Dr. Travis Baird on Mindfulness, Body Awareness, and Building Self-Confidence

Dr. Travis Baird is a violist, mindfulness teacher, and performance coach, helping performers manage performance anxiety, get organized in the practice room, and perform their best. As founder of dynamicmusicteacher.com, Dr. Baird works with musicians and educators through one-on-one coaching, online courses, and group workshops. He holds degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Texas at Arlington. Dr. Baird is a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) and meditation teacher and he serves on the Executive Board of the American Viola Society.

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While obtaining a degree in viola performance, what got you interested in mindfulness and body awareness?

By the time I started my master’s degree, I was a classic perfectionist. And with that perfectionism came all the anxiety, physical tension, and constant comparison to others that you might expect.

My mentor recommended that I try yoga to see if it might help with some of the physical and mental challenges I was facing. Lucky for me, I lived only a few blocks from the best yoga studio in Baltimore, so I had no excuse not to check it out. My first yoga class was a sweaty disaster, but I was hooked.

Through the physical side of yoga practice, I gained so much body awareness that I was able to improve my viola technique in ways that I never expected. But more importantly, as I dove into yoga philosophy I discovered the power of mindfulness. Over the next few years, mindfulness and meditation helped me to step away from perfectionism and let go of anxiety so that I could reconnect with my purpose. I’m forever grateful for the mentor who started me down this path.

What advice would you give to your younger self about building self-confidence?

Three things come to mind right away. If someone creates a time machine, I’d love to go back and share these with my 19 year old self!

First, it’s OK if you feel nervous. That doesn’t mean you can’t do great work.

Second, find ways to continually reconnect with why you do the work that you do. When you’re on stage, what is it that you want to convey? How do you want to interact with your audience? What do you want them to remember after having seen and heard you play?

Third, visualize yourself performing the way you want to perform. When scary thoughts come up (you know, like having a memory slip on stage), don’t run away from those thoughts. Acknowledge your thought and any fear you feel, pause to take a breath, and then counter the fear by visualizing yourself connecting positively with your audience.

What does mindfulness mean to you?

Mindfulness is present-moment awareness without judgement. For me, that means that no matter what thoughts, fears, or physical discomfort I experience, I always have the capacity to come back to the present moment. When I do that, I can choose what action to take. There is so much freedom in this simple concept.

How can musicians use mindfulness and meditation to benefit their practice sessions and performances?  

We could fill a book (or three) with my answer to this question! But to keep things concise, I’ll share one of my favorite mindfulness strategies for the practice room.

Next time you practice your instrument, start by choosing one thing to focus your attention on. It could be a technique, or a single measure of a piece, or even a single note. Once you select that one thing, aim to focus on just that one thing for three minutes. Then begin practicing. Notice when your mind wanders to other thoughts. And notice if you start playing something other than what you planned to work on. When that happens, pause for a moment and refocus on the thing you chose to work on. Continue in this way for three minutes. No matter how many times your focus wanders, practice non-judgment and remember that the goal here is not perfect focus, but rather the ability to refocus when distractions come up. When distractions arise, simply pause and return your focus to the task at hand.

I love this little exercise because it teaches us three crucial skills: focused attention, the ability to let go of distractions, and the ability to let go of judgment when things don’t go as planned. When you master these skills and bring them into a performance, it is so much easier to enjoy the process and truly play your best.

The Lotus Chamber Music Festival provides a unique educational experience for accomplished young artists by combining a summer music festival with a holistic wellness retreat. Have you ever heard of anything like this? What do you think about the concept?

Every year when I was in school, I tried to find a summer festival to attend where I could grow as a musician, take lessons, and practice a bunch without finishing the summer feeling exhausted or on the brink of injury. It always seemed like it should be possible to create a musical festival that combines musical growth with physical and mental wellness, so I'm thrilled with what Lotus Chamber Music Festival stands for. I’m so excited to witness the positive impact you have on the students and faculty who make this a transformational festival.

Chenoa Orme-Stone