“I completely agree with Ruth that a really fine technique involves relaxation and free breathing. I wish that more musical training started from those precepts.”
– Steven Isserlis
“A profoundly transformative experience’ – Tristram
“My mind is truly blown!” – Millie
“A magical experience” – Lynn
“Ruth is a consummate coach” – Robert
“I cannot recommend Ruth highly enough” – Rebecca
Are you a string player with performance anxiety? Do you let negative thoughts creep in while practicing, and do you dread concerts? Do you hold your breath while playing? Are you in pain? Would you love to play effortlessly and with an open heart?
The Breathing Bow is a holistic approach to string playing that uses breath, meditation and yoga-inspired techniques to ease anxiety, eliminate bow shaking and encourage being in the moment both in the practice room and on stage.
Learn to build trust in your body and say goodbye to performance nerves, bow shakes, hyperventilation and hypoventilation, panic, sweaty hands, and anything else keeping you from performing at your highest level.
Whether through a series of individual coaching sessions, or in a conference or workshop setting, Ruth Phillips draws on her lifetime experience as a professional cellist, performance coach and therapist, and three decades of yoga and meditation practice to teach string players how to practice so that performance becomes effortless and a joy.
The six key elements of The Breathing Bow are:
Flow – working with the wave of the breath to understand tension and release.
Clarity – quietening inner judgement and making way for observation and listening.
Balance – moving from the core to achieve grace.
Power – using gravity and rebound for optimum efficiency.
Spontaneity – learning when and how to let go to promote a sense of improvisation.
Presence – how to practice being here and now for ourselves and our audience.
By cultivating a body that is grounded, breathing freely and primed for optimum movement, and a still mind able to listen and respond, “performance” can become the simple act of sharing the music we love with others.
Ruth works independently and in collaboration with teachers of other disciplines. Ongoing collaborations include those with Jane Fenton, cellist and Scaravelli-inspired yoga teacher, and Dale Culliford, cellist and Alexander Technique teacher.
‘The bow must be a living thing at all times,
and all living things need to breathe.’
– Steven Isserlis.
The Wave of the Breath and the Nervous System
The wave of the breath remains central to The Breathing Bow. Working with it builds vital connections between inspiration and expression, tension and release, giving and receiving, expansion and contraction, and stillness and movement, connections that promote healthy, open relationships with ourselves and with our audience.
The breath is a particularly powerful tool for musicians because it helps regulate the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Whilst the sympathetic nervous system increases the heart rate, dealing with danger, excitement, and a sudden change in the environment, the parasympathetic nervous system decreases it, calming the body, preparing it to rest and digest, and connecting us to a deeper, free-flowing state of awareness. During performance we need both these systems to be working in harmony. It is natural that we are excited to share what we love in a new environment. When we bring our parasympathetic and our sympathetic nervous systems into balance, our adrenalin becomes our friend, pushing us further than we have dared to go previously and giving us the courage to take risks whilst allowing us to remain calm and centred. Without this balance, however, we become trapped in the sympathetic, “fight, flight, freeze” state. This is what we call stage fright.
Perhaps the most important reason to work with the wave of the breath is a musical one. Through it we can experience how tension and release in harmony and melody are connected to the tension and release in our bodies as they breathe in and out, influencing everything from bow speed and weight distribution, width and speed of vibrato to the contact point on the string. Through a series of simple exercises that connect the breath to the movement of the bow and the left hand we unify both sides of the body with the musical phrase as it expands and contracts.
Working consciously with the breath and extending this work on to our instruments so that they breathe with us and we breathe with the music creates performances that are fresh, centred, poised and exciting.
Do you feel out of control?
Do you suffer from injury or overuse?
Do you feel you need to shut your audience out to stay focused?
Do you experience bow shakes?
Do you feel there is never enough time to practice?
Do you feel nervous?
Do you hold your breath?
Do you freeze whilst playing fast passages?
Do you long to enjoy making music?
The Breathing Bow is an opportunity for all string players to discover pathways towards effortlessness, confidence, simplicity, humility, brilliance and joy. Whether you are a student preparing for an exam, a professional preparing for a concert or audition, an amateur wanting to find more pleasure in your playing, a teacher wanting to help students with performance issues or feed your own playing, or an orchestral player struggling to cope with a demanding schedule, The Breathing Bow can give you a set of tools that can help you transform the way you play so that it is efficient, relaxing and stimulating.
“I completely agree with Ruth that a really fine technique…involves relaxation and free breathing. I wish that more musical training started from those precepts.”
