I’ve called practice a “solitary endeavour” on more than one occasion on In Practice. One thing that I’ve seen come up in my guests, however, is how a community is present around them to inspire, motivate, and inform their practices.

In our first episode, guitarist and teacher Nick Tuttle said practice is “something you have to keep healthy like a plant. You have to give it different light and different things at different stages in its life.”

No matter how “solitary” each person’s practice is, their discipline takes them out into the world. When they come back to the shed, their practice reflects the spirit, lessons, and inspiration of their community. A good community is a place to find the tools, water, and fertilizer to nurture your practice “plant.”

Practice doesn’t always happen in the woodshed either. Band practices, team practices, group fitness classes, or going to a driving range with a friend are all times when we practice with others.

The woodshedding picture I have of someone working alone in a room with their head down is something I picked up from my music practice. After reflecting on that idea, I’ve begun to widen my perspective on the practice experience.

In those moments, I am alone, but not disconnected from the world outside. I might be preparing for a performance, getting myself ready to practice with my band, exploring a topic one of my students was curious about, or my friend did something cool on the guitar and I liked it so much I’m learning it myself. It’s easy to practice on your own, but once you’re in deep with a community, it’s almost impossible to practice in a vacuum.

The following examples from the show illustrate a few ways that community enriched the lives and practices of our guests and myself.

It’s just plain nice to be around people

The inherent joy in doing things with other people is a reason some practices are so consistent and thus, so successful.

In the third episode of In Practice, Jose Reyes recounted “a lot of the time I wouldn’t even want to train kung fu, but I would want to be around my sihings (classmates).”

Jose was training at City Wing Tsun seven days a week because he liked to be there. A natural consequence of being around the school so much was that his skill in the art flourished.

Just to show community’s importance to his practice, his pursuit of kung fu suffered when he lost that comradery. He described what is was like to keep up his kung fu practice after moving to Columbus from New York;

“I was pretty depressed about not having anyone to train with. One day not long after moving to Columbus, my son was with me and I was going to teach a class but no one showed up. I told him, ‘alright I guess we’ll leave’ and he said ‘why don’t you train by yourself? You’re here already.’”

Until his son pointed it out to him, Jose found practice and the community around his art as inseparable. After a time he found a way to relate to the art on his own. Because he did, his passion and skill in Wing Tsun continued to develop. This planted the seed for the community that’s growing around his own school in Columbus.

A community’s values help you to get the mental game down

In a lot of cases, a community’s value is in its prevailing mindset. A culture carries the right mindset can push people to achieve success in their practice.

In my interview with trainer Ben Rossi, he described how InMotion’s community developed a shared mindset in the practice of addressing their Parkinson’s disease. Ben, InMotion, and their clients believe in improvement and that improvement is possible.

“You have to teach people the art of the mental side of this, because if your mind’s not right, you’re not going to make anything happen in here. But if your mind’s right and you walk in through that door knowing ‘I’m going to get better today’.. if that’s the constant message your hearing, if that’s what’s said to you over and over, then that becomes hard-wired. The mentality side of this is the most important thing.”

On the other side of the wall from InMotion is Ben’s gym ATP Evolution. The right mindset is something that Ben worked into the fabric of its community.

Ben described the culture at ATP, “At ATP we ‘live it’, that’s always been our theme, we live it. ‘Live it’ to me means, it’s everything, you’re all in. You got to have this mentality here. You’ll see when you leave my gym, people tap on a sign on the wall that says ‘live it’. We have a mentality and we create that here.”

A community is full of potential collaborators

Being a part of community means you’re surrounded by potential collaborators. If you’ve never pictured yourself making something or taking on a creative, athletic, or business undertaking, you may find it hard to resist.

Nick Tuttle’s studio community was one of the greatest influences on me in becoming a musician. Through Nick and the studio, I met friends and eventual band members. The connections I made challenged me in ways that developed my practice in new and surprising directions.

Not long after I started taking lessons from Nick, he introduced me to Chris Groppe. Chris was another student of his who played saxophone. We hit it off and decided to get together and jam through some jazz standards. We found out we had a lot of musical interests in common and we started throwing ideas back and forth.

Before long we were forming a band, Your New French Friends (a new name now, which they change every show). We were working to combine several of our favorite genres, covering songs from hip hop, jam rock, and jazz with our own arrangements.

We met Luke and George, a drummer and a guitar player, through our friend Max. Guess where we met Max? I switched to bass to round out our lineup since George was and is an incredible guitarist.

Up until that point I’d never practiced to perform live, or practiced to play with other people. After meeting some people, I was playing a new instrument, writing arrangements, building a setlist, and playing with other people more than ever before. Connecting with new people and making something with them inspired tremendous growth in my practice.

It’s as big as life itself

This is a gigantic topic, and this article can only get someone thinking about how community can influence their practice. The more examples there are, the better someone can imagine how their practice might benefit. If you have an experience of how community influenced your practicing then please share in the comments below.