Violinist Gina Burgess’ work has taken her all over the world, and it hasn’t been only to shred the fiddle with Iqaluit, Nunavut-based Arctic rockers The Jerry Cans. Burgess is also a yoga instructor and an educator—she makes regular trips to remote Nunavut communities to teach violin, and has conducted youth workshops on the instrument in Australia, New Zealand, and Greenland. She’s currently writing a book on healthy touring for musicians, with a focus on female-identifying artists, that she says will be set up to work like an adult activity book with easy yoga and meditation exercises, mandalas to color, blank space for journaling, inspiring stories and quotes, and her own tried-and-true road tips.
We spoke to Burgess about those tips just after she’d finished a tour with Paper Beat Scissors and was on a break from putting together her first solo EP. There’s a lot to take away here, and she stressed that, if you’re in a band, it often takes teamwork to be able to successfully take good care of yourself while touring: “I just can't say enough how important it is to be supportive of one another.”
Spotify for Artists: What’s the biggest obstacle to staying healthy on the road?
Gina Burgess: The first things that came to my mind are time management and flow. By flow, I mean what is happening generally with the band or group you're working with, and what you need to do sometimes in that flow, and what you need to do sometimes on your own—what's healthiest and best for you. It's easier to just go where everyone else is going or go where the tour bus is going, when perhaps what you need isn't found at that location. It might take a little bit more work to find a grocery store or a restaurant that suits your needs. And then it's time management too, because it might take you a little bit longer to search that grocery store or restaurant, but it’s certainly worth it in the long run.
You have to keep your own well-being and your own needs in mind and not feel guilty if you need to do something that's different or may take extra time. When you're feeling your best, then you can perform your best and be your best.
Would figuring all that out also be a band discussion?
Absolutely. It brings you together as a band. So sometimes my bandmates will run out for coffee, for example, and they know that I'm dairy-free, and I love bliss balls or energy balls, so they'll come back with a soy cappuccino and a bliss ball rather than a latte and a donut, which would work for someone else.
What are some specific examples of options for nutritious eating that are easy to prepare, store, and eat in transit?
I really like hummus and rice crackers. Veggies, veggies, veggies as much as you can. Touring in a cold climate doesn't always lend itself to eating raw veggies. If you can, in the wintertime, if you are going to get a veggie plate or something from a grocery store en route, try to eat them at room temperature. It's a little bit easier for your body. Certainly nuts. Granola in the morning, that's awesome. Even hotels we'll stay at will sometimes have continental breakfast, and I know it's sometimes challenging to choose the oatmeal, but there's always oatmeal there, and usually fresh fruit so you can cut up the fruit and make your oatmeal. Stay away from [sugary] cereal and pancakes. Although sometimes an odd pancake here and there is good.
Too much sugar and you'll crash. When you're constantly stopping at different gas stations, it's really hard sometimes to say no to the sugar or to have less. I try to not say no, because as soon as you tell yourself no you want it more. So say yes, but keep a balance. Keep track of how much you're having. Same with fatty foods, fried foods. All of these things might fill your belly but they're actually taking away energy. Same with caffeine. I find if I have too much caffeine, the crash is actually worse than the tiredness I was trying to get rid of with it. And certainly alcohol, too. In our industry, there's a lot of alcohol. You have to be mindful of how much you can have, how much water you're drinking, how much time do you have to sleep—you know, to process the alcohol. These are all things to keep in balance.
What are some simple ways to get the exercise you need on the road?
I carry around a hacky sack in my backpack wherever I go, so when we're getting gas or something, or even if you're having to go to a fast-food place and you're waiting in line for your food, I can just pull out the hacky sack. It's kind of odd but it's also fun and it's right there and it's easy—just to get your legs moving, especially after all the sitting in the car.
There are a lot of yoga asanas and forward bends and really simple, easy postures you can do. Again, while waiting in line or waiting to get gas you can do these things pretty much anywhere, just to stretch out the legs, to move them.
I really like to wander. So, let's say you show up to a city, do your soundcheck, and have maybe a couple hours for supper and getting changed before the show. I'll set a little bit of time—even just 10-20 minutes, half an hour—to leave the venue and start walking in any direction. Pretty much all of us are carrying phones. We have maps, we're not going to get that lost. But just take a walk around. Walk around the venue, see if there's a park nearby and walk to the park. See if there's a grocery store nearby and walk to the store and get some snacks for after the gig. Especially if the gig is in a bar rather than a theater, so that you can have some healthier options when the bar's closing and nothing else is open.
What kind of activities help during a long drive where you’re stuck in the van?
There are quite a few meditations you can do. The easiest and simplest is just bringing awareness to your breath. So you need nothing. Just bring your awareness to your breath. That's the most basic and powerful in some ways. But nowadays, there are a lot of different podcasts and there are a lot of different meditation apps you can use. So, if you want to get away from your bandmates for a few hours or 45 minutes, pop in your headphones and take a guided visualization, or listen to a podcast—something that you're really interested in. I listen to a lot of podcasts on consciousness and creative visualization.
But also, I would say, then put your phone away or spend some time away from the screen. Phones and computers are awesome tools. I'm so thankful to have both of them in my life. But they can also become an energy drain, especially if you're just scrolling, scrolling, scrolling for hours and hours while you're on the bus, that can put a lot of mental stress on you. Then once you get mentally stressed, you're going to start holding it in different places in your body. So try to take some breaks from the screen.
Drinking lots of water, that's important. You're going to stop more [to use the restroom], which is also good because then you can stretch your legs. But it's super, super important to stay hydrated. Drink warm liquids. If you're traveling Canada in the winter, hot water [with] lemon honey and some cayenne pepper is extremely medicinal.
Let's say you're in the bus and you're longing to exercise. Well, you could do a creative visualization. So, you close your eyes and you imagine you're playing pickleball, which you love. Really get into it, and allow yourself to feel all the things that you love about pickleball. Everything. You feel it all. And you don't have to do this for a very long time—just a few minutes, up to 20 minutes. That fires some of the same neurons in your brain that actually playing pickleball fires. So, you're engaging in the exact same way that you would physically moving your body through these imaginative exercises. I know it's not exercising your body in the same way, but it's like a shortcut or trickery in some way, and I do think that there's something to that.
What about touring is most detrimental to mental health, and how can artists deal with those things?
Lack of sleep, lack of proper nutrients and proper meals, too much screen time—these all really affect my mental health, [and] if I don't have enough relaxation activities. For example, I love Sudoku. I can really zone out when I do Sudoku. So, I make sure to always have a little travel Sudoku book with me. Or even if I'm really into a book I'm reading—just something to relax.
There are adult coloring books out these days, which have mandalas, and those are really nice to relax the mind. You can also reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, [and] recreational drugs. At least be aware of how these things are affecting your overall energy—physically, mentally, emotionally. Sometimes I find I feel fine physically, I have energy, but I'm just feeling really down or really drained. And then I take a look: Oh, how much time have I spent on my phone today? When was the last time I spoke to one of my really good friends on the phone and got a really good charge of love and friendship? Those are really important things to keep in mind. But mental health, nutrition, and exercise—they all overlap. Your food is going to affect your sleep. Your exercise is going to affect how deeply you can get into meditation or how you can get into your groove on the stage.