On Practice : Are you practicing correctly?
Practice, in some form or the other, has always been an important part of each of our lives. Whether it is lessons in math, writing, sport, music, dance, art or running a business, teaching, therapy or even socialising. There is something to be said for the learning through experience and through consistent practice. When you practice, you get better
Yoga as an ancient science is based on experiential learning. The lessons are endless. The process is lifelong. Every teacher, guru and practitioner has one tip to offer – practice, practice, practice.
The sequences and series of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga are essentially based on learning through practice too. We practice the poses on our mats each day, work with our breath, count the vinyasa, find the right alignment for our bodies, train the mind to stay focussed, with an intention to get better. To progress. To improve our physical, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.
With time, as we practice the poses in sequence, muscle memory kicks in, and even if we are only attempting a mindless repetition of the sequence of asanas, we may experience flow states. The moment when being in the pose feels effortless, yet in control. There is stillness and stability yet dynamism within. We all have a-ha moments, the sudden and spontaneous feeling of being in the flow.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, considered one of the co-founders of positive psychology and a happiness researcher, described flow as
“a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”.
Most of us naturally tend towards flow states, which are more enjoyable, but make for substantially slower learning and growth. It took me a decade of trials, errors, insights, injuries and finally hitting a plateau – that made me delve deeper into the nature and mindset needed for a ‘good practice’.
Essentially, we want to be living in a flow state. But to achieve a state of conscious flow, requires training – that is where consistent and deliberate practice comes in. The correct practice is not a mindless repetition of the asana series, but an intentional activity of unwavering focus.
K Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who spent years studying expert performance across various fields, and researching how purposeful practice is the secret to improved learning and progress, laid out the key elements of an effective practice – coining the term “deliberate practice”.
Here are a few guidelines for establishing a deliberate practice which may be relevant for a yoga practitioner.
- Find the Edge of your Comfort Zone : Your practice is deliberate when you test the boundaries of your instincts and competence. When you challenge your abilities, ever so slightly. The place at the edge of your comfort zone, where the best and fastest learning happens. If you are bored, day dreaming or zoning out during practice sessions, you’re probably not practicing deliberately. On the other hand, if you make it too challenging, it may lead to anxiety or worse you’ll be unable to practice correctly, at which point you’re practicing making mistakes.
- Setting Intention, Intrinsic Motivation : Extrinsic motivation like a push to get to class from a teacher, competing with your peers, moving on to the next pose in the series, is what we need sometimes, but this is not effective in the long run. Instead set your own intention for the practice. This helps to deal better with the failures, injuries, roadblocks and obstacles that life throws in. Begin by making a list of reasons why you practice, or the benefits that you hope to gain. A clear intention helps to get back on the mat each day.
- Discipline and Commitment : Deliberate practice is a lifelong process. There is no short cut to long term commitment, no cheat code to discipline. In yoga, we call it cultivating ‘Tapas’ or self–discipline. It is the desire to learn, to grow. The willingness to do the work.
- Rest, Recovery & Spaced repetition : In the long run, consistency is critical, even if the practice sessions are short. Sometimes, less is more. When working on something new or challenging, spacing out the repetitions may help to build memory and reinforce the learnings better. Good sleep is vital. It gives the body and mind to consolidate the inputs and learning from the practice, moving them to the long-term memory.
- Experienced, Qualified and Trusted Teacher : Every practitioner needs a teacher. One who can show the correct techniques, point out errors, give feedback as well as the guidance and motivation to take you to the next level. Self-practice and self-study and observation are important, but practicing with a teacher for at least some of the time is incredibly valuable.
This review and redefining of the ‘how’ of the practice has been an encouraging revelation, and has made a whole lot of difference on how I think about practice today – why I practice and what I do when I step on the mat each day. It has also made my yoga practice more meaningful.
“Learning isn’t a way of reaching one’s potential but rather a way of developing it.” —Karl Anders Ericsson, Peak
About the Author
Mitushi Tiwari first stepped on to the mat at a friend’s Vinyasa yoga and Pilate’s studio by the beach, when she moved to Goa in 2009. She got introduced to the Mysore style of practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in 2015. Since then Ashtanga has been her main practice. She has done her 200 hr TTC in Hatha yoga, and is a yoga teacher and facilitator in Goa. She has been part of the Purple Valley team for the last two years. A management professional, digital marketer and a mom of an 8 year old monkster boy, she believes the practice of yoga is what brings her home to herself each time she steps on the mat. Yet beyond the mat, yoga is transformational. It is an opportunity to create the life we love to live, and to live the life we have with love.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with her on Instagram