With a goal to have muscle release rather than tension become my habit, I often begin my practice with an exercise repeating whole hand release. I play a succession of resonant notes, completely taking my fingers off the keys in between each note.
The release then becomes part of the muscle training. I play with shorter and shorter whole hand releases, until, eventually, without a rest to release, the sensation of release is still there. I can then play consecutive notes without taking my fingers off the keys and continue to feel release as the dominant sensation.
In his Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard writes “…[a] task must monopolize all our attention and present a challenge commensurate with our abilities. If it is too difficult, tension sets in, followed by anxiety; too easy, and we relax and are soon bored.”
Ricard addresses one of the hardest things to be aware of (and admit!) through the retraining process: “…the task must…present a challenge commensurate with our abilities“. It is so difficult to reevaluate that level of commensurate challenge. Not only is my current level completely different from my pre-diagnosis ability but it is different moment to moment through the retraining process. The key is to tune into what is possible in that moment, to “agree to attend” over and over.
Title from William James The Principles of Psychology