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Don’t Forget the Forgetting Curve! (Part 1)

December, 2016

As a posture teacher, I am very aware of my students’ tendencies to forget the finer points of the Gokhale Method. The longer students wait between classes or refreshers, the more they’ve forgotten. Although there’s always room to improve our teaching methods, forgetting is and will always be a natural phenomenon that accompanies any kind of memory acquisition.


According to nineteenth century psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus and his theory of the Forgetting Curve, people have a steady rate at which they forget material over time. After learning new material, we forget the majority of what we have learned within 24 hours; we forget even more in the following days.

The Forgetting Curve shows how much information we lose, on average, hours, days, and weeks after a learning event.

Normally, discarding much of what we learn throughout the day is an important task for our brains. Most of our memories are useful for the short term, but are not needed by the next day: it’s not crucial to remember what you wore to work last week or what time you walked the dog. To handle all the information you receive throughout the day, your brain purges most of its active memories in order to focus on crucial information. But your brain doesn’t always know how to distinguish the unimportant stuff from important material you want to keep a hold on.


From this article in Learning Solution Magazine on the forgetting curve, we learn that in training programs, “research shows that, on average, students forget 70 percent of what is taught within 24 hours of the training experience.” 90 percent is forgotten within a week. But we also learn that there are ways to let our brains know which information is important, and which isn’t.


Getting ahead of the curve

One method of priming information for long-term memory is through better presentation of material, including using mnemonic devices. Scientists and teachers alike have often found that presenting information using tools like rhyming, patterns, spatial or kinetic cues, or in otherwise relatable ways aids it in being more easily remembered. For example, when teaching tall standing, Gokhale Method teachers use the mnemonic device “three, three, and three.” The symmetry of remembering the steps in threes is a cue that groups related steps into very digestible amounts of information. This technique also helps trigger physical memory, since the three steps always follow in order and move sequentially. Can you recall the three sets of three steps for tall standing, in the feet, lower, and upper body? (Answer: kidney bean feet, feet facing out, weight mainly on heels; soft knees, soft groin, behind behind; ribs tucked, shoulders rolled back, neck tall.)

Many of us learned the mnemonic device ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’ to remember the notes represented by lines on a music staff, and ‘FACE’ for the notes in the spaces.


Multi-channel learning or multimedia learning is another technique that often leads to better memory consolidation and recall. The redundancy principle teaches that presenting non-text images (like animations) at the same time as auditory text helps improve information absorption.

In the Gokhale Method Foundations Course, we present as much of our information as possible with accompanying images to demonstrate the concepts we discuss, and to link the auditory information with visual understanding. We are able to go further than is possible in most academic environments, and add in kinetic and social learning as well. The broad combination of input methods we take advantage of in the course—hands-on instruction, images of good and bad form, instructor demonstrations, repetitive practice, watching other students move and receive adjustment (which hones the eye), commenting on what we see and feel, using tools like a skeleton (sometimes) as well as posture aids like chairs and cushions, feeling our own bodies for physical cues, using anecdotes in addition to medical and historical support (to address the intellectual aspects of the course information)—creates a rich and layered foundation of knowledge to support comprehension and retention.


One reason this multi-channel learning is so powerful is the effect produced by associating newly learned information with previously stored information. This association enables and improves the process of moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory. When we connect something we learn to something we already know, we are actually building upon information retrieval pathways in our brains that we already have practice in accessing. This increases the likelihood that we will succeed in remembering this new information, because we can cue recall by accessing the previously stored information.

We love to take advantage of this association, both by providing the type of rich learning experience discussed above, which increases the chance that students can make personal connections between course info and fields they already have experience in, and by using familiar analogies to explain new concepts. When we talk about hip-hinging, we like to compare the movement to the drinking bird toy:

The drinking bird hinges at the hip without distorting his spine, just like we should! This image helps new students to understand the movement.

When we discuss stretchsitting, we often talk about hanging the back against the back support the way a picture hangs on the wall; in stretchlying on the back we liken our backs to a hammock that contacts the bed one segment at a time, lengthening all the while. Because these analogies are all based on memorable, simple images, they are very easy to both understand and to recall when a student returns to the subject to practice. They help trigger physical memory, because an association has been built between the physical and muscular sensation, and the already-stored image presented in the analogy.


