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How playing the cello helped me lose weight

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

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.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I love hearing stories of people who started playing the cello because they just "had to". I used to count myself as somebody who just appreciated music, but playing it makes my appreciation so much stronger. Playing with others is hard!
    2767 days ago
    I am interested in the fact that you feel that your brain has changed. It inspires me to research music performance affects the brain. I play the cello as well, and I love it because I am an emotional player. Whenever I am stressed out, I don't turn to food, I turn to my cello.

    Have you found that you use the cello as a way of dealing with stress or hardships?
    3155 days ago
    What a great blog!
    Hears to creative and uplifting baby steps!
    3205 days ago
    Very nice post. Not only did you accomplish what you set out to but you found joy in it and learned a life lesson. Now you're encouraging others of us to do the same. Well done.
    3205 days ago
  • BISCO_
    3205 days ago
  • UTMIZ_2000
    I love music. I'm glad that you hushed that inner cynic and went for it. My granddaughter plays the cello. She loves it as well.

    I am so excited to hear that it is changing your brain and how you approach things. As I read that I realized I am having a parallel experience with writing. This semester, even though I am taking two, I am feeling a shift. I am worn out a lot and giving up my free time. Well, I mostly just sit and watch tv, but I control what I do, so it's free time.

    I will have to set aside time every day to write, even if I don't feel like it. Just like learning an instrument, you have to practice! It sounds so crazy, but I am EXCITED at the prospect.

    You must be my twin who was lost at birth and we are on this parallel path because even though we can't be together we are so like each other.

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    3206 days ago
  • no profile photo CD8467616
    Hi -- I couldn't help noticing your blog -- because I play the cello! Like you, I started as an adult with a love for that gorgeous sound. I'm in awe of your perseverance. I agree with you: it's not cardio or strength straining (except maybe when you have to haul it in and out of the car), but I see how it has changed you and given you confidence. That is beautiful in itself.

    I find it very thrilling that a bit of a Bach Suite is what inspired you. I also love those and have learned to play a few movements. (I have a lot of musical background so I could move more quickly -- doesn't mean I play better or work harder.) Last week I went to a concert at the LA Philharmonic and the violinist played a little Bach as an encore, after the big flashy Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. It was the Bach that brought me to tears.

    You've inspired me today! I need to practice! I'm adding you as a friend - I hope that's okay.
    3206 days ago
    Awesome! I love how you didn't let that inner critic stop you from following a dream. I don't count my piano playing as fitness, but singing can be a great workout. When I sang in a large choral organization, I'd come home late at night wired and famished!

    Keep on playing! Thanks for this inspiring blog. emoticon
    3206 days ago
    What an awesome blog!! Thanks for sharing this story!

    I am not musically talented but sure can appreciate all the hard work you've done.

    Congrats on sticking with it and with the weight loss journey.

    3206 days ago
    Fabulous. I love the cello's sound and am glad you have learned to make it sing!
    3207 days ago
    What a great post and an incredible achievement! Really, really impressive!
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    3207 days ago
    I love, love, LOVE this blog! And I am so happy that you took up the cello after it moved you so. Cello music has always had that effect on me, and it was my number one choice of instrument I wanted to learn as a child, but my mother dictated piano, so I became a pianist instead.

    Since then, I have picked up guitar, just a few years ago, and my story with music parallels yours. It is the joy in my life and has unlocked many things both physical and emotional.

    Congratulations on sticking to it, discovering the joys of making music, and learning to read music.


    3207 days ago
    It is wonderful that you have learned so much about yourself by playing the cello.
    The reaction you had to the cello is the one I have when I strum a guitar. I don't actually know how to play the guitar. I went to a one day workshop when I was in my early teens...then about 4 yrs ago I decided I was finally going to learn....but again, I didn't stick with it. I have been thinking that I need to just do it...and you have inspired me as well.
    My soul also loves drumming....I have only done it once in a drumming circle....I think I need to look into that too. I felt the most amazing sense of people and wholeness the time I did it...once I got over my self-consciousness.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    3207 days ago
    It's a beautiful thing to be able to make your own music, and also as you say it teaches you valuble life tools: dedication, determination and consistancy ( and what do we need to lose weight.....?)!!! emoticon emoticon
    3207 days ago
  • CATS_MEOW_0911
    I love the cello! Good for you for sticking with it. I love what you've learned from music--it really does change our perspective.

    I also laugh at myself all the time when I'm practicing my sax, and now I'm comfortable enough with my teacher to laugh when I'm at my lessons, too. I track my playing on the fitness tracker, but I don't reeeealy count it as a "workout."

    Oh, I'm really glad that you've noticed that you are capable of doing anything--glad you've learned that.

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    3207 days ago

    Comment edited on: 10/25/2011 1:07:44 AM
  • CANNIE50
    I have always felt envy towards people who play a musical instrument. I am very moved by music but my musical talent is to appreciate those who possess musical talent. I am so impressed that you have pursued this passion, and, as usual, what a beautifully written blog. emoticon
    3207 days ago
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