Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Swimming With Sharks..AIR Assignment #2

Steve "interviewing" a curious young sea lion pup

My husband is an amazing videographer. The bulk of his work is for an eco-expedition small ship (40-100 passenger ship) cruise company that travels to unique locations around the globe from the Arctic to Antarctic and everywhere in-between. He chronicles the wildlife and the adventures of the travelers (hiking, snorkeling, kayaking) and produces a video ready for passengers to take home at the end of the trip. The guests always think he has the best job in the world.  Except for playing oboe,  I mostly concur!

I had the special opportunity to travel with my husband while he was on assignment for 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands at the beginning of December.  The Galapagos Islands are a remote and special place in the world, just off the coast of mainland Ecuador. 97% of the area is designated as Galapagos National Park and the land/water are strictly regulated and protected.  Sea lions, marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, sea turtles, magnificent and great frigate birds, flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins, several species of intrepid and gregarious mockingbirds, the ubiquitous yellow warbler, and of course the blue and red footed boobies abound on the enchanted volcanic islands and in the surrounding waters.The animals living in the islands have mostly never been in contact with humans over the course of their species development and consequently have no fear of humans.  One must be careful to literally not step on sleeping sea lions, nesting boobies or sun bathing iguanas, because they aren't going to run away. They are used to being watched with binoculars and camera lenses, but have no experience of the horrors of being seen through a rifle sight.

 One of the many highlights of the trip was the opportunity to go snorkeling nearly every day. The waters were cool (70F or 21 C) and the sea was full of schools of brightly colored schools of fish.  I had never snorkeled before,  but am a comfortable swimmer and found the whole experience to be absolutely incredible.  Swimming through schools of thousands of fish, watching rays, sea turtles, penguins a mere foot in front of me, the twisting and turning play with young sea lions seemed like we were dancing a pas de deux together. It was all fantastic.

And we also snorkeled with sharks.  Black tipped and white tipped reef sharks and large hammerhead sharks. It was at this point that I had to throw out my memories of the movie Jaws and realize that the sharks were not likely to bite. I had to remember to not panic,  and gain control of my breath (which had become shallow and rapid due to those terrifying Jaws movie memories). Once I gained control of my breath, everything became magical again.  With steady breathing and a calm mind,  it occurred to me that I wanted to actually look a shark in the eye,  not just watch them from above.  So with an unconstricted throat, I took in lots of air quickly then submerged to explore the ocean depths and look for more sharks.  Turns out the shark was slightly curious, but mostly scared of me! (An important lesson learned.) After swimming underwater for as long as I could (think long oboe phrases here), I blew out the water from the snorkel,  took in several large breaths of air, then again gained control of my breath. It turned out that breathing evenly, with an unconstricted throat, was the key to a great  snorkeling experience

Instead of this:

And, not surprisingly,  this snorkeling experience got me thinking about the oboe. (I wisely left my oboe at home during the trip, but thought about it often!) In particular,  the best breathing for snorkeling is similar to our work as oboists:

 Breath evenly, expanding your abdominal wall and back, with an unconstricted jaw and throat. Do not panic,  gain control of your breath. Put aside self-created fears (or memories of the movie Jaws! :) and repeat the mantra:  Do not panic, gain control of your breath, and breath evenly, expanding your abdominal wall and back while maintaining an unconstricted throat.

Of course, a snorkel isn't needed to practice oboe breathing.  However,  a "Breath Builder isometric exerciser" is an inexpensive and useful tool to develop well-supported and unconstricted breathing.  I purchased my Breath Builder  from Hickey's Music ,  a great music store to know about, but they can also be purchased at many online sites as well. The Breath Builder consists of a plastic tube with a ping pong ball inside. You can attach tubing of various resistances to the tube to practice inhaling and exhaling.  The challenge is to keep the ball at the top of the tube and a good amount of air volume and support is needed to do this. All of this should be completed with an unconstricted throat, and a LOT of air. I find this is a great breathing "warm up" exercise while my reeds are soaking. Or,  if I'm having trouble with a long phrase,  I step away from the oboe and breathe through the Breath Builder a few times. I'm always amazed at how much better the phrase is when I pick up the oboe again.

Breath Builder isometric exerciser

Breathing isn't something you should bring awareness to ONLY when you play the oboe.  Think about how you breath during quiet times,  standing in line at the grocery, or when engaging in active endeavors such as walking, running or ...snorkeling. Notice how much air you intake, and if you are allowing your abdominal wall and back to expand with an unconstricted throat. This awareness of breathing habits will help you consciously use good air use when playing the oboe.

In the next few posts I'll be writing more about air use and the oboe,  our anatomy, and even tying in the previous AIR assignment #1 "sing along" post into all of this.  So,  for now,  breathe deeply with an unconstricted throat--both with and without the oboe.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist

There is no such thing as a flattering close-up snorkel photo :)

1 comment:

  1. Great pics! (The last one made me laugh :)