– Steven Isserlis.
“A profoundly transformative experience… a revelation.” – Tristram, cellist, UK
“I feel like a new person – I can’t believe how different I sound and feel – my mind is truly blown!” – Milly, violinist, UK
“I’m feeling both inspired and patient which is not a balance I often experience.” – Richard, violin student, Royal Academy of Music, UK
“ Life changing!” – Olivia, cellist, UK
“’I’ve tried several teachers on-line and have found that Ruth’s interpersonal skills, intuition, and natural inclination for listening allow her to teach brilliantly in this capacity. I’ve grown to be so comfortable with these video lessons that I forget we are not actually in the same room together. Ruth’s techniques are very natural and logical. She does a wonderful job explaining and demonstrating her techniques. She is personable and down to earth and an excellent problem solver. If I had had these learning experiences 30 years ago. I would have avoided several injuries and a lot of frustration.” – Amanda, cellist, USA
“Ruth’s concept of performance and technique is organic and natural; relevant and adaptable to all string players. There is no need to have to ‘put on’ a performance as she shows you to feel the honesty and beauty of music in its own right; that the last thing it needs is us getting in the way.” – Ellie, viola student, Royal Academy of Music, UK
“When the moment came to perform, I was totally relaxed, my fingers seemed to know what to do without my having to be a control freak …it almost felt like a meditation.” – Lucy, gamba player, UK
“How many courses give you the chance to combine fantastic food and wine with playing the cello and hanging out all week in your yoga pants? Ruth, Jane and Tara communicate with love and in the wisdom that what they teach can bring positive change. I’m excited to start trying the new ideas within my playing and in my life in general. The course demonstrates how we can use the natural movement of the body to achieve an authentic, honest and free musical line without the need to micromanage every note. Do less, achieve more. What’s not to love!” – Jane, cellist, Switzerland
“I have not come down yet from the beautiful high of the Breathing Bow workshop. The setting, kind encouragement and inspiration from everyone there still resonates within me. It was truly a magical experience” – Lynn, cellist, USA
“The retreat was a real game changer for me, both with and away from the cello. I won’t ever forget the feeling as happiness and optimism, absent for such a long time, began to creep into my mind . It’s the first step … towards a more content existence as a musician, and a person.” – Ellie, cello student, Royal Northern College of Music, UK
“The Breathing Bow was everything I expected and more. Ruth listened empathically to each of us, her kindness, generosity and strong commitment to helping musicians was felt by us all right from the start.” – Leti, cellist, Venezuela
“I have found a new approach to practicing the violin and a new confidence physically and mentally not only in my playing, but also in my daily life. I learnt many breathing techniques and exercises which have brought more joy whilst practicing and performing. Tara’s food was incredible and Ruth makes all participants feel so welcome. I learnt how to think about music and performance in a completely different way and because of this, it’s a weekend I’ll never forget ” – Helena Logah, violinist, Chineke Orchestra
“Imagine a meditation given by a world class cellist. Ruth helped me get out of my head and reconnect with my body like no one has before. Keenly perceptive, Ruth is a consummate coach. She doesn’t impose her interpretation or even her method. She simply takes what you’ve got and makes it much, much better.” – Robert Howard, cellist, USA
“Working with Ruth over the past two years has been truly inspiring. During lockdowns and a time of great stress for so many people, Ruth opened up my eyes to a completely new way of approaching my instrument; marrying movement and breath, and helping me feel more grounded – even from the other end of a zoom call! I can’t recommend her classes enough! ” – Sinead o Halloran, winner of the RNCM 2021 Gold Medal and recently appointed cellist of the Marmen Quartet
“My musicianship and also daily life has changed since I started working with Ruth. Breathing the music and finding the relaxation, I can transfer that into my daily life as well! I have never felt such presence in my continuo playing. It feels so much deeper, I am very happy! ” – Johanna Sjunnesson, Swedish Radio Orchestra
“The week I spent working with Ruth in France was invaluable for a number of reasons. Surrounded by the stunningly beautiful Provençal countryside—restorative in itself—we covered many different aspects of cello playing: Connecting the breath with the bow, translating everyday movements into cello playing, rediscovering phrasing as a combination of tension and release, and the process of how to practice. I cannot recommend Ruth highly enough. Cellists of any age and ability would, I am positive, have a huge amount to learn and enjoy.” – Rebecca , cellist, Philharmonia Orchestra, UK
“I tend to hold my breath when I play, and often feel I have to ‘slay a dragon’ to get myself on stage. I met with Ruth for a session in New York. I was so blessed by her generous and relaxed, organic approach to playing the cello and within a week of our session I was publicly speaking to a large group with little effort and playing for people with negligible anxiety. I highly recommend her work to anyone wishing to do the same.” – Annie, cellist USA
