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What is a Practice?

Hello and happy new year! Are you, like me, pondering the question of which attributes and activities you would like to bring into your life, and which you are ready to let go of in 2017? My friend recently sent me a blog post entitled, 25 habits that psychologists have linked with happiness. Most everything the authors listed as sources for increased happiness resonated for me (ESPECIALLY #1 and #2 which are so pertinent to those of us over 50 studying music!) They refer to these habits as “practices,” because, as with the piano, we need to extend some consistent effort and attention to the routines and personality traits we wish to fold into our lives. A practice suggests continuity. In her book Better Than Before, author Gretchen Rubin reminds us that a practice is ongoing, without thought of a “finish line.”  We practice in order to keep growing and learning; To become who we want to be, and do what we truly value. People speak of a meditation practice, a yoga practice, or a spiritual practice because there is an inherent acknowledgment that it is open-ended, continuing to develop and deepen. We practice music, painting, dancing, cooking, sports, law, and medicine, understanding that we continuously study and progress with time and effort. (Though thankfully, artists and athletes can’t be sued for MALpractice!)

I am fascinated by the concept of practice, because it has been such a charged word for me in the past. As a young child it was a struggle for my parents and piano teachers to get me to practice the assigned pieces and exercises. I wanted to play Beatles songs, movie themes and ragtime, but the hours I spent on those genres didn’t count as legitimate “practice time.” I set out to become a piano teacher who would honor all time spent playing the piano as worthy, creative practice. I am currently writing a book called, Passion Practice, because I have been interested in exploring all of the elements that contribute to our ability to pull ourselves away from the multitude of demands on our lives, to get to our practice. What a gift it is to ourselves (and others!) to take the time and make the effort to learn something creative.

To help kickstart your year with consistent practice, I will be launching a Pledge To Play 10 Minutes A Day 30-day challenge, in a couple of weeks! Join us from January 15 – February 13, to practice at least 10 minutes each day. It doesn’t matter what you practice, as long as you get yourself to the bench every day. Research shows that short daily exposure to a skill is more effective than one long weekly practice session. And while we can’t expect to practice every day of our lives, hopefully this 30-day commitment will help you to make piano practice (or whatever your creative pursuit) a habit. Gretchen Rubin calls habits “the invisible architecture of daily life.” Rubin shows that while it takes will power to cultivate good habits, once we establish them we don’t have to rely so much on self-discipline.

When the Dalai Lama was famously asked what is the secret of happiness and living a meaningful life, he unhesitatingly replied, “Routines.”

During the 30 days I will be posting tips to help rejuvenate your practice routine! Until then, I hope you will embark upon another practice immediately: The practice of self-love. We need to practice treating ourselves with loving kindness everyday. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown asserts that we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Celebrate yourself today, sending love and gratitude to your body, your mind, heart and soul, your history, your pain and pleasures; because all of those things brought you to where you stand today, ready to greet a new year with love, hope and compassion. Please leave a comment about practice! What does it mean to you, and what do you like to practice best?

With love and music, Gaili


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