For the past few years I've been studying tai-chi. If you're unfamiliar with tai-chi, it's basically kung-fu in slow-motion. The general idea is that by slowing down your motion, you have the time to explore every moment of a movement. Feel the balance of your weight, the roundness of your motion, the connection through your entire body.
For me, it was also about the exercise of just plain learning to slow down. I have a lot of interests. Software and electrical engineering, art, animation, guitar, flute, and martial arts, just to name a few. Learning to take that time to slow down and really be in the moment of what I am doing instead of rushing to the next shiny thing seemed like a very valuable lesson. In doing so, I learned more than I expected.
I've always liked to take ideas from one thing I'm studying and try to apply them to another thing I am studying. If nothing else, it helps give me a fresh perspective on both things and I imagine at least that this helps me learn more things faster.
Practicing music, it turns out, is very much like practicing tai-chi. It can be broken down the same way. Play through the piece at half or a quarter the tempo it should be played at for performance. Find the phrases in it and break it down into what you can easily memorize. In the opposite direction, using a metronome is sometimes an interesting exercise. I can use it to see just how smoothly I can move through a set; use it to try the set at various speeds and figure out where I start to lose the level of awareness I want.
There was more hiding in there though. After I'd been doing tai-chi for a while, I began applying the form to my method of playing itself. Taking a bow stance when playing guitar, I'm now using my hip or abdomen more to hold the guitar, relieving weight from the shoulder strap. This change lets me hold the instrument stable without using my hands as much so they are freed to just _play_ instead of play and hold the instrument. I've also started to think about form as I play. In a sense, I now play with my feet rather than my fingers. By keeping a strong connection through my body from the ground up through and out to my fingertips, I can the muscles of my legs, abdomen, sides, and upper arms to move around the fretboard far more quickly than I could before and for much longer periods of time. By keeping good form through my whole body I am no longer cramping and stressing joints needlessly. The same is true for flute. A good stance gives my better diaphragm control. A strong rounded form supporting the flute lets me move more freely and clasp it more lightly, freeing the body to resonate more fully. And as with tai-chi itself, by focusing on these things as I play slowly, then when I speed them up to perform them, they happen automatically. The improvements are really striking.
The same of course is true for drawing. I mentioned music first because it's a little easier to see the overlap. If, like me, you've read 'how to art' books, you'll recognize the statement "Draw with your arm not your wrist" echoed in some form or another in nearly every single book. They're right and what they are talking about is this same kind of use-your-whole-body motion. It takes some getting used to but it results in much greater fluidity and control.
If you've worked with 3D animation, here's an easy way to think of it: By default we tend to think in IK (Inverse kinematics) 'Move hand to table'. Tai-chi is basically learning to think in FK (forward kinematics). Shift weight on legs, rotate at waist, let reaching shoulder drop and opposing rise slightly. Extend through the arm, hand arrives at table. It _SOUNDS_ a lot more complex but the truth is, your brain is doing all of that internally anyhow because you have joint constraints and you don't want to topple over so your brain is computing a path based on feedback from sensory input and then making some quick calculations to keep everything going the way you want it. By retraining your body to move from the root to the end you are building greater trust with your body to get you where you want to go and that allows you more space to make the fine adjustments at the end of the chain to get the precise details you want.
For the past week I've been experimenting with drawing standing instead of sitting so that, like guitar and flute, I can use more of my body in my work. Regrettably my animation desk isn't quite tall enough for this to work. Work on a easel has been more successful. Going to have to see if I can make my desk taller.
I could go on about this quite a bit longer but I'll draw to a close with one last note about cross application. Taking breaks is good! In the past when I tried to learn or refine knowledge of something, the method I took was basically like cramming 'MUST LEARN ALL THING NOW!'. It isn't very effective. Taking the time to slow down and break things down and think about them in many different ways forms a much stronger set of neural paths. You are in effect, strengthening your root and that gives you much more power to draw from when you are applying what you are studying. Becoming more in tune with your body and using it more fully also seems to be a good way to reduce the odds of repetitive stress problems.