Practice

Practice vs. Duration Part 3

Today, I came across this article by Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon. I think it fits in perfectly with what I have been writing about in my last two posts. I hope that you will enjoy it and join me in putting it into practice.

The Key To Success Is Practice

by Naomi Simson

Dandapani and Naomi Simson

How fortunate I am to have met Dandapani (pictured) on several occasions and to have listened – and embraced what he shares about energy.

I am asked regularly – “tell me the ‘one’ thing that made you successful?” And most do not find my answer uplifting, which is simply “hard work and persistence.”

I pose the question – “Is living a good life the same as a happy life?” The relentless pursuit of happiness is in itself more likely to cause unhappiness.

Does success mean to live every day in happiness… or is success to live a good life? A life full of many human emotions that we experience – not just happiness — does that equate to a successful life?

I found Dandapani’s work insightful and uplifting as part of my relentless quest for understanding the ‘experience of happiness’ and well-being.

As a child my parents would say to me “practice makes perfect.” – And they were absolutely right. What we practice (over and over again) is how we create the neuro pathways in our brains – these pathways can be altered but it takes a great deal of conscious thought.

Dandapani shared:

  • “Practice does not have the ability to discriminate between constructive and destructive patterns.
  • “What ever you practice is what you become good at.
  • “It is a conscious choice about what you want to practice.
  • “There is a difference between the mind and awareness.
  • “Imagine your awareness is a ball of light – As an exercise to see how this works let your mind focus your awareness on a particular thing (the last wedding you attended) – that area of your mind lights up – when it lights up that area of your mind becomes conscious.
  • “Using your will power and your consciousness you can take your awareness to any area of the mind you want to – and you can hold it there for a period of time.

Where awareness goes energy flows

Four areas of focus

1. Learn to Concentrate:

  • Concentration is the ability to keep your awareness on one thing for a prolonged period of time.
  • The more you practice concentration the better you get at it
  • The power of observation is a natural by product of the ability to concentrate
  • The best way to improve your concentration is to practice every day – integrate it into your daily life.
  • (May I suggest you put away your smart phone whilst you practice concentration – and turn off your emails and facebook alerts)

2. Developing your Will:

  • The ‘Will’ has to be cultivated, the more we use your will the stronger it becomes
  • Ways to develop your Will Power:
  1. Finish those things you start (do you finish the sleeping process by making your bed?)
  2. Finish tasks well beyond expectations
  3. Do a little more than you think that you are able to do

3. The art of a balanced life:

“A balanced life is about managing your energy. A balanced life is when we are able to consciously direct awareness in turn energy, in a proportionate way to all the people and things in our life that matter to us.

4. Courage:

It takes tremendous courage, will and self-compassion to break habits. To challenge yourself to live a different way.

Life is energy – harness it and direct it to the ones that you love and what matters most in your life and to the things that are fulfilling to you.

By wisely discriminating where your energy flows we channel it to the people and things that uplift us. We can remain respectfully detached from others.

The key to success is practice –

               all success comes from within.

As I say “If it is meant to be it is up to me.” – I have the power to determine where my energy flows – and as such practice leads to success.

(If you have a chance to attend one of Dandapani’s session – absolutely do.)

Note: The above article, The Key To Success Is Practice, was written by Naomi Simson.

Practice vs. Duration Part 2

Continued from Part 1…

We have all heard the saying: Practice makes perfect. I have heard myself say it too. A few years ago, Simon, my brother-in-law, who is a life long soccer player and coach, quoted Vince Lombardi:

“Practice does not make perfect.

Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

~Vince Lombardi

Of course it does! So why do so many parents continue to force their children to practice for extended periods of time? Pushing our kids or yourself, through dragged out practice sessions will not automatically an expert make. Regardless of duration, the focus should be on practicing with precision and accuracy for any amount of time. Here is a great article about just this. Click this link to read it in its entirety. The article discusses the benefits of practice outside of sport, music or theatrical pursuits. How practice in everything we do has its place. This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked and definitely rarely practiced. 🙂

“Just remember not to stop as soon as you – or your charges – know how to do it right. The goal in these vital skill areas is not mere proficiency but excellence. The value of your practice, therefore, becomes more intense as you get better at the activity.”

“A critical goal of practice, then, should be ensuring that participants encode success – that they practice getting it right – whatever ‘it’ might be,” the authors stress.

They suggest you want your participants to complete the fastest possible right version of the activity.

