Doing Nothing Accelerates Learning

February 16, 2014

"Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING—absolute nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats…In or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all…”

~ Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame


When was the last time you gave yourself permission to mess around? It’s my contention that messing around is a lost art and that the ills of this world are perpetuated by an insistence that we need to keep busy. I’m embarrassed to say that my own “to do” list sits on the table right beside my placemat. Every time I sit down for a cup of tea or a meal it stares at me; a rebuke, that suggests there are better things to do than sit idle while sipping my afternoon tea. I know, I could move it over to my desk or at least turn it upside down so I don’t have to see all of the things I still have to get done before the end of the day but somehow it never occurs to me to do that.

A great analogy is of a person pouring water into a glass. Once the glass is full continued pouring is a waste; you have to drink the water in the glass before you can refill it. Our brains are much like the glass; when we input information it needs to be integrated and absorbed before more learning can occur. As a teacher I was well aware of the principle of integration. By June the kids were done—not only were they unable to absorb any more information, they would seem to regress to an earlier stage of development. As a novice teacher I’d be pulling my hair out trying to “fix” the problem but after a few years I realized that when they returned to school in September, with two months of rest and relaxation behind them, they were ready to fill up again; it wasn’t a problem that needed to be fixed it was part of a process that needed to be respected.

Moshe Feldenkrais felt that as a society we undervalue the art of doing nothing and that we don’t fully understand the importance of incubation time. In his wisdom, he built this concept into Awareness Through Movement® lessons by creating rests. It seems strange to many people when they first experience a Feldenkrais lesson that we would rest since we’re not exactly over exerting ourselves; but the fact is that when the brain is given time to absorb information, learning accelerates.

Having spent the better part of  20 years experiencing and teaching Awareness Through Movement I realize the value of rests. Slowly I’m learning that messing around doing nothing is a worthy activity.


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