“Ruth literally embraces the cello as if it were an extension of her own body, constantly working with it to create an atmosphere of enlightenment and artistic satisfaction. She is an inspiration and a true artist.” – Daniel, cellist UK
“I have had two separate shoulder injuries (non-cello related) and feared that I would have to limit my playing time. Since the Breathing Bow workshop I have actually been able to maintain and even increase my playing time without further injuring my shoulders.”- Amanda, USA
“I was very surprised that Ruth’s Breathing Bow retreat had such a deep effect on me. I’m an amateur cellist, recently retired from working as a psychiatrist in the UK NHS. I felt anxious because most of the others were younger professionals and I would be way behind them. No need to worry! Ruth immediately revealed herself to be an expert and gifted group leader. Her absolute honesty allowed the 12 of us to be open and authentic to ourselves and to the each other. I’ve worked with therapeutic groups for years but never seen a group so quickly forming into a deeply connected whole. From the first evening, people could talk about their difficult or ambivalent feelings, as well as their love of playing music. Our struggles came up, were heard respectfully, and reflected upon with insight and compassion. Looking back on the retreat it’s hard to believe that so much happened in so short a time.
Some non-musical factors played a big part in making the retreat so special. It took place in a heavenly setting (beautiful Provençal manor house set among olive groves and apricot orchards), we ate fabulous food (delicious and exciting vegetarian and vegan feasts made by Tara the cellist cook and accompanied by good local wines), and we were attended to with continuous kindness by Ruth and her household team.
Ruth has a way of helping us to think differently about our playing. We did yoga, breathing exercises and meditation. We attended to the detailed physical actions involved in playing a stringed instrument by noticing the minute sensations in our body and limbs, and holding new images and metaphors in our minds. Alongside the physical details of playing Ruth helped us to hold a broad view, to seek and find wholeness, to feel good about playing… in short, to be freer than we were only a few days earlier.” – Hugh, cellist, NHS Psychiatrist, UK
“I started to have weekly lessons with Ruth during the long COVID lockdown in Melbourne. I have found these interactions to be so important for me, to continue to be inspired and creative in a time that feels so uncertain and uncomfortable.
The best teachers in my mind are the ones that make you feel like you have the answers within yourself, they just help you how to find them. I have been lucky to cross paths with a few teachers like this, and Ruth is one of them. Ruth has helped me to become more present in my playing, and so aware in my body that over a few months I have noticed that the back pain that I used to get has completely gone. Ruth has helped me to find a healthy relationship between tension and release in my body, which has opened me up to more imagination and spontaneity when I play.
Ruth relates playing music to so many other elements- nature, poetry, the seasons, breath, and the voice, among many others. Playing an instrument is such a tactile experience and Ruth explains concepts away from the instrument, through movement, breath awareness and meditation.
I always look forward to my lessons with Ruth, meeting her has been like connecting to an old friend!” – Lucy, Australia
‘To relax is not to collapse, but simply to undo tension….There is nothing to be done. It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.’
-Vanda Scaravelli Awakening the Spine.
Ruth Phillips is a modern and baroque cellist, a mindfulness coach, founder of The Breathing Bow, co-founder of InsideOut Musician and a writer.
Alongside her rich and diverse career as a concert cellist, Ruth is internationally sought after as a performance coach and stringed instrument teacher, helping people who suffer from tension, stage fright or lack of focus overcome the physical and mental strains of the music profession. Ruth is also a trained therapist, holding a Masters’ degree in Voice Movement Therapy. Ruth has been attending yoga classes with Peter Blackaby for the past 30 years, and has completed three modules of the Non-Violent-Communication training with Muriel Kalfala. Her interest in the natural functioning of the body has inspired her to work closely with Alexander Technique, Qi Gong, Body Mapping and Feldenkrais practictioners, and her musical experience includes not only classical music but folk, Indian and African traditions.
Over the last ten years Ruth has given Breathing Bow and mindfulness workshops in California, France and the UK, at the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Glasgow Conservatoire and for the European String Teachers’Association and the London Cello Society. In 2022 she was invited to be the resident mindfulness coach at the Verbier Festival, working with the youth orchestra, Festival orchestra and young soloists from the Academy. She also offered mindfulness workshops for the string players of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Ruth taught on the online platform for musicians’ well-being, The Exhale, for three years and her clients include students and graduates from Stony Brook University, Julliard School, Royal Academy of Music, Paris Conservatoire, Royal Northern College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, members of the Marmen quartet, and the Hallé, Oakland Symphony, San Fransisco Opera, Liverpool Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras.
