Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Can Stand the Rain (but Ann Peebles is still awesome)...

Ah, perspective. We can always use more, right? The Big Picture. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Yoga for Cynics had a couple of lovely posts last week from the thin air above the tree line about how geology clears the mind, and they inspired me this week. Yoga, mountains, ocean, parenthood, death--the Big Things help you deal with the little things. I'd like to add to the list: Weather.

A couple of times this month, I've had to grin and bear it in less-than-ideal conditions. It's been very freeing. I participated in a triathlon three weeks ago in the rain (partially pouring, partially misting), which is not my first choice for two hours of heavy exertion. But that's sort of the beauty of an outdoor race--you do your thing no matter what is coming down on your head (except, of course, lightening). Once you accept that you are just one small person being pounded by water from the heavens, rather than running for shelter or warmth, it's sort of interesting.

It's the same for snow or heat or wind. When you stop fretting about discomfort or inconvenience, it's kind of fun. And obviously you can't do anything about it, so there's no point in getting worked up about it. It gives you perspective.

Which is why I love yoga outside. We did it last weekend by the river. The wind topples your Vrksasana; the ground is too bumpy for a graceful Parsvakonasana; you have to squint while you salute the sun. You are forced out of your patterns and have to adapt--as a result, you get to see a lot things in a new light. And you get fall color. Of course, I'm not advocating anything crazy or dangerous, but, in past Februaries, I've had a lovely, blissful 15 minutes doing Supta Baddha Konasana in the snow.

As the Midwest marches resolutely towards winter, this attitude change is invaluable. When the going gets rough, take yourself outside: get rained on, blown at, soak up the sun. Don't let the little people get you down...but do Bundle Up!

[GTTSB Redux: Nicole, at All Things Healing, has asked to republish some old posts on their site. I figured, why not, let some dear friends see the light again...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oversight, Undersight...Who's Watching?

I was bidden by the ever-watchful Roseanne at it's all yoga baby, to think about yoga teacher training standards, so I am. I had hoped her post would generate more discussion--I guess it can't all be naked yoginis--but stayed tuned for her follow-up. I'm sure it will be full of interesting things to think about.

So, My Two Cents.

What strikes me about most of the yoga teacher trainings floating around, both completely legitimate and less so, is the limited oversight. I am steeped in the culture of educating (high school) educators, right now, and much of the discussion revolves around setting standards and then making sure they are reached. How all this evaluation happens, of course, is always a source of contention, but--on the whole--teachers are expected to meet certain standards, to teach specific information, and to make sure their students are competent and capable upon graduation.

With profit-driven YTTs, I wonder how much quality teaching can be assured and produced. If the justification for running a training program is to keep a studio afloat, that seems like a rather tenuous base for instruction. That's not to say there aren't a lot of good YTTs out there, but who would know? There's no system of evaluation for these programs, no qualified review board to make sure the Yoga Alliance standards are actually met, no continuing assessment of teachers once they have graduated. Well, I should say, no generally-recognized system.

It's a bit like herding cats--many traditions have their own methods of evaluation and don't see the need for external review.
Maybe that's enough for students familiar with that tradition and seeking those kinds of teachers. But for the general public, the numbers don't really mean anything because the YA-approved programs are basically self-reporting. They can say they are training capable teachers, because they've filled out the paperwork and paid their dues.

I'm not saying the Alliance standards, themselves, are lacking. Actually, I think they're quite thorough for a good, solid grounding in the basics. And once you actually start teaching, is when you really learn how to bring yoga to your students. But, how can anyone outside the yoga world understand what it means to say you have completed a teacher training? That you are "certified?"

Every once and awhile I take a look at nearby programs, thinking I ought to get some letters and numbers after my name. And every time I get discouraged by the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars for something that has very limited meaning. What's the point? Even aerobics instructors and personal trainer have standards and affiliations that require testing and re-testing, that make a lot of the YTTs look like opportunists. Enter your credit card number, here.

