Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I was bidden by one of my biology prof.s (and yoga student) to watch my calculus professor closely; students always rave about him, but aren't able to say why he is such a good teacher. She wants me to tell her what it is about his methodology that is so compelling, what are his secrets.

I'm not sure I would have made the connection as quickly, if he didn't look so much like a younger version of Krishnamacharya with a handlebar moustache. However, this fellow teaches calculus as if it were yoga--more raja than asana--but still, the association was revelatory.
The class was perfectly silent, as we listened in rapt, albeit nervous, attention. I heard most of the yamas and niyamas in his introductory lecture--ahimsa, satya, svadhyaya, aparigraha, santosa, tapas--without them being named as such.

The simile is not so far-fetched, when you think about it. Both yoga and calculus are non-verbal languages, with rules about how to practice and not practice. Both require you to clear your mind, focus on the present and avoid distracting thoughts to get the greatest benefit. Both require non-attachment, so that you don't cling to expectations or obsessions and just let the pre-existing truths reveal themselves as you do the work.

He is old-school. He requested we not bring calculators to class, but just pencils, paper and our books. No fancy props required for him.

I put a big star next to one comment he made, because it still kind of blows my mind in its application to teaching yoga: "I have no expectations of you. If I have expectations, I can't teach you."

(Can you imagine the implications of that comment to all the yoga teachers out there with agendas and products to sell?)

At the end of the first day, he looked serenely around the room and said, "I look at all of you and I don't see one person I don't like. Whether you understand mathematics or not, I still like you. Whether you like mathematics or not, I still like you. But, I hope you like mathematics, because you are taking this class. See you next time."

...sounded like Namaste, to me.


christophertadhankins said...

wow, if I could stomach another mathematics class, this almost sounds like fun!

Y is for Yogini said...

that sounds exactly like Namaste. :) wonderful post.

lynette said...

Awesome quotation! Thanks for sharing.

Kristin said...

Maybe if I had had him as my Calculus instructor I wouldn't have had to take calculus twice.

Amazing wisdom there. Thank for posting.

Christina said...

"I have no expectations of you. If I have expectations, I can't teach you."

That quote has to be one of the most wonderful things I have ever heard a professor say.

I'll definitely show this to my classmates. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa V. said...

Since I know who this is, I will share that I have one of his quotes on my fridge at home, "you should be happy when you think."

This probably translates well to the yoga space, too. I know that entering the class-space makes me feel lighter and calmer in a way that feels a lot like happiness.

The Domestic Yogi said...

Wow, I love it. Good teachers are a gem. Sounds like namaste to me too :)

Kitty said...

haven't been by in such a long time, Brenda, but your last two posts are great. If ever I encountered a calculus teacher like yours, I might have been able to comprehend. As I teach my yoga classes, I will keep him and you in mind as I tell them, "If I have expectations, I can't teach you." Brilliant! Thanks for sharing.