Effective musical practice requires a substantial amount of concentration and focus. The best practice sessions happen when we feel like we’ve gotten the most accomplished in the shortest amount of time possible and with minimal waste of energy, having enjoyed the process along the way.
Unfortunately, there’s a tendency that some of us have to keep pushing ourselves to work for long periods of time without taking any breaks; breaks can seem like a waste of time, especially when we’re in the middle of something we’re concentrating on intently. But in order to truly enjoy our best productivity, we really need to do everything we can to keep our energy levels high and our outlook positive over the entirety of our practice session; and we don’t want to use it all up by practicing so that we have none left to enjoy the rest of our life, too!
So it’s very important to arrange optimal conditions to help support us – both on the inside (our body-mind state), and on the outside (our environment).
Making sure our inner conditions are optimal for energized focus and efficient learning means that if we’re going to practice for longer than an hour, we really must plan ahead to take breaks – at least 10 minutes per hour. (No, I’m not kidding!!) Stopping our work and stepping away to think about something else entirely, and moving our bodies in different ways (or not at all), is essential to keep our mind-bodies up to the task of high-performance practicing.
So check the clock or set a timer, and commit before you start to taking a break within an hour of beginning your practice session.
Once it’s time for you to take a break, what’s the best way to use that time? Here are…
MY TOP 10 SUGGESTIONS FOR PRACTICE BREAKS:
#10 Find a friend and have a chat, preferably in person, face-to-face. Make it a positive conversation. (And make it clear that you only have ten minutes!) Having the opportunity to help someone is an added plus because it takes the focus off of you and makes you feel good, too.
#9 Eat a healthy snack, such as cut-up veggies, fruit, or yogurt. Avoid processed sugars! Mindfully enjoy every bite and every flavor.
#8 Notice your breathing without trying to alter it, as you walk around, rest, or do anything else. Just be grateful for your breath and for the air around you. Look up at the sky if you’re outside, and feel the ground beneath you. Let the air nourish you.
#7 Do some simple stretching, focusing especially on your legs and feet, by doing wall-slide squats (put your back to a wall and slide up and down slowly), and give yourself a foot/leg massage. This can be more effective than focusing on arms, hands, and fingers, which is what we usually do after using them a lot. The lower body needs attention.
#6 Drink a glass of water. Yes, water – NOT a water-substitute such as tea, coffee, or sugary drinks.
#5 Sing, hum, or whistle…and smile as you move around! (Unless you’re a singer, in which case you’ll probably want to rest your voice for awhile and just smile and think positive thoughts!)
#4 Do some full-body exercise, such as: jumping jacks, running in place, going up and down steps, or some simple yoga. Bouncing around on a physio-ball can be fun, too. Enjoy moving!
#3 Go outside and get some fresh air, even if it’s cold! (And don’t think about your work while you’re out there!)
#2 Enjoy Constructive Rest and practice The Art of Freedom. VERY IMPORTANT AND HELPFUL!! Read more here: Constructive Rest information. Optional: use “Miracle Balls” if you feel a lot of muscle soreness. (I sometimes offer a set of Miracle Balls to my students when I think they could really benefit from using them along with the Alexander Technique.) You can also listen to the 5-minute meditation I’ve posted here: Five Minutes of Freedom
#1 Celebrate what you’ve already accomplished today and focus on the good things with gratitude. Don’t think about what you didn’t like about your practice session. Find specific things that worked well, that you liked. Even if it was just one beautiful note, find something and celebrate!
Do you have other ways you like to re-energize during your practice breaks? Why not share them with us here? I’d love to hear your suggestions!
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