Organizing an oversight body would be a huge task. Some states are starting to require that training programs justify themselves. It's kind of a mess. But, leave it to the Canadians to initiate a conversation about how to start this process, instead of bickering about individuals' rights to make a buck, like we always do in the US. Maybe inspiration will come, maybe a movement is beginning. There are rumblings...

This seems to be a season of reflection and inquiry into the nature and future of yoga in North America; I hope the topic of teaching training will be an important part of the discussion.

Monday, September 13, 2010


We got our first Human Biology exams back today. No unpleasant surprises for me (or pleasant ones, for that matter...I knew I'd get the passive diffusion question wrong), but some of the class was extremely disappointed. Judging by the discussion we had about a graph on heart disease, the big problem was with reading and interpreting data--or lack of data--correctly.

This is not a post about math literacy, so stick with me.

Several members of the class misread an uptick in heart disease in 2000 as the result of 9/11. This stunned the professor, partially because they got the date wrong, but partially because they actually thought this might be the cause of an additional 100,000 deaths over the course of five years. I was fascinated.

This is primarily a class of freshman. They are a group of 18 year-olds who were in 4th grade when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were hit. To them, it is the defining (inter)national event of their young lives. Maybe it seems entirely plausible that this tragedy would result in so many heart attacks.

I think of 9/11 as the defining moment of the 2000s, but certainly not my life. Maybe it's just a perfect storm of the growth of the internet, the 24-hr-news cycle combined with two wars started by the Bush Administration, but as we move into the last year and a half of this decade it seems like the legacy of Sept. 11 is a nation that wants everything black and white.
If you're not with us, you're against us.

What is encouraging is that these kids don't seem so quick to define the enemy. They mostly worry about money and if they'll have a job upon graduating. They're okay with gay marriage and immigration. It's the older generations that want it crystal clear...and want to get mad about it in the process. We see it in the mid-term elections, we see it on the news channels, we see it the response to a straightforward plea for less sexist yoga advertising.

So maybe the end result of 9/11 will be more heart disease, if everyone over 30 keeps working themselves into a lather of hatred over what the "other guy" is trying to pull. Why agree to disagree when you can point and call names?

But I'm hopeful. They may have been wrong about question six, but I think these teenagers realize there is a lot of gray. That it's mostly just confusing, instead of obvious. Maybe they can take some observations they made as children, and move beyond this era of Us and Them. That sure would make my heart beat a little faster...

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Good Things Come...

... to Those Who Wait. But who has time to Wait, anymore? Or the patience to Wait? Can't the microwave pop that corn any faster?!?!

Patience is a virtue. Or was--maybe it's more of a lost art. I try to remind myself, especially when dealing with the Big Picture, that things take time and will reveal themselves eventually. With instant downloading, instant messaging, yoga in 15 minutes-or-less, it's hard to remember that most of the things that matter are not quick. They need to unfold at their own pace and rushing them will just foul everything up. Anyone who has ever dabbled in watercolors knows exactly what I mean.

But can you teach it? How do you convey the idea that you can't have a thing immediately, just because you want it? Is it simply a matter of experience, age? Do you have to sit, miserably, watching the black pigment soak across your entire sheet of expensive Arches watercolor paper before you get it? Burn your hand on a hot pan full of fresh chocolate star cookies (a painful bit of negative reinforcement for the 6-yr-old yesterday)?

I wonder if there is a way to learn patience through positive reinforcement. The more effective examples seem to be the lessons learned when you're not patient; especially because you have to be patient to see the fruits of patience. So maybe it is an age thing. Somewhere you have to find a source of calm, quiet reserve to allow stuff to just happen.

Obviously, yoga is great training for this (I guarantee it will take a lot more than 15 minutes), but you have to go into the practice already ready to slow yourself down. The realization sets in pretty quickly that it is "slow medicine," but even accepting that fact requires a bit of self-discipline. I have students who took a few months to get that, but when they finally stopped fighting, it was a beautiful thing. But I don't really think I taught that--I think they had to figure it out themselves.

So, again the question: Is it a learned skill or is it an acquired habit? Can some one show you, or do you have to discover it on your own? Sunny-side up or Over-easy?