Ruth studied with Johannes Goritzki and Timothy Eddy, gaining her Masters’ degree from Stony Brook University. Her mindfulness training is through the Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher Certification program run by the Awareness Training Institute and the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, and her teachers are two of the leading mindfulness teachers in the West, Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Over her forty-year International career as an orchestral, opera and chamber musician, she played regularly with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Concert d’Astree, Glyndebourne and Garsington Operas and The Musiciens du Louvre. She was guest principal of Les Siecles in 2019. With her string trio, Trio Mythos, she collaborates with the folk duo, Brothers Gillespie and Occitane polyphonic trio, Tant Que Li Siam, and in the future she still plans to complete the British Council funded six city tour of India in duo with the Indian cellist, Saskia Rao, that was cancelled due to Covid in 2020.
Ruth’s articles on stage fright, music, mindfulness and yoga have appeared in the Strad, BBC Music and European String Teachers’ Association magazines. She has appeared on the Music Mind and Movement podcast and on Paul Katz’ CelloBello blog. Her memoir, Cherries from Chauvet’s Orchard, was shortlisted for the Guardian Women’s Memoir award.
‘The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all.’
– Pablo Casals
The seed for The Breathing Bow was planted at the International Musicians’ Seminar at Prussia Cove. “Look at the waves!” the Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh said, thrusting his finger towards the window out of which I gazed. A student continued to draw her bow in tidy straight lines across the string. “Curved,” he said of the Cornish coast.. “Look at your bow. Curved! Look at the phrase. Curved! Everything in nature is curved!”
When I look back, I believe that was the moment I began my personal journey towards understanding that breath, music, movement and nature are all connected. Along the way I have embraced many disciplines, musics and philosophies such as meditation, Yoga, Alexander Technique, Voice Movement Therapy, Indian singing and African drumming.
I have had the immense privilege to work with extraordinary teachers in my life such as Sandor Vegh, Jane Cowan, Johannes Goritzki, Sascha Schneider, Timothy Eddy and Steven Isserlis, and I always come back to the breath, to the waves, to Vegh, and indeed to his friend and inspiration, and the grand-teacher of so many of us, Pablo Casals. I hope that, through The Breathing Bow and my commitment to an organic approach to the instrument, I am honouring Casals’ ‘perfect technique’. Such a technique is not something to show off. Rather, as our legs swing, release, transfer weight, spring, move from our core and flow perfectly when we walk, so can our whole bodies move unremarkably and perfectly when we play. If they do, we can begin to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.
‘Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.’
– Pablo Casals
Tara Lee Byrne is an Irish cellist, yoga practitioner and professional chef. She combines her career as a classical cellist and music academy director with world music projects and another of her passions, cooking. Since training as a professional raw and whole foods chef in 2014, Tara-Lee has been cheffing in yoga retreat and health and wellness centres in the Mediterranean, India, Australia and Asia. Tara-Lee’s debut as a brand director and culinary creative recently launched in Ireland under the innovative health driven, flavour focused, sustainable eatery, Copia Green
Jane Fenton grew up in a musical family’. At the Guildhall School of Music she studied with Stefan Popov and Raphael Wallfisch, receiving her performance diploma. Jane was a founder member of the Guildhall String Ensemble and was principal cellist with Glyndebourne Touring and Garsington Operas for thirty years. During her career Jane became increasingly interested in the role of breath, body and mind during performance and, in 2003, completed the British Wheel of Yoga Teacher training in Scaravelli inspired yoga under Peter Blackaby. She has since taught yoga as an aid to performance as part of the secondary school curriculum. In 2019 Jane taught yoga to string players on the European String Teachers’ Association summer course, and this year she will be undertaking a teaching module with John Stirk.
‘When you have attained complete relaxation, you are able to be flexible and agile in your movements.’
– Zen master Yang Cheng Fu
– Next Workshop –
With Ruth Phillips & Jane Fenton
[Ltd. spaces available]
As featured in…
Transforming Stage Fright Into Stage Presence
– Since 2002 –
© 2019 The Breathing Bow
Design & Build: Dstryr Studio
Photography: Nick Whitworth (& Film), Ellie Winter, Peter Glaser, Tim Mc Laughlin & Toby Strong