Take the example of a youngster learning to hit a baseball in the backyard as her father feeds her slow pitches. It may seem to make more sense to take her to a batting cage where she faces hundreds of 60 mile-per-hour pitches, but that doesn’t allow her to apply the small corrections to her form that is needed to improve. Instead, eliminate complexity until you start to see mastery, and then start building the extras back in.

The law of the vital few – 80 per cent of results come from 20 per cent of our activity – should be applied to practice, they say.

~Harvey Schachter paraphrasing from Practice Perfect by, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi.

Over the last few years, my husband and I have been experimenting with the duration of our kids’ practice time for their music lessons. It used to be our rule that they HAD to practice piano (or whatever their chosen instrument was to study) for a minimum of thirty minutes each day. But, because we were met with so much resistance (it often took thirty minutes of cajoling or arguing to even get the practice time started) that it became such an unpleasant situation overall. Who wants that kind of energy in his/her life? So we had to rethink the entire process and come up with a solution.

Our solution was to shorten the practice time.

Drum Kit

It seemed too simple and it felt wrong. And part of me was unconfident that any real long term learning would take place because it had been drilled into me that practice meant time and time meant success.

But because I have been experimenting with shorter duration activities for myself, (bed stretches, Tabata’s, 4 minute mornings, short bursts of house cleaning etc.), I speculated that the same theory could apply to the kids lessons and possibly everything!

Now, what you must remember is that we are talking about kids and kids are not very different from adults. Kids in fact, grow up and in most cases mature into adults. So, logically, the training for a mature adult begins at birth (this is often overlooked, too). Most kids, from my experience, do not like being told what to do, and interestingly I have also noticed the same characteristic among adults. Just because they have chosen said extra-curricular activity does not always indicate that they will want to do or practice said activity. Most often kids want to do what they want to do, which now-a-days has more to do with external stimulation via computer screens and less and less to do with self-generated imagination and creativity.

So this is what we did. We sat down with the kids and reviewed how our current approach wasn’t working out very well and that we had come up with an idea that we would like to try.  Our son likes to play video games (and is very skilled for his age), so in an effort to make everyone happy we have allotted him one hour of screen time per day, (dare I say) on school days; on weekends he gets more time; and in the summer months we experiment with allowing the kids to self-regulate (ha!). During the week, he can use that hour however he likes, i.e., all at once or he can break it up. This is what he usually chooses to do:

When our son wakes up in the morning, he goes through his checklist of personal obligations (on his own):

  • Bed stretches (his version)
  • Personal grooming: brush teeth, wash face etc. (remembers to flush toilet, keeps his sink area tidy etc.)
  • Makes his bed
  • Gets dressed
  • Good-morning greetings
  • 10 minutes drum-kit practice (Sept.– June/ Monday to Friday)
  • 15 minutes video games/ screen time
  • Breakfast
  • Packs up school bag
  • (Sometimes another 5 – 15 minutes video games/ screen time)
  • Clean/brush teeth from breakfast food
  • Leave for school

Five days a week he practices his drum-kit for 10 minutes and once per week has a thirty-minute private lesson; and never practices on the weekends! The results have been remarkable. OK, he is a talented kid, and he really gets the concept that if you’re going to bother doing something-then try to do it right the first time. So for those ten minutes he practices with accuracy and precision.

If you are going to bother spending any amount of time doing something, doesn’t it make sense to be as focused as possible?

Yet, in the same breath, he is still a kid and even though we think he has the makings of a great musician, we do not want to break his spirit by forcing him to practice, even though we know he might grow up to appreciate having studied an instrument outside of school. We have learned that what motivates one child does not work for another, so we practice working with their individual personalities – what a concept! 🙂

Puppy

We think of our kids a little bit like dogs. When we were learning to train our puppies, we were taught that the puppy, being a pack animal, had to know that the human was the alpha. But what was equally important to understand was that using force to discipline a puppy will only cause fear, and break the puppy’s spirit. We wanted brave, good-natured and confident dogs not submissive dogs. Our job as dog owners is to learn how to communicate with our pet. We think the same thing can happen to humans. We want our children to grow up into contributing members of society who are confident and can think for themselves. The training for such an adult begins at the beginning. We need to learn how to communicate with our children and teach them how to make decisions, not control them.

