Perfect Practice

Written by Larisa A. White

When I first began to study yoga, my teacher would demonstrate these impossible, precarious “asanas” (yoga poses), then tell us all to do the same.

She was, of course, completely out of her mind.

There was no way I could ever even attempt such things with out breaking my neck, or at the very least, falling on my nose, or on my ear, in a completely undignified manner. And fall, I did. Over and over. As my frustration mounted, she merely smiled at me and said: “That’s why we call it yoga PRACTICE.”

The point was not to get it perfectly, right away, nor was I expected to push myself to my breaking point, every practice session. The point was to simply get into a habit of practicing, a little bit (literally only 3-5 minutes per asana), every single day, until that asana magically became easy.

So I took the leap of faith. I started practicing, just a little bit, every single day. And much to my amazement and utter disbelief, one day, I could just do them!

How is that possible, you ask?  Well, we know from “Nap Time” that new knowledge and skills are transferred from short term, working memory into permanent, long-term memory while we sleep. But there is always a chance that it won’t get stored retrievably in long-term memory, at least not at first. So, we need to practice recalling those things until we establish a track record of recalling them and performing them perfectly, from memory (muscle memory or mental memory), every single time.

This does not mean that you wait until your teacher assigns a particular set of review problems, and then spend six hours cramming, but that you make a note-to-self any time you feel uneasy or uncertain about something you saw in class, or something you just did for homework. Then set yourself up for your own, personalized, Perfect Practice.

First, review the new material, or practice the skill for a few minutes, and check your work (or have someone check it for you) to be sure you are practicing correctly. Second, get a good night’s sleep. Then, wait at least 24-48 hours — long enough to be certain that the new learning is no longer in short-term/working memory — and check to see if you can recall the knowledge or perform the skill, correctly, without help. If so, you are good to go. If not, then review and rehearse the new material once more, and sleep on it again. Rinse and repeat.

A few iterations of this practice-sleep-practice cycle will enable you to recall the skills and information you need, quickly and easily, at the moment when you need them most — without the need for brain-numbing cram sessions, or last minute panic attacks.

* Copyright information for photos used in this post:

     “BlueAsana” is © Amwu |
     “RedAsana” is © Bliznetsov |
     “AsanAthon2” is by Diamond Mountain (, and is protected by a creative commons attribution license.