I recently saw that playing a musical instrument is in the Fitness Tracker! WHAT?!?!? Apparently, I can burn 334 calories an hour playing my cello! I still don't count it in my fitness minutes though. Even though I have occasionally broken a sweat while practicing, I really can't see it as cardio because I am sitting down! And unlike most cellists, I don't perch on the edge of my seat. On my physiotherapist's advice, I use cushions to prop myself up. So, sitting comfortably -- not really cardio, eh?
I don't think it's strength training either, though the fingers of my left hand are getting very strong, as are some small arm and wrist muscles in my left. No, the exercise component is not really how the cello has helped me with weight loss.
Let me back up a little. A couple of years ago I took part in a training program to become a volunteer mentor. Near the end of the training, we were asked to bring in something personal to share with the group. Some people told stories. Some brought in items that had personal significance and explained why they valued them. I recited a couple of poems.
One young woman, a music student, played a Bach piece on her cello. The first note was long, and before it ended, I felt surprise tears flowing down my face. Something stirred inside me, like my heart was a little bird just discovering its wings.
It was so beautiful. And I thought: "I need to try that! I want to play the cello!!" But the negative voices in my head started in. They said things like: "You won't stick with it. You never stick with things. Why bother?"
I have been working on being positive for a long time. My naturally critical mind looks for problems. That's useful for staying out of danger, and it's even helpful when writing academic papers. But if I don't watch out, I could very easily be a negative Nellie.
So I responded to my internal naysayer. I thought: "I'll give it a try. If I don't stick with it, at least I'll have tried. I can see if I like it, and if it's not for me, I'll give it up -- no harm, no foul."
I rented a cello, found a teacher, and played. I really sucked, but I kept playing. The fingers of my left hand looked gross for a few months, until the big flaking callouses went away. Rhythm was really challenging, but my piano-playing friend helped when my teacher couldn't.
Sometimes I didn't feel like playing. My arms got tired and my fingers felt like raw hamburger. But I noticed that if I went one day without playing, I got a little worse. One day without playing and I lost skill! My advancement was already so slow; I didn't want to delay it by skipping a day. So mostly, even if I didn't feel like it, I played every day.
I've been playing for almost two years now. I'm still not great, but I'm miles better than I was. And I can read music. I CAN READ MUSIC!!!! I love that part. And my brain has changed because of the cello. I recently went back to taiko drumming after a two-year hiatus (it conflicted with my work schedule). Now the rhythms of taiko are so much easier for me! I can recall them and hear them in my mind. My brain wasn't capable of that before!
I had a breakthrough recently where I began to be able to remember songs without the music! It just started happening. I just felt this shift, and all of sudden my hand knew where to go to get the note. I'm so excited to see how the cello keeps changing my brain!
I play because I love it. I love the sound, so deep and rich. That's why I love taiko too. The more I play, the more I love it. I love improving and being challenged. Most people do, I think. It's a natural human tendency to want to get better at what we do.
I play because some songs feel like I'm coming home. Tonight I played a bluegrass song called Big Scioty. It's one of my favourites. It flowed so beautifully that I had to let out a big laugh when I was done. I also laugh when I have trouble with a part of a song. Just sitting at home, alone with my cello, I laugh and laugh.
So how is the cello helping with weight loss? I now see myself as someone who sticks with difficult things. Even though I went to university at the age of 30 and got a very difficult degree, and stuck with it even when I developed a serious degenerative health condition, I still saw myself as someone who couldn't achieve her goals. Somehow, playing the cello has changed my self-perception.
But it also just brings me pure joy. I spend time every day doing something that makes me feel good. I think being truly happy is the key that unlocks change.
Also, playing the cello has taught me about baby steps. I learn a new song, and it's clunky and awkward. I play it every day, and it gets better. Some parts are challenging, so I spend extra time practicing them. It takes as long as it takes, and one day I realize it sounds pretty good.
It's slow. It takes time. I do it because I love it -- just like losing weight.