6%); yoga groups combined: 8 of 16 (50.0%); controls: 1 of 8 (12.5%).
According to records kept by the yoga instructors, based on their qualitative observations and the participants’ own articulated descriptions, the yoga and meditation training resulted in a number of benefits during the program and afterwards. All participants showed some improvement in flexibility and strength and many reported diminished physical tension. Some felt fatigued in the latter weeks of their music fellowship program, but believed that yoga reduced their fatigue and boosted their ability to handle their intense work schedule. In particular, a number of yoga lifestyle fellows found that breath control techniques helped them more effectively manage pre-performance anxiety. Several yoga lifestyle and yoga only participants reported an increase in self-confidence. Finally, some of the most positive feedback came in the weeks and months after the yoga program: a number of participants reported achieving “life-changing clarity” during the summer that they attributed to yoga practice. Several individuals consequently implemented major lifestyle changes after the summer.
Consistent with the results of our previous study (Khalsa and Cope 2006), a period of yoga and meditation practice of just over 6-weeks duration tended to reduce performance anxiety and improved mood in a sample of young professional musicians. Participants responded positively to the yoga program and found that yoga and meditation techniques were beneficial to their music performance and daily lives over both the short and long term.
The yoga program showed a statistical tendency to reduce the cognitive and somatic symptoms of musical performance anxiety. The yoga program incorporated several components that were targeted to alleviate anxiety including meditation, breath control, and counseling directed at specific music performance problems and career stressors (Chang et al. 2003; McGinnis and Milling 2005). Participants found that yogic breath control techniques helped them more effectively manage performance anxiety, especially immediately prior to a concert. Further evaluation of the contribution of yogic breathing techniques to performance anxiety reduction may be worthwhile. Musical performance anxiety was more intense during solo performance and least problematic in music practice situations, a finding that is consistent with other studies (Fehm and Schmidt 2006; Kaspersen and Gotestam 2002; Miller and Chesky 2004; Wilson and Roland 2002). Females showed a trend of scoring higher on the PAQ than did males, indicating that females may be strongly impacted by musical performance anxiety. Higher anxiety in females has also previously been reported in a number of studies (Kenny et al. 2004; Osborne and Franklin 2002; Sinden 1999). Given that musical performance anxiety is closely related to social anxiety (Osborne and Franklin 2002), it follows that social anxiety is also more prevalent in females (Kessler et al. 1994).
A common method of determining clinical significance of comparative treatments/conditions is to determine the number and percentages of subjects who at baseline have a score above a recognized clinical cutoff score and who then achieve an end-treatment score below this cutoff. Although there is currently no such a numerically established clinical criterion for music performance anxiety, our arbitrary use of the average PAQ baseline score in the solo performance condition as such a cutoff reveals a substantial superiority in the number of subjects in the yoga treatment groups (50% or 8 out of 16 subjects) improving sufficiently enough to satisfy this criterion as compared with the number of control subjects (12.5% or 1 out of 8 subjects).
Another key result of this study was that yoga and meditation training benefited overall mood as reflected by improvement on the total mood disturbance score of the POMS. In fact, a number of POMS improvements correlated with PAQ improvements. Consistent with performance anxiety improvement, there was a positive change in the tension/anxiety subscale of the POMS. Improvement in the depression/dejection subscale was also not surprising given the well-known interrelationship between anxiety and depression. The end-program group differences in anger/hostility were unusual, however, because the yoga intervention appeared to prevent an increase like that apparent in the control group, which may have reflected the stress and intensity of the Tanglewood fellowship program. Therefore, yoga may have served as an effective coping mechanism against the rise of anger/hostility.
Responses to questionnaires for PRMDs, stress, and sleep did not show any differences at the end of the study. Although PRMDs are common for professional musicians, the present sample was comprised of young, healthy, high-functioning musicians and their low baseline scores on the PRMD questionnaire may have precluded meaningful reductions in disorder severity and/or frequency (i.e., a floor effect).
The fact that the participants relocated to the Tanglewood campus as part of their fellowships likely influenced perceived stress and sleep outcome measures. The PSS and PSQI scales are circumstance-dependent. Participants responded to baseline questionnaires with a frame of reference of their home environments, whereas they were impacted by different stressors, schedules, and sleep environments at the end-program evaluation. For example, stress was increased in some ways (e.g., demanding practice schedules with high-level peers and experts) and reduced in other ways (e.g., isolation from financial and family stressors) during the fellowship. Finally, average PSS and PSQI scores were low at baseline, which rendered significant improvement unlikely.
There were several limitations to this study. First, the fact that the participants were also fellows of a rigorous music training program complicates the conclusions drawn about the yoga intervention. As the participants were learning relaxation and self-management techniques, they were also enrolled in an intense and competitive fellowship program with a curriculum and performance schedule that became more challenging over time. Despite this potential confound, the yoga and meditation training effectively alleviated anxiety and improved mood. We can confidently conclude that yoga and meditation yield considerable benefits, yet it is not possible to confidently generalize our results to musicians in more typical working circumstances (i.e., trade-off between internal validity and external validity). Second, statistical power was compromised because of the low sample size, which was fixed by limited resources for the yoga program. Third, the study was not a randomized trial with respect to the control participants. Because the yoga volunteers may have been highly motivated to practice the intervention an associated expectation of improvement may have contributed to their perceived benefit.
The yoga participants were most likely influenced by the social environment and community meals at the yoga center and the interactions within their groups as they attended classes together. The yoga lifestyle group engaged in substantially more psychosocial interactions and received more yoga-related mentoring (group discussions about yoga philosophy and performance psychology, yogic-based counseling) than the yoga only group. The yoga only group participants were allowed to attend only the general yoga and meditation classes that were available to the public clientele at the center and only the morning meditation sessions held at the Tanglewood Music Center. Fewer of the yoga only subjects ate meals at the center, and fewer underwent the private instruction sessions than did the yoga lifestyle subjects, the vast majority of whom participated in these elements. For yoga lifestyle participants group interaction, including meals at the center, was encouraged by the yoga lifestyle group instructors because it supported the effectiveness of problem solving in the weekly counseling sessions where participants shared their personal challenges and discussed yoga- and meditation-inspired strategies to overcome them. Despite these differences between the two yoga interventions, improvements in performance anxiety and mood were of similar magnitude, which suggests that the benefits were due to the yoga and meditation practices themselves rather than to psychosocial and other factors.
Yoga and meditation training was favorably received by a group of young professional musicians and showed a statistical tendency to reduce their performance anxiety and improved their mood. These benefits are possibly attributable to the practice of yoga and meditation techniques themselves rather than to psychosocial factors. Long-term practice of these techniques holds promise for reducing various performance-related difficulties that musicians face, as well as potentially improving the quality and the subjective enjoyment of musical performance.
We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Nancy Buttenheim, Jo Ann Levitt, and Larissa Hall Carlson who served as instructors for the yoga program, Ann Megyas who assisted many of the yoga and meditation classes, and Angela Wilson who supervised the followup data collection. We also thank the Kripalu Yoga Center and the Tanglewood Music Center for supporting this research. Sat Bir S. Khalsa has received consultant fees from the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.