So, I know I'm writing this on vacation where the most pressing decision we make each day is whether to hike, kayak, or swim, but I'm going to go ahead anyway and recommend that you practice twice a day. Here's why...
What I Learned from a Month-Long Tai Chi Intensive
After a month in England, practicing 10 hours a day at the Short Form Instructor Training this summer, I have a renewed appreciation for daily practice rhythm. At the training, there were three distinct types of training sessions we would go through each day. In the mornings, we would practice in our groups. Most of the day, from 10am to 5pm was reserved for class time with Bruce. In the evenings, we would be free to practice again, ideally training the pieces of what we did in class that day.
During class time, we would have ten or twenty minutes to practice each new thing that Bruce introduced. That's fine to get an initial hit of each piece, but that brief exposure isn't the same thing as locking it in to your system. You have to take it two steps further. First, you have to expand that twenty minutes into forty-five minutes or an hour in the evening sessions. Then, after you eat and sleep and feel rested, you have to revisit the same material in a lighter way the next morning, trying to let the new material flow into your regular morning practice.
In other words, if you look at the three pieces of each training day, you had integration of the previous day first thing in the morning, then new material during the bulk of the day, and finally a chance to really work on the new material in the evening.
To me, the clearest way to see how this rhythm worked was to watch people not follow it! When people would blow off the evening training session, you could tell that the material wasn't soaking into their system the next day. Likewise, if they worked hard on pieces in the morning session (which they should have done the night before), they didn't have enough energy to get the most of out class that day.
What I'm Learning Practicing Twice a Day on Vacation
Going on vacation and having the free time to test this out again, I'm even more convinced that you can learn a lot about your own practice rhythm by spreading out practice sessions throughout your day. The most surprising insight from the training was: the morning practice sessions were related more to the work I did the day before than they were to the two sessions following on the same day. In other words, Tuesday morning practice was the completion of the training I did on Monday, not the warm-up for the rest of the training I was about to do on Tuesday.
That was the bigger pattern I wanted to test on vacation and it seems to be working really well.
Of course, you realize what this means, right? It means that eating, sleeping, and letting things settle down is an important part of learning. Or in other words, rest and integration complete hard work. We tend to think of work as an on/off switch. We're either working hard or being lazy. The lesson here is that rest and integration are the real opposites of hard work and that hard work doesn't pay off until you've integrated it. Pretty cool.
The other cool thing about making this connection has been that now I feel like I'm in one long training session. I used to think "I practiced Monday, missed Tuesday, and Wednesday through Friday I did a little bit....I suck". Now, though, I think about chaining sessions of work, rest, and integration together and it gives the process much more continuity. You get out of an all-or-nothing mindset about your practice. To me, that seems to be much closer to making your practice a real part of the rest of your life.
What do you think? Leave me a comment below and tell me about your practice cycles. Thanks!