Practice as not just doing but making

Those practices which are engaged with labor, which are the result of a kind of labor, constitute a kind of making. Our practices are not only things that we do, our practices are things that we make, among those things being the world.

Ross Gay, Interview for Between the Covers

And, our practices are things that make us.

Reps (repetitions)

from Let’s Not Begin/ Maggie Smith

If I list everything I love

about the world, and if the list
is long and heavy enough,

I can lift it over and over—
repetitions, they’re called, reps—

to keep my heart on, to keep
the dirt off.

Reps is short for repetitions, or the number of times that you perform any given exercise in your workout. If a fitness instructor or an online training plan tells you to do 10 reps of a body-weight squat, that means you’ll repeat the exercise 10 times.

Each rep of an exercise puts your muscles through several positions, including a lengthening phase, a contraction phase and a shortening phase, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Most exercises are performed in a range of 8 to 12 reps total per set. This range is best for general increase in muscle strength and size (aka hypertrophy), according to the ACE.

On the other hand, to build muscular endurance, you’ll want to keep your reps high, between 20 to 30 repetitions, according to the ACE. Higher rep ranges are excellent for runners or cyclists who need to perform exercises for long periods of time without muscle fatigue.

Generally the amount of repetitions you perform should be inversely related to the weight you’re lifting, the ACE recommends. If you’re performing heavy squats, for instance, you may want to do just 6 reps. On the other hand, if you’re doing light hammer curls, you can go for 12 reps total.

Whether you’re training for hypertrophy or muscular endurance, you want to perform your reps to a point of muscular fatigue, which is when you feel too tired to do one more repetition with good form.

What is the Definition of Reps and Sets?

Thinking about this in relation to Maggie Smith’s poem, I like this idea of needing to do exercises that make us stronger in 2 different ways: 1. that make our hearts/capacity for delight bigger (expanding to include more) and 2. that fortify our ability to persist, endure, flourish for longer periods of time, despite our struggles, the recognition that we will all die someday, and the difficulties of living in a broken world.


from River Running
Rituals Routines Habits
(tankas 3-5)

Ritual. Routine.
What’s the difference between them?
Are habits mundane
always? Can’t they be sacred
sometimes—spiritual acts?

What is it they need
to be transformed? A doctrine?
Some theology?
Hymns about souls rejoicing
Kingdoms conquering reigning?

Chants about fathers
& sons? Uncomfortable pews?
Rising too early
on a Sunday morning? Yes.
Early mornings are sacred.

And the refusal
to stay in bed the act of
being upright and
alive outside by the gorge—
these are sacred practices.

from Practice! in Unofficial Student Transcripts

Why did I play the clarinet for so long? While many reasons come to mind, one that makes the most sense to me now involves my love of practice, repetition and the rituals of sitting alone in a room with a clarinet, a stand, a metronome and sheets of paper filled with notes, preferably sixteenth or thirty-second ones.


I always enjoyed practice more than any performance. Some players feel that the right performance can be religious. A deep and meaningful, almost transcendent, experience of connecting with the music and the audience. Not me. I always liked the private moments, when an intimate, almost sacred, connection with the notes, the music, and my instrument was created through repeated and habitual practice. Who finds transcendence through scales, played to the steady rhythm of a metronome? I did.

Practicing as Something that Saves You

without doing harm to anyone, including yourself

Sitting is dear to me because—at some quiet level, in certain years and moments—it’s certainly helped me not to want to top myself. People do a lot of things so as not to want to take a permanent rest from the slosh of existence’s anguish. A friend of mine, who grew up in between horrific foster homes says that skateboarding was the ONLY thing that kept him alive in those years. The ONLY thing. (He took drugs, of course, but he is clear that the skating saved him.)

This is what a practice is.

Of course, it involves building a set of skills, and eventually it can turn into some kind of accomplishment. One becomes very impressive on a skate ramp, or can make an oboe sing, or can cultivate flourishing plants in exhausted soil; one can cook as an elite sport or know the intricacies of Indian Classical Dance. But let’s be clear, a practice is something that (when you can manage to do it) may help you to pause wanting to top yourself, today, now, for a little while, and which—in itself and as its activity—doesn’t harm you either. 

Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont

The point of practicing, too, becomes with time more and more immaterial. (You start it, say… to reduce cholesterol; you keep going because you want to see the face of god.) Practicing shifts how you think about what matters. And the strengthening and steadying effect of practicing, too, is why those who would dominate you or your fellows always get straight on with diluting or forbidding the personal or shared cultural practices (including language), of whomever they’re trying to conquer or disassemble. 

Private Practice: Toward a Philosophy of Just Sitting/ Antonia Pont
Practice as an ongoing relationship

note: I’m trying, but can’t, resist the urge to mention that I really dislike the format and philosophy behind TEDtalks. But, when this one came up on my feed, I was drawn to the title and decided to watch it. I liked it, and I think it’s partly because the speaker seems to transcend the TED formula by being a good speaker who offers meaningful substance instead of empty soundbites. I think I was partly drawn in by her definition, early in the video, of practice as an ongoing and consistent relationship.