In a future blog post, we will talk about a few more techniques that enable you to get a handle on the forgetting curve, and take charge of your own memory retention. We want you to get the most out of our offerings, so we continue to create tools and opportunities that help students engage with and  remember the techniques they learn.

Whether you have read the book, taken the course, or simply subscribe to this newsletter, what are some ways that help you remember to have good posture?

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One of the most potent motivations for combatting the forgetting curve is pain. Pain brings you back to the principles very quickly. Other than that, it's hearing other people talk about their pain that is directly tied to poor postural habits.

Pain is an amazing reminder designed by Nature. If we learn how to read it, it's a powerful tool and guide. If we just slap it away using interventions without pausing to understand it, we're losing opportunities. 

The method and it's insights have been a huge blessing in my life. One reinforcement for it in my life has been the regular practice of Aikido, which works by similar principles (and relies greatly on weekly and daily practice, to develop muscle memory and hard-wire techniques and posture). Given all this focus on repetition and time for better memory acquisition, then, I was confused as to why the foundations class I took packed three lessons into one weekend. It is surely counter-productive to what you're suggesting here, and did indeed make it hard to put what we learned into practice long enough to start building up memory. Thank you again for everything. Teaching posture will require all of us to teach uprightness in everything we do.

We've discovered many things about the course format over our years of teaching.

  1. There is no single perfect format. Different people learn in different ways and have different preferences. We do encourage students with extreme pain, incapacity, or unusual constraints to sign up for the one-on-one course, which can be scheduled with almost infinite flexibility. 
  2. No matter how we teach the course, follow up is necessary for retention. It is a tempting illusion to think that having a week to digest the material between classes will consolidate the material perfectly. Learning posture is like learning language - the learning is cyclic, and mastery doesn't happen one chunk at a time. In the weekly format, students do have more chances to practice, but they also face more distractions, and there's a longer time between "booster events." The weekend format is more intense and focused; the once-a-week format  is more leisurely. It's all extremely good.
  3. We've discovered three lessons in a day to be the maximum that gives good (there are no perfect!) results. 
  4. Our weekend intensive classes are more popular than our weekly classes. Constraints like whether students have to travel to take the course and can only leave home for a few days, and traffic and commute patterns play a role. I also suspect that people wish to limit the time and energy they will dedicate to this new undertaking / course. A weekend feels sufficiently contained, people are willing to accommodate that in their busy lives. So are we doing a bait and switch? I don't think so, because people discover posture to be an entirely different animal than they thought it was. Yes, it does require follow through, but no, it doesn't require heroic efforts and the payoff is so worth it in so many ways...
  5. Follow through can and should happen as part of your everyday activities, including exercise. Good posture alone does not a healthy body make. One needs to move / play /dance with healthy posture. Congratulations that you practice Aikido and that you've incorporated posture principles into your practice! In addition, showing up here and participating in the discussion is helpful too. Each person needs to find their own mix and we'll keep adding to the options available from our side...



I have read the book (and re-read parts of it all the time) and took two weekend workshops (in our case, you came to our country, longer courses are simply not available here).
What helps me remember?
I learned to pay attention to my body. And that reminds me to correct aspects of my posture. I check the position of my head regularly and bring my shoulders back a notch, check I'm sitting on my bones instead of my tail, etc.
Also, watching other people and noticing their bad posture is a reminder to me to check mine and correct.
I started practicing Qi Gong daily, a year and a half ago, and that helps as well, as I pay attention to my feet on the ground, to my knees, soft, to the back of the neck etc.

I remember you well! Glad you have found an activity you like that also reminds you of good posture. I remember you attending the course with a number of people you know, albeit mainly through a healthy living website - did we reach a threshold number of people in your community that you sometimes help each other keep posture on your radar?

Yes, you remember correctly :-) After the course, some of us did meet a few times to practice, and we continue to keep in touch through our website, where the discussion about posture is kept alive by recommendations about new videos, lectures etc. and by new questions.
I more or less recommend your materials to everyone I meet LOL - at home, I show them the book. Otherwise, I send them to your famous google-talk and to your website as a starting point :-)
Once you've "seen the light" you become a missionary LOL

BTW, breathing to the back and imagining expanding my rib cage at the back to the sides, are something I not only use every day but especially since I started learning to play the trumpet. It bypasses so many breathing mistakes...

Here's an article online in Quartz, February 28, 2018, by Nikhil Sonnad, on the forgetting curve.

You probably won’t remember this, but the “forgetting curve” theory explains why learning is hard