Friday, September 16, 2011

More things yoga ruined...

It was fun to think about things that yoga ruined.  You all came up with a good list and now, with some continued thought, I've come up with some more...

Long To-Do Lists  I've tried to get all digital with my lists but, instead, I still keep a piece of paper with tasks organized by due date and a little square drawn by each, so I can cross it off when I finish.  Instant gratification when that X marks a chore.  And, it helps me clear my mind so a lot of random obligations aren't tumbling around getting in the way of Cell Biology (yes, the fall semester has started with its demanding science classes hogging up all the room in my brain).  

However, it has come to my attention that making a daily list that is achievable is a far preferable action to just listinglistinglisting everything.  I don't need any additional help to feel overwhelmed, so the list stays short.  A wise friend (and mother of three) said, "What needs to get done will get done."  Why deny the lovely sense of accomplishment that comes from a completed list?   

Rage  Now, I'll admit, sometimes its fun to get mad and make up clever arguments or insults in defense of whatever you're mad about.  I suspect it burns more calories than feeling good about finishing your to-do list, but that burn comes at a price.  Sleeplessness, distraction, tension, gritted teeth (and the attendant dental bill).  Please.  Surely there is a better use of time than getting all lathered up about fictional match-ups?

I think it's why I tend to avoid the Yoga Wars these days; how can you argue with some one about their beliefs (and that's fundamentally what all that is about--what everyone believes their yoga to be)?  There's no mind-changing when it come to faith, at least not from an external force, and it usually degenerates into name-calling.

There's a place for anger if it leads to constructive action but, again, it's not the act of anger itself that is useful.  Feeling superior gets you nothing.  I'm trying to take the deep breath, put the lady down, and let some one else do the fulminating.   I need my shut eye.

Wasted Energy In parenthood, endurance sports, daily life, there's no place for wasting energy.  Some things are compelling to engage in--like over-swinging your arms when you run or trying to predict the future--but do they actually contribute?  Does the excess worry, annoyance, confrontation, or drawn attention actually help, or is it just a distraction from the really important stuff--a good meal, an interesting conversation, playing soccer with a kid. 8 hours of sleep (probably, biologically, the most important of all). Sort of like balancing chemistry equations (Monday's quiz), you want the two sides of the reaction to be even; don't load the one side up with molecules of rage if you're not getting a useful solution on the other side.

(Okay, the last metaphor was a bit of a stretch.  But you get my drift.)

I still engage in mental sparring and get agitated when it seems like there's too much to do.  But I'm trying to get better about pulling back and looking at the big picture.  Or not looking at the picture at all.  Maybe it's age, but I feel like I'm starting to get it...the "life is too short" kind of thing.  Unfortunately, yoga hasn't completely ruined these things for me, but it certainly has made them less appealing...

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A Not Un-familiar Metaphor

I've been Xtreme gardening lately. After about three years of benign neglect (courtesy of little boys who need close supervision outside), I've been able to turn my attention back to massive prairie weeds and runaway ferns. Cathartic, if exhausting.

The neglect was not completely without engagement. I've been watching--sun patterns, aggressiveness of certain perennials, wet and dry spots. So even though my garden is a bit scraggly, I feel pretty aware of what's going on--what and what not to introduce. Some of this knowledge just comes from waiting and observation, some from internet research, some from talking to other gardeners. I'm not a Master by any means, but I know what I know.

I am struck by the similarity of gardening to teaching. No, I'm not going to draw a parallel between nurturing and mentoring or guiding immature seedlings or creating something beautiful from dirt. I've been teaching about as long as I've been seriously gardening (that'd be seven years) and, though I still feel pretty immature myself, I'm starting to get a sense of what makes me better at each discipline.

That would be experience. Not more trainings, more classes, more workshops, or more instruction. Sure, all that helps and gives you more information to work with (see the discussion at Linda S's house). But what I think I really pushes a teacher/gardener to the next level is actually doing the work itself. Having to be there in the moment and make choices on the fly, instead of endlessly discussing the options.

And then there's the peripheral knowledge that just comes with life experience--things picked up along the way that are relevant eventually. In fact, that's what I love about using the blog to figure out my yoga; often these connections don't become obvious until I'm thinking about them while writing. Which eventually leads back to the classroom. Or the dirt (so that's why you prune lilacs early).

