More Thoughts on Practice: The Group Experience

For those of you still debating the wisdom of taking a class, here are a few more thoughts on the subject.  I recently listened to a Radio Lab program called “Emergence” which provided several stories highlighting the power of the group.  From the behavior of insects to the production of brain waves, forces working together and synchronizing their activity can result in outcomes that would never be possible for each individual acting alone.  Examples presented were as diverse as groups of fireflies silently lighting up entire forests to ants selecting a queen or eliminating invaders from their space to the human brain deciding to have a cup of coffee.  In every case it took a “village” to bring about the desired outcome.  Interestingly, in each of these cases there was not necessarily a leader giving directions.  Just a seemingly simultaneous, perhaps instinctive decision to work together.

This concept can be extended to many things, of course, but in particular to taking classes.  Group behavior can be more powerful than each individual in the group.  Many people often tell me that they like to practice at home by themselves.  They read books or watch videos providing instructions about various disciplines and follow along on their own.  This is great and certainly has its place as part of an overall practice strategy.  But sometimes we really need the reinforcement that joining with other practitioners can provide.  This doesn’t mean that we agree with all of the others all of the time.  Or even that we behave in the same way as other members of the group.  It simply means that there is strength in numbers and it can be reassuring to have the support of others doing the same things you’re doing at the same time you’re doing it.

For me classes, or whatever other form of group practice one chooses, can provide discipline.  They help me to set aside a specific recurring time to incorporate my practice into my daily life.  The most important aspect of any practice is to actually do it.  The more one does it, the more it becomes a habit.  This doesn’t mean that it never changes.  But it does establish a regular pattern in our lives when we can focus on behavior that is important to our well-being.  The benefits received will then ripple out to all of the various groups in which we participate including families, friends and community.  None of us exists in a vacuum.  We all need to help each other.  This is just one more way we can do that.

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2 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Practice: The Group Experience

  1. I too prefer a class. It is an appointment that I keep. If you don’t go, people will ask where you’ve been, an opportunity to meet people who want to be fit too, no distractions, it is at a set time. When I am home, it is do easy to say I’ll do it in a little while. Problem is a little sometimes doesn’t come at least for me.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kristen. I think the social aspect of a class is another plus. There are times when practicing alone at home can have value, but as you point out, it’s easy to get distracted by other things. A class can also provide guidance, feedback and positive reinforcement – something a DVD or video can’t do. In some of my classes participants have formed a mini-community. We keep each other informed about other things of interest. The energy in a class can be a motivator, too. Sometimes I think “I just don’t feel like it today” or “Today I’m just going to take it easy.” But if on those days I simply show up, I often find that I will end up doing more than I planned simply because I become motivated by the environment. I often say that the hard part is getting out the door. Once you’re up you might as well just go. How often have we heard participants say “I didn’t want to come today, but I’m so glad I did. I feel so much better now.” Good to remember how frequently that happens.

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