How many adults do you know who were forced to practice an instrument that they disliked as a child/teen, excelled at it, but discontinued playing it? I know of many who played at very high levels but lacked the passion; they played mechanically and tell sad stories of the instrument that they had really wanted to play but weren’t allowed. Just as it is true that kids do not always know what is good for them and parents need to make executive decisions, like if you start something then you should finish it (you can quit after you finish the term), and you should do your best, you don’t have to be THE best. We think that giving our kids the opportunity to be consistent with their shorter practice time sets the tone for their individual success. It also maps out the potential for a successful and varied adult life.

Practice vs. Duration

If I don’t like doing something,

 generally, it means that I’m not very good at it.

Backstroke

When we are not good at doing something, generally, it means that it doesn’t come naturally and so it is much easier to push it aside and focus on what does. In my opinion, the only way to get good at something, or to be able to perform better at something is to practice. Is practice synonymous with time? I don’t think so. But, to explain this we need to talk about two elements: 1) being consistent 2) correct information.

Pool Lap Lane

I immersed myself into swimming about five years ago. Sure, I could swim to save my life, but I didn’t know how to perform any of the strokes with much proficiency or accuracy. The bottom line is that I didn’t know what I was doing at all; so I took lessons. I didn’t really like doing backstroke, and when I heard my internal dialogue say so, I knew that I would have to work on it (meaning practice) to change my opinion of that stroke. It didn’t and doesn’t mean that I have to spend a lot of time doing it, but rather, when I do practice, I practice with my whole being. I dissect the mechanics of the movement to understand what it is that I don’t like about it. Now I like it, because I can do it, because I understand it – because, I understand what I need to do. But, to be clear, being able to do something well doesn’t automatically make it easy to do. In fact, each time I revisit the backstroke (or any stroke for that matter), I focus on the precision of each micro-movement, which makes up the whole and I continue to break it down, which makes it more challenging. This is why my practice sessions are relatively short, because they are intense. Now at the time of posting this, I can barely recall having any dislike for backstroke anymore…like water under the bridge.

“Practice, practice, practice.” ~Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Many people still believe that in order to become an expert at something, one must make an investment of nearly ten thousand hours worth of practice. This is a very popular held belief; it is not one of mine. This may sound like a contradiction but actually there is a distinction within this concept. Yes, I agree in practice, it is at the core of my being. What I disagree with is the statement of time. Duration or the amount of time spent practicing is meaningless. You can sit and practice for hours or years and still be mediocre at the thing you are practicing. Breaking down your body with hours of intense practice does not an expert make! Especially if that practice is done incorrectly. Intellectually, however, you may have become an expert in its theory. But, we all know that it is the application of theory, which is the goal. In other words, book knowledge vs. experience; a balance of both is ideal.

Sonia Simone writes: “I recently heard Yo-Yo Ma giving an interview about how he got started as a cellist. As it happens, Yo-Yo’s parents are both musicians, and had high musical expectations for their little son. So when Yo-Yo was three, they gave the boy a violin.

And Yo-Yo hated it. Wouldn’t practice. Wouldn’t focus. Didn’t have any zest for it. His frustrated parents finally gave up in disgust.

And then little Yo-Yo saw and heard something amazing, something that surprised and delighted him. Something that he knew was exactly what he wanted to play. It was a double bass — the violin’s really, really big brother. Now that was more like it.

He and his parents split the size difference, and Ma began to study first the viola and then settled (at four years old) on the cello. By seven he was a recognized prodigy, performing for Eisenhower and JFK, and by eight he played on national television, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

To have become so skilled between the ages of four and seven, he must have put in untold hours of practice. But they were hours spent on something he adored.

~ by Sonia Simone

Watch Karen X. Cheng. She wanted to learn how to dance in one year. You can too. You can learn anything if you set your mind to it. I have done it; I taught myself how to swim (I haven’t had a lesson in three years or so, but I keep on practicing, refining and researching. I taught myself how to do a Freestyle Flip Turn via GoSwim.tv and I continue to refine it. But don’t think that you need 10,000 hours to accomplish anything worth while. What you need is the WANT, the DESIRE and the WILL. And from that WANT comes the discipline to be consistent with practice. Just don’t kid yourself though, the practice has to be great! Practice with precision. Do it right, then practice again the next day and the day after that.

Read this: How To Become More Unstoppable Every Day

There is so very much to say on this subject; check back for Part 2…

In the meantime: Keep Learning. Be Consistent. Be Healthy. Be Happy. Smile.

