I trained for the first time in Berlin at the local Systema club and it reminded of something important.
I talk a lot about the importance of relaxation with respect to memorization, but I probably haven’t made it entirely clear why relaxing during the memorization process is so important.
It’s not just that it eases the mind during the time you spend on memorizing vocabulary.
Relaxation during the memorization process trains you to fall into that same state of relaxation during recall.
For example, I hadn’t been to Systema for four months. The last time was in Vancouver and in my native tongue.
Here in Berlin, however, the club is located in Kreuzberg.
Although I understand German very well, different accents can and do throw me off. It’s one of the reasons why a person should invest not only in an “official” dictionary, but also seek out slang dictionaries and dictionaries that discuss how people actually talk and the words they use. Everyday use is not always the same as what we find in the dictionary. All the more reason to know how to memorize vocabulary.
Above all, it can be hard to hear the words people are speaking at all clearly with the sounds of a dojo and bodies crashing into the ground enveloping the words.
Nonetheless, so trained am I in the art of relaxation, that even after months of not practicing, whenever an attack or moment of conflict came, I fell into that state of relaxed receptivity. This state allows practitioners of Systema to literally wrap around their attackers like water and eject them like a waves toss surfboards.
It’s the same state of relaxation I naturally fall into when trying to access words in my Memory Palaces. I never feel stressed out or strained because I have associated looking for words with calm and pleasant states.
This is a pleasant compounding effect, and one that gets better and better the more you practice. It also helps learners avoid the traps of perfectionism.
You can get started in a number of ways, but the ones I like best are:
1) Meditation (no guide needed here: just sit down on the floor or someplace and focus on your breathing. It’s not about thinking no thoughts, it’s about paying attention to the thoughts you think and seeing if you can’t make those thoughts about the present moment as things are happening rather than about the past or the future – which is what most of our thoughts tend to be).
2) Pendulum breathing. This involves “swinging” the breath like a pendulum. In brief, you breathe in, pause, breathe in once more and then breathe out, pause, breathe out again and repeat. It can be a bit dizzying in the beginning, but you’ll find that it brings you a very relaxed awareness that will associate pleasant feelings with the practice of memorization.
3) Progressive-muscle relaxation exercises. This involves laying down flat on your back and squeezing and holding each muscle one at a time before releasing them. I don’t know why this works, but by the time you’ve finished working from your feet to the top of your head, the sensation of relaxation is unbelievable.
In truth, I recommend a combination of all these three methods, not just one.