In his book, “Outliers: the Story of Success,” Malcom Gladwell gives us many reasons why success is not purely based on intelligence, ambition and personality traits.  He argues that one’s surroundings, family, generation, upbringing and culture play a major role.

In the chapter, “The 10,000-Hour Rule,” Gladwell quotes neurologist Daniel Levitin’s assertion that “ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert…in anything” Gladwell refers to geniuses of our time including Mozart, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the Beatles, noting that they all mastered their amazing skills after a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice or study, and that without those 10,000 hours, they may never have achieved the heights they did.

Gladwell goes into much more detail about these hours and how they can only be achieved with special circumstances.  One small example: In 1968, Bill Gates, bored in public school, was transferred to Lakeside, an elite private school that happened to have a computer club.  This particular junior high computer club had a computer that used a more advanced system of coding in a time when most colleges didn’t even have computer clubs.   Bill Gates was presented with the opportunity to begin his 10,000 hours of computer programming and coding in eighth grade in 1968, when most young people his age hadn’t even seen a computer.

This was one of the many “special circumstances” that propelled Gates forward towards achieving his 10,000 hours.

This got me thinking about the application of this diligent practice towards the proper function of our nervous systems and neuro-pathways.  How much practice does the neuro-muscular system need to master proper joint function after years of improper joint function?  How long does it take for the nervous system to create a new and more beneficial habit to replace an old un-serving poor postural habit?

I tell students that breaking ourselves of improper habits takes time and diligence.  For centuries and for good reason, the yogis have taught and encouraged us to continue personal practice in our private spaces on and off of our yoga mats.  I encourage my students to incorporate what we work on in the studio into their daily lives.  A new habit will form with consistency and repetition.

I have read that it takes twenty-one days, thirty days, six weeks or more to break a behavioral pattern, a habit or addiction. I don’t claim to know the exactness of this statement, but it now sounds to me like it may take longer.  However, I do have first-hand experience working with a student who had her left side paralyzed after a traumatic spinal surgery.  She spends most of her time retraining her nervous system.  She has had to change the way that she perceives and feels movement.  Her brain has had to learn to function differently.  She has progressed beautifully over time by leaps and bounds, re-learning walking and re-learning the use of her hands and feet. It has been her priority to re-learn and re-structure her movement habits.  Because her practice is dedicated, she is surely close to logging her 10,000 hours of neuromuscular re-education!

Neuroplasticity is a non-specific neuroscience term referring to the ability of the brain and nervous system in all species to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment.[1] Plasticity occurs on a variety of levels, ranging from cellular changes involved in learning, to large-scale changes involved in cortical remapping in response to injury. The most widely recognized forms of plasticity are learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage. During most of the 20th century, the general consensus among neuroscientists was that brain structure is relatively immutable after a critical period during early childhood. This belief has been challenged by new findings, revealing that many aspects of the brain remain plastic even into adulthood. -Wikipedia

After reading “Outliers: The Story of Success,” and learning about the 10,000 hour rule, I view neuroplasticity also as a science of practice.  The brain will change and the body will master a new way of moving, but only with practice.  Most of us do yoga or Pilates once or twice a week, but upon heading out to our daily routines after leaving the watchful eye of our instructors, many of us cease to be aware of our bodies. But, we must apply our practice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!  (Yes, even while we sleep!  Propping ourselves with pillows and being aware of how we contort our bodies while we sleep is part of our practice). At some point after the 10,000 hours of determined and dedicated practice, we will discover that our body awareness becomes as much an unconscious part of us as breathing itself.

Many people recovering from injury, when beginning a new rehabilitation program, feel positive results quickly but then plateau for a while.  Frustrated, confused and impatient, they ask, “Why am I not progressing?”  “Why do I still have pain?”  “Shouldn’t I be much better?” Shouldn’t I be healed by now?”

Maybe, instead, it would be more helpful to reflect on this question:

“Have I logged my 10,000 hours of practice yet?”