Baylor School of Music launches health, wellness initiative

Dr. McAllister sits at her piano in her new office in Roxy Grove Hall By Kenneth Prabhakar | Photographer

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

Author, yoga instructor and professor of piano Lesley McAllister, D.M.A sees a grim reality in the movie “Whiplash.” The pursuit of perfection at the cost of mental and physical health is something musicians know all too well, McAllister said.

This is why, according to Gary Mortenson, D.M.A., dean of the Baylor School of Music, McAllister is leading an initiative within the music school to bring in speakers and presenters to teach students how to steady their “mind, body and soul.”

Mortenson said the initiative will include speakers such as a sleep expert, a nutritionist and more from Baylor and all over the country.

McAllister has written two books on the subject. Her first, “The Balanced Musician: Integrating Mind and Body for Peak Performance,” she still uses in her classes. In her second, “Yoga in the Music Studio,” McAllister said she wrote to instruct music teachers on using the calming and strengthening lessons of yoga in their music studios.

McAllister practices at Yoga8 and Duality Yoga in Waco, having earned her instructor certification while pregnant with her first child in 2016. She said her 25 years doing yoga informs how she teaches her classes.

“The last [health and wellness] class that I taught last spring, I had 17 students in the class and all of them had experienced repetitive stress injury,” McAllister said. “A lot of times musicians work the body harder than it needs to be. Yoga has taught me about posture, alignment and the presence of tension in the body… One of the things that I love about yoga is how you learn to quiet the mind by integrating the breath and the body. The breath is the life force of the body, so when we’re attuned to the breath, it automatically helps us to achieve this inner stillness.”

For musicians, calmness and contentment can be a losing battle. Oftentimes the industry is intense and competitive, and instructors’ words are treated as the gospel. Mortenson said the pursuit of perfection affects people in psychological ways.

“Perfection is not possible,” Mortenson said. “My goal as dean is that we pursue excellence, but not perfection. I’m trying to strike a balance in life for our students to be successful and avoid falling into certain traps… Admitting that we’re human does good things for all of us. Avoiding the tyranny of the perfect is something we’d all better address.”

Mortenson said the wellness of his students is constantly on his mind. With the isolation that came from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mortenson said his concern for students only grew, and now it’s time to figure out how to get back to normal. The health and wellness initiative is all about listening to the body — knowing when to stop pushing it and taking care of mental health — which is more important than ever coming out of an international pandemic.

[COVID] was a very unnatural thing,” Mortenson said. “And then there was the isolation… coming out of that, I was even more concerned about [musicians’ health and wellness]. The school of music has made a commitment that we are going to pay attention to and give resources for knowledge sets and practical information in key areas for musicians.”

There’s a general trend in recent years of growing rates of anxiety and depression in the younger generation. McAllister said musicians can be especially susceptible to these sorts of issues due to the nature of the field and the natural makeup of a musician, making this initiative important.

Mortenson stressed the importance of activities that aren’t necessarily productive, but are still beneficial. Wellness, he said, includes taking care of more than just the body, but doing things like taking a walk that are good for the mind. He recommends watching the many colonies of cats that live at Baylor. Mortenson’s tips for being a happy, healthy and contributing member of society are to turn off your phone, take a walk around campus and enjoy nature.

Emma Weidmann
Emma Weidmann is a junior English major from San Antonio, with minors in News-Editorial and French. She loves writing about new albums and listening to live music. After graduating, she hopes to work as an arts and culture reporter.