New lessons from the balloon: The Upper Body

All right, then. You’ve been talking to a balloon and discovering plenty of things about sound and vibration. You might as well use the balloon to make other discoveries. Grab a partner for this exercise. Stand facing each other. Hold the balloon lightly in your hands, about a foot or so away from your midriff. Ask your partner to place her palms on the backs of your hands, touching you as lightly as you’re touching the balloon. Tell her to keep touching your hands steadily, then start moving the balloon slowly. It doesn’t matter how you move the balloon: turn it clock- or counterclockwise, move it away from your body or closer to it, move it up and down in space.

Watch your partner as you move the balloon. Most likely she’ll contort her whole body in an effort to follow your hands and the balloon as they move here and there. She might scrunch her head and neck, raise her shoulders, shorten one side of her abdomen, and so on. She won’t be aware of her misuse; and, once she does become aware of it, she'll claim it’s “normal” to move like that.

In truth all she needs to do is to make the articulations of her arms—from shoulders to fingertips—mobile like the joints of a marionette. Then, as you move the balloon, your partner can make constant adjustments to all her arm joints, bending or unbending each as needed, lifting or dropping her elbows, her upper arms, or her forearms. Her head, neck, and trunk don’t need to move altogether!

Take turns holding the balloon and moving it. Then make the exercise more complex. While moving the balloon, ask your partner to sing a children’s song. You’ll be amazed at the effects on her arms: she'll hold them so stiffly you won't be able to move the balloon. Her efforts at singing distract her from paying attention to her arms, and she misplaces her intentions and her energies—as we all do, more often than we care to admit.

The balloon teaches you about your perceptions of yourself and of others, your understanding of what is normal or abnormal, the working of your arm joints, the way you apportion energy and effort as you move. After working with the balloon for a while, go play your instrument—be it the cello, the piano, the oboe, or the didgeridoo—and see what you can do with the wisdom you learned from the balloon.