Practice makes one perfect is an age old saying. How relevant it is even today. In fact, it is all the more relevant today because given the numerous options and “distractions” it has become so difficult to set aside time for regular practice. Without dedicated time and space, most people feel frustrated that they have gotten no where. This is applicable in all aspects of life including diet regimes, yogic practices, professional goals, education etc. When we resume something we loved to do, after a long gap, we feel so happy and elated. We all know intuitively that to progress significantly, consistent practice is important.
What does Cognitive Neuroscience say about this?
When we do something for the first time, there is significant cognitive load involved. With repeated practice, many things become automatic with a reduced cognitive load. The brain does not have to process so much when you repeat something for a long time. The first time you started driving, it seemed so complex right?. Brake, accelerator, rear-view, GPS ‑all at the same time. Wasn’t it complicated? Once you mastered driving, it seems to effortless now. You can now enjoy the music while driving. This is what repeated practice does. Neuroscience says that when we take up something new, it is like making a new decision. A lot of parameters need to be considered. Making the same decisions repeatedly (in the case of practice), the neural circuits get trained. Neural pathways are formed when we get a new skill and these deepen with repetition until it becomes natural for us. Such is the benefit of repeated practice!
What does Yoga Say?
Yogic sciences offer great insights into habit formation, practice and perfection. The samadhi pada of the Yogasutra of Patanjali precisely captures the meaning and significance of practice.
In Sanskrit and Hindi, practice is referred to as abhyasa
तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोऽभ्यासः
tatra sthitau yatno-‘bhyāsaḥ
While talking about blocking/controlling the vrittis through repeated practice, Maharishi Patanjali says to be completely fixed in the effort is abhyasa. It means that one is completely dedicated to that practice. What starts with effort becomes effortless with repeated practice.
Maharishi Patanjali further says:
स तु दीर्घकाल नैरन्तर्य सत्कारा असेवितो दृढभूमिः
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dr̥ḍhabhūmiḥ
It becomes firmly established when done with reverence for a long time without interruption. Here Maharishi Patanjali talks about three aspects of abhyasa. First he talks of “long duration”. Any new knowledge or skill becomes integrated only when practiced for a prolonged period of time. You might have heard of the 10,000 hour rule for perfecting anything (though many have defied this rule). Secondly, he talks about consistency and uninterrupted practice. Indian tradition pays a lot of importance to niyama and nithya karma which have to be done everyday without interruption. While in our fast paced world, we might find it difficult to imagine doing something everyday without a break, but don’t brush our teeth everyday? Without continuity, expediting progress can be difficult. Thirdly, he talks about reverence. Why is reverence given so much importance? In order to gain conviction, it is important that we have faith and respect the system and people who designed with system. With respect for the teacher, gaining knowledge becomes difficult and without respect for the system, engaging with it becomes impossible. Maharishi Patanjali has given great importance to consistent and uninterrupted practice with reverence for achieving perfection.
There is another interesting research that showed that people perceived it as “fasting” or “starving” depending on the enthusiasm and faith they had in the tradition.
So get enthusiastic, set a goal and happily work towards it. Today’s effort will soon become effortless tomorrow! How much time you take is purely in your hands!