Friday, 25 April 2014

On 10:01 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    2 comments
[In my last blog I reviewed the 4 great teachers we can have when it comes to learning something new. Today I’m starting a new series of blogs on how to take advantage of teachers 3 and 4: personal practice and ‘real life’.]

When you decide to learn something new or change a habit, you need to experiment with and practice using the techniques and tools learned in class, before using them in ‘real life’ situations. 

Experimentation and practice allow you discover three crucial things: see how the techniques actually work when you’re on your own, discover how much you actually understood of their use and which bits are still unclear, and to own the techniques, start making them yours, adapting them to you and your life.

For example, many of my students come to me for lessons to learn how to improve their posture and general body-mind coordination. In each lesson we see how to maintain a comfortable upwards attitude – both stable and flexible – during their daily activities of sitting, standing, working at the computer, playing tennis, etc. The students who make the fastest progress are those who ‘do their homework’ so to speak: they play with the tools, techniques and concepts learnt in class, testing them, trying to prove or disprove them… and they arrive to their next lesson with new doubts, questions, complaints and discoveries. All this is wonderful fodder to propel their next set of discoveries in class.

The problem for most students, however is that they can’t find the time and space to practice. Once the day starts, it seems difficult to stop their daily chores and activities in order to give themselves a few minutes of formal practice… there always seems to be something else to do, one more issue to solve, and at the end of the day they’re too tired physically, mentally and emotionally to practice something that requires their full attention.

This seems to be a universal problem for a lot of people (yours truly included): it’s not that we’re lazy or that we lack the will or desire to change our habits… it’s just that it doesn’t seem possible to insert a new practice in the middle of our already hectic and overflowing days.

My personal solution to this problema has been to consciously create a space for practice using three simple parameters: safe place, safe time, and safe context.

The first and most important thing is to create this time-space-context for practice consciously, that is deliberately. It’s really no use to tell yourself, “Tomorrow I’ll practice when I find a free moment”. You need to know exactly when, where and what you’ll practice, so that you’re not leaving things up to chance.

Safe place: Choose a place to practice where you’ll privacy and you’ll be free of interruptions. The idea is that you feel free, safe and comfortable, without any fear that you’ll be seen and judged on your performance.

Safe time: You must schedule your practice time in advance. Best time is whenever you have the energy and privacy to practice for the amount of time you’re roping off. I have found that my best times are very early in the morning, since I tend to lose focus, energy and willpower as the day progresses and I’m sucked into the issues of daily living and working.

Safe context: Finally you need to know exactly what you’ll practice, and make it something that’s meaningful to you. The best tactic for this is to “dress the new in old clothes”, that is, practice your new coordination or your new idea in an activity you need to do anyway. This way you are keeping your commitment to practice, while at the same time silencing that nagging voice in your head that only wants to do ‘useful’ things and not waste time on ‘superfluous’ activities.

Allow me to give you an illustration. I have discovered that in my own case the bathroom in my house fits all the above paratmeters. It’s a safe place: as unorthodox as it may seem to practice stuff in the bathroom, it is a place where I’m alone and unseen, uninterrupted, and I have full-body mirror. It’s a safe time: every morning I prepare for my day in the bathroom (shower, get dressed, comb my hair, brush my teeth, etc.) which means two things, (1) I don’t need to carve out a special time for practice (it’s already happening every morning), and (2) all the activities I do in preparation for my day give me ample opportunities for practice.

For example, if I’m practicing not gripping my feet, I can think of the space between my toes while I shower, remembering that my toes begin halfway down my foot and releasing them from there to the very tips. Or if I’m playing with my coordination and investigating movement patterns and unnecessary tension in my arms, I can brush my teeth or comb my hair, or do any other precision activity with my non-dominant hand (although I do not recommend putting on mascara or eyeliner with your non-dominant hand if you’re in a hurry).

The important thing is not to determine if I am doing it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; what matters is that fact that every day I’m practicing this habit of ‘observing myself’ and being ‘mindful’ of my actions. Little by little, this self-observation habit starts to percolate to other times and activities, until I find myself naturally ‘practicing’ self-observation throughout my day.

To sum up, in order to make progress in what matters to us, we need to take the time, make the space, and create the context to practice it daily, if even for only a few minutes. It is this daily reminder of what really matters to us that will turn the new behavior or new way we want to do things into a habit. Only then will we start seeing real, lasting changes.

This week I invite you to find a time, space and context for your practice. Tell me about it in the comments box below. How or what do you do to practice the things that matter to you?

See you next week.



  1. This is great advice, Victoria. I also advise my students to find times to practice when they are on their own, something that they do every day, like feed the cat or brushing their teeth. I love how clearly you define the importance of this, as well as the factors to consider.
    And, as I mentioned on Facebook, I was also very struck by the phrase "comfortable upwards attitude" - that's a great way to describe what we're after in the Alexander Technique. Thank you - I'm sure I will be recycling that one!