Navasana into Handstand

Navasana

I practice physical (Hatha) Yoga

and mental (Raja) Yoga.

I am not sure it is possible to do one without the other; just as we cannot inhale without exhaling – they go together. However, as we all know, there are different levels of practice to any art or science. Similarly, it is possible to be breathing every waking moment of the day and yet by days end be completely unaware of having experienced the incredible life giving exchange of oxygen.

“When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.”

-From the Introduction The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is subjective and in Western culture this is very much the case. No one can define for another what Yoga should be. Once we choose to practice anything, we make it our own.

We can choose to simply go through the motions and be done with our practice, whatever that may be (Yoga, running, swimming, Tai Chi, etc.), and check it off our master list of things to do for the day, or we can choose to practice with intention, focus and purpose. It takes the same amount of time to do either and no more effort. It comes down to choice.

My Yoga practice over the last eighteen years has had its own evolution; years of intense continuous practice to some years with very little to none at all. There were moments when my ego subconsciously struggled with attaining physical goals to moments like right now where I feel deeply satisfied in practicing without a goal. The practice is the practice – just as I am beginning to understand, to really understand that there is only now.

It is definitely an interesting state of mind to observe oneself; like a spectator to my own thoughts and to my own physical practice. With this in mind I am sharing a video that I put together as an example of what practice can do.

I began filming myself as a tool to analyze my alignment. At the same time I realized that there aren’t many videos out there that actually show, through the progression of time, how we can improve with consistent practice. We often see photographs of the final product, or experts demonstrating the final product, which is important, but I think it is equally important for beginners to see that regardless of ability, we all have to start at the very beginning – our own beginning.

This video shows what 12 weeks of practice looks like (bloopers and all).

At this point, I would like to bridge the idea of practice with time. In this video I am demonstrating my attempts at doing Navasana (boat) into Handstand, which is the thirteenth posture in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. I get to Navasana by the fifty-minute mark and only spend about three to four minutes on this particular sequence. I proved to myself what an impact short duration practice can have. I only spent three to four minutes, two to three times per week on this.

But in the same breath, achieving the physical is actually unimportant. I realize this may come across as a contradiction, and I am fully aware of this, but I think that this is what makes it such an interesting state of mind. An important element of the physical and mental Yoga practice is about confronting one’s ambition and learning to manage it.

“Real yoga is what you can’t see. It’s invisible.”

-David Williams

I filmed this after about a year of an on-again regular home-based Ashtanga Yoga practice, which included Surya Namaskara A & B, the Standing Series, the first twelve seated postures, three backbends followed by the closing sequence, practiced two to three times per week. (A total of forty-five minutes for each practice session).

I did very few jump through or jump back vinyasa because doing them in previous years seemed to cause irritation (in hindsight, I realize now that because I was out of balance I would unknowingly compensate at my shoulders or neck or back etc.), so I made the executive decision to leave those vinyasa out and see what would happen.

July 2012, I felt that it was time to add on. The thirteenth posture in the series is Navasana. From all my years of practice I never attempted the handstand, which is part of that progression. I would always just do a seated lift, and carry on, which was typically taught in classes and I was not told to do the handstand by my teacher in Mysore class. Since I was reviewing and studying from John Scott’s manual, I took it as a sign that I should attempt it. Again, this felt like walking the tight rope of ambition…

Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, the student should not proceed with postures until the preceding postures are attained with adequate proficiency. This makes perfect sense to me. In previous years though, when I would go to classes, students of all levels would be herded through the entire primary series regardless of ability. I decided I wouldn’t do this anymore. There is a reason for practicing the same thing over and over again until the body and mind is ready to add on. Western culture, tends to override theory with the customer is always right and wanting a perceived moneys-worth-of-a-workout. It is OK to proceed at a snail’s pace because being able to contort oneself into a pose doesn’t mean anything without Raja Yoga.

“Real yoga lives in everyday interactions, like being nice.

It’s the unity we can create around us.

If it were just about gymnastics, then Olympic medalists would be swamis and gurus. “

– David Swenson

In the video you will see that at the beginning I couldn’t even do a handstand to gradually understanding the transition from the seated lift attempting to pivot into the handstand. Now, hold on a second. I feel like I should clarify something. Yes, of course I could do a handstand in a gymnastics kind of way. But doing a handstand in a Yogic state of mind is very different. Try it sometime.

