What is a practice?

For musicians, practice is a way of life – a constant companion on our musical journey. Amongst creative colleagues, I’ve noticed the same obstacles and difficulties when it comes to practice. Whether it’s yoga, dance, hitting the gym, or meditation all cultivated practices seem to generate the same issues.

The first step towards smooth sailing is a clear understanding of what we’re engaging.

So: what exactly is a practice?

Practice – n. The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.

Practice is inherently a personal process.

A musician practices certain scales or patterns, or trains their listening in private. A dancer might practice foot positions, series of movements, or improvisation. A writer will wake up every morning and hit her writing desk for an hour, putting down on paper whatever comes into her head.

For performers, it’s important to distinguish between rehearsal and practice. A rehearsal is a preparation for a performance of some sort, whereas a practice is solitary, regular, and ongoing in your life.

Most of us have some sort of practice in our lives – perhaps artistic or express, perhaps fitness-oriented or recreational. Whatever your practice, it’s likely that, at some point in your journey, you’ve encountered some of these difficulties:

Lack of focus
Developing injury
Losing interest
Criticizing yourself
Developing bad habits
Wasting time
Lack of motivation
Feeling uninspired

Despite the oft-heard platitude, practice does not make perfect – it makes permanent! It’s important for us to be mindful of what we’re reinforcing through practice.

So, take some time to define your practice and create something that is both sustainable and full of personal growth. These questions were written to inspire balance, sustainability, and growth in your practice.

So let’s dig into them, and may your practice be lasting, nurturing, and fun!

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Question 1: What experience am I creating?

Remember – practice makes permanent. Whatever attitude and posture you bring to your practice session will remain with you through your session, into your day and into the rest of your life.

Perhaps you are creating an experience of intense passion through your music, or an experience of extraordinary peace through your yoga practice.

Whatever it is, the point is not to hyper-focus on one thing that never changes, but to be clear on what it is in this moment, today, for this practice session . Be clear with yourself, and set your intention for each individual practice session.

Question #2: How do I get my body ready for this?

Whatever you are about to do in your practice – whether it’s play the piano, make a painting, or sit still in focused meditation for 30 minutes – you want to allow yourself a certain amount of time to get your body on board.

This could be breathing techniques, body movement, or stretching. Before you begin to ask your body to perform for you, make sure it has what it needs to do it!

Answering this question might have you set the length of practice session, the time of day that you practice, where you practice, whether you’re on an empty or full stomach, and so on.

Question #3: Who or what inspires you?

You have your body all warmed up and now it is time to inspire yourself!

Who are artists and leaders who inspire you?

Listen to their sounds, look at their paintings, read their articles, etc. This time is free time, play time. After you’ve read someting great, or watched something great, begin to be free in your practice for just a little bit of time.

For instance, set a time for 10 minutes and freely move your body with no particular purpose, pick up your instrument and play along with the recording you just listened to. I like to call this ‘ awareness time .’ Awareness time lets you freely float and simply experience yourself in your practice.

Question #4: What am I emulating?

What is the skill set, style, people, or person who are the masters of your field of practice?  Who are you going to emulate?

This doesn’t have to be something that is set in stone either.  Sometimes you might emulate one person for a few months and then move on to somebody else who better represents the new skill sets you’re working on.

Whatever it is that you are up to, there is somebody who has mastered it, or mastered something similar – so learn from them and build upon their knowledge.

Question #5: What skills does that emulation require?

For musicians this means taking time to play with the musicians whom you love (live or on CD); for dancers, maybe it’s going to a particular class; for a meditator, try using someone else’s meditation guide.

To play guitar like Jimi Hendrix, dance like Michael Jackson, or think like the Dalai Lama there are particular skills that need to develop. What are they?

If you aren’t sure – seek the advice of an expert, a friend or a colleague. Keep a list of these skills written down; not as a to-do list, but as a ready provider of what to practice when you aren’t sure.

Question #6: What is the most basic skill that I can master right now?

You have that list of important skills from Question #5 right?

So now choose maybe 2 of them to focus on each day. Visualize them clearly and implement them.

The idea here is to master the skill starting with its most basic component, and working up progressively. Start slowly and simply, and always take your successes and your failures with a grain of salt.

Question #7: Who are my people?

Having a community is the best way to create a healthy and vibrant practice.

Solitary yoga is important, as are reading alone and dancing while nobody is watching – but it’s when there are relationships around your practice that it truly comes to life.  As often as works for you, take your practice into your community.

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