Sunday, December 18, 2016

What It Takes to Feel Good: The Nickolaus Technique

When I was a student at Juilliard I was often wracked with physical tension due mostly to constant practicing and always carrying a heavy shoulder bag filled with music and instruments. This was before people carried ergonomic backpacks. This was before the idea of ergonomic anything. Walking around the city in shoes that did not offer adequate support didn't help either.

One day in the winter 1979 a friend brought me to an exercise class that involved a brand new way of exercising developed by a dancer named Richard Nickolaus. The series of exercises, known as The Nickolaus Technique, was based on principles of Yoga and isometrics, and gave attention to all the moving parts of the body (including the feet). It involved controlled breathing, stretching, and strengthening, and it made an amazing difference in my life. There were studios all over the city, and if you were a member of one studio, you could take as many classes as you liked at any studio.

I took classes for around a year, and then I bought the book by Benno Isaacs and Jay Kobler so that I could keep doing the series of 30 exercises on my own when I went on my post-Juilliard travels. I somehow managed to misplace the book, but I still did the exercises. Well, some of them.

Last week, while I was out of town, I was showing a Yoga-minded friend some exercises from the Nickolaus Technique, and used my phone to search for it online. I couldn't remember the spelling of "Nickolaus," and was therefore unsuccessful. I tried again when I got home, and found a used copy of the book at Amazon for one cent. It arrived in the mail the other day, and I have been doing the series of 30 exercises after practicing.

What a great series of stretching and strengthening exercises it is! And it is particularly good for musicians of "a certain age" who are not as flexible as they once were.

Here's the cover:

And here's the Amazon link. I'm going to order a few more copies to give to my friends.


canoetoo said...

I recall taking exercise classes back when I was younger (as you were) in the 1970s. The gal that held the classes at a gym I attended said that the exercises were from the Nicolaus technique. I do recall that they made for a very efficient and satisfying session. I later bought the book you refer to but it went missing during a later move. When I searched for it a couple of years ago I couldn't remember the authors and searching for "Nicolaus Technique" didn't seem to get any hits. So now that I have the names of the authors I can have another look for a copy if you haven't snapped them all up already.

By the way, I always enjoying your blog postings. About four years ago I decided that learning to play classical guitar would be a very good retirement project. I've played the piano for many, many years so all the music notation, etc., is second nature.

But what an experience learning such a different instrument. Each hand having to learn a different technique not mention having the same pitch able to be played in more than one place on the instrument. Still it's enjoyable to play an instrument that you can hold in your lap (and take on camping trips). Feeling the vibrations of the instrument in your sternum. A much more immediate experience that the piano in that way. I hope to learn your solo piece for guitar which I've seen on ISMLP. Also, one night my guitar teacher had a sight reading session and we made our way through your English folk song arrangement for guitar quartet and enjoyed it very much.

Anonymous said...

I also was a student of the Nickolaus Technique in the 1970's. It was a fabulous experience which made me more flexible and toned. I attended the studio in Manhattan and really miss this exercise program. Unfortunately, no one teaches this type of exercise today and I am sure the studios do not exist anymore. I owned the book, but I am not the type of person to do exercises by myself at home. Since this was before the video and DVD age, there is no record of this program on either medium. It is too bad no one thought of putting it on DVD since that would be just like being back in the studio. It is the perfect exercise program for anyone who really does not like to work out on machines but just on a mat. If anyone out there knows of the existence of this program in the Long Island area or knows of the existence of the program on DVD, I would love to hear from them.

Anonymous said...

I stumbled on an ad for the Nickolaus Technique in a 1981 New York magazine and, just out of curiosity, Googled it (because how could a place go from 10 locations to forgotten in the age of exercise studio expansion?). That led me to your site ... and also to this:

I'll have to check out some of the moves. The website makes it seem like a variation on Pilates.

Elaine Fine said...

Thank you so much for this link!