But what is important for me to share is that it is the process of practice that is the goal, not the goal of attaining the pose or sequence. I may never be able to move seemlessly from Navasana to Handstand, but that really doesn’t matter to me. If we truly understand what practice means, then we understand that a pose is never attained, no matter how beautiful of an image we see of one, because it continues to grow and transform with each practice.

We age. Life happens. We change. We grow.

And naturally so does everything we do.

Our body shifts and changes so much with every day as does our mind (from thoughts and experiences) that each day when we practice we are completely different from the previous day.

To me, this type of physical Yoga, is an incredibly thorough system of physical therapy, which makes its ancient beginnings so remarkable. As we progress through the system, if we take care and not rush through with ambition, our body will become innately prepared for the next posture. But this takes time and practice.

“Practice, and all is coming.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Practice without ambition. Practice with focus and with a desire to learn with each breath. Practice being in the moment and not thinking about what comes next.

;

You will notice that I have sped up the video in some areas; however, I have not slowed it down at all. Shortening twelve weeks of practice (approximately 144 minutes of total practice time into a 5minute video has its challenges).

As an aside, I just wanted to explain that most of the seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga are only held for five breaths, which amounts to approximately one minute each. In the big picture, this does not seem like a lot of time. But when you practice regularly, then you will know that when we focus our attention on a task, a lot can happen in one minute; this is more profound than spending more time without focus. It makes a difference and it this which contributes to change.

I will talk more about focused practice vs. duration next time.

Practice Makes

Best 7min. 1-mile time

No “thing” just happens.

Everything takes practice. The Dalai Lama talks about practicing compassion. The key word is practice. It takes practice to be compassionate just like it takes practice to be able to run a 7-minute mile or to be punctual. Nothing just happens. And the list goes on. Life is about practicing, not always about perfecting. Learn new things and practice them forever. I don’t believe in mastery. There is always room to grow and more details to find, we are all eternal students. And so this is why I word my new learning in this way.

This year I’ve learned:

  • How to practice a freestyle flip turn
  • How to practice being compassionate
  • How to practice taking photographs
  • How to practice living in the moment
  • How to practice uploading photographs to Flickr
  • How to practice editing photographs
  • How to practice eating healthy food all the time
  • How to practice making a lot of different food at the same time for my family’s needs and health
  • And so on…

Want to Try?

Choose ONE thing you would like to improve or better yet something you have always wanted to do but held yourself back because of an excuse (valid or not!). Choose just one thing – maybe the first thing that pops to mind. Now make a commitment to practicing it consistently. You don’t have to sign anything or make a public declaration; it’s your word, your honour.

The “thing” you choose might have to be practiced every hour on the hour. It might be more often, like every time you open your mouth (?!), or once per week.

Every “thing” takes practice.

I’ve been practicing to be compassionate to everything. Even mosquitoes. I have made a conscious effort to assist any insect that happens into my house, back to the great outdoors (where I think they’d rather be anyways).

 Here’s how I did it:

  • First, I enlisted my husband to catch the insect and gently put it outside.
  • When he wasn’t around I’d have to build up the courage to approach the insect on my own.
  • With practice and experience I became less fearful and more comfortable with the task.
  • I found myself spending many minutes in a dance of catch the insect, often letting more in house in the process.

Now, I know I have reached a state of compassion for all bugs. I look at them with fascination, curiosity and kindness. They have as much right to life as do I. As a result I have found one of my pleasures is to photograph insects. Who knew this could happen? All because I decided to practice compassion.

Lady Bug

Friendly Flyer Insect

Injured Dragonfly

Spider

It takes practice to wake up a few minutes earlier every morning to practice my bed stretches. It takes practice to time my meals so that I am well fueled and adequately digested in order to practice my body maintenance exercises.

There is nothing special about me which enables me to run a 7-minute mile, to do a freestyle flip turn or take the time to relocate an insect to the great outdoors. All I’ve done is learned how to apply this magical element that is within each and every one of us, but has taken on an out-of-this-world status.

PRACTICE.

And it’s not that practice makes perfect. I’m not after perfect. “Perfect is a moving target.” Practice Makes. That’s it.

As my husband says: “It’s all about Discipline. And sure it’s Simple, but its only Easy if you Practice.

When we practice and focus our energy on something meaningful it seems like amazing things happen. But those amazing things are actually just run of the mill kind of things. Ask anyone who looks as though they are doing AMAZING things. They’ll just nod and shrug it off; to them its just a natural part of living – simply, who they are and what they do.