Of course, useful life experience is impossible to quantify. How do you make an exit test? What does it certify? You certainly can't design a new revenue stream around it. But I guess, to me, it is the most useful instruction of all. It's why I prefer older teachers, especially in yoga (prejudiced, I know, but that's what works for me). Experience gives you a framework to understand all the subsequent training and makes all the information that much more relevant.

Get out. Dig in. Feet first. Just Do. Then you can step back and think, but first, Get Dirty.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thunderstorms and Leeches

There's nothing like a week in the North Woods (Boundary Waters in Minnesota, to be exact) to give one a nice sense of perspective. A sense of the Sublime, to get all art historical about it--meaning that witnessing the majesty of nature (or a worthy reproduction) can give one a sense of awe or a sort of pleasurable terror at the beauty and power of it all.

In other words, sitting through a nighttime thunderstorm in a tent. It didn't help that the island across from ours had been burnt to a cinder from a lightening strike in the spring. There I lay, listening to the thunder roll and echo across the neighboring lakes like flopping sheets of metal while the tent lit up with green-white flashes, wondering where you go if a forest fire starts around you--into the lake? into a canoe on the lake? how much time do you have, anyway?

And at the same time these survivalist thoughts rattled around, I sort of enjoyed the immensity of the sound. Unmuffled and continuous. It was a feeling of awe or pleasurable terror, if you will.

In the morning, with the sun glistening on everything, I marveled at the loveliness. None of it had anything to do with me and was not arranged for my enjoyment, but it gave me a nice feeling of connectedness. Just another little mammal who made it through the storm. Later that day I had to pluck a leech off the toe of another little mammal--Son #2--an activity that also required a bit of detachment so as not to have an unseemly gross-out, or take the blood-sucking personally.

Yoga in the forest, right? This is why I like camping and geology and astronomy--because it reminds that me most stuff is pretty fleeting and not all that important. That I'm at the mercy of forces far bigger and more powerful than I (...realizing that, in this case, I am very lucky that I can marvel at these wonders, rather that suffer their results).

Terrible and Sublime. Beauty and Awe. Namaste and, well, Namaste.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Things that Yoga has Ruined...

Let me start by saying there are a lot of things that yoga has NOT ruined: yoga has not ruined my ability to focus and calm myself down; it has not ruined my sense of well-being or self-esteem (can't say that about yoga advertising, but never mind); it has not ruined my flexibility or strength; it has not ruined my sense of humor or love of irony. But there are several things that it has completely fouled up:

1. My need to keep the feet covered. Get 'em out of the shoes, get 'em out of the shoes! I realized this during class last month, when I had a new student with flat feet who wanted to keep her sneakers on because bare footed was painful with her fallen arches. I was so distracted by her shoes (not aesthetically), because I couldn't conceive of a well-balanced Trikonasana in shoes. She was fine--and has continued coming to class--but it made me feel so unsteady that I realized that I'm undone by the idea of something coming between my foot and the mat. (Take that toesox)

2. My interest in racquet sports. A few years ago I spent a month or two meeting a friend for introductory racquetball. It was fun, but I soon realized how frustrating it was to only be working one arm. One shoulder was warm and glowing, but the other seemed limp and useless. Same thing after soccer or catch with son #1. One leg/arm felt strong and flush, the other--underutilized. I'm so used to doing everything on both sides, that activities giving one limb preference over the other seem cock-eyed. (Not that I'm going to stop backyard sports, but I'm working on my left-hand throw which, surprisingly, is much better when playing football).

3. Heels. Yes, they're sexy and very appropriate with some outfits, but when I try on a pair of high heels and go tottering down the hall I feel like a 13-yr-old getting ready for her first dance. I can't handle all that weight on the balls of my feet and the tightness in my calves. My toes resent getting squished and my knees knock. A mess, to be sure. So I've adopted the kitten heel, which is an attractive silhouette and doesn't throw my alignment off. (When I actually get dressed up, which is probably two times a month, max)

4. Slouching. It's not that I had such rotten posture before yoga, but it ruined draping myself across my favorite chair and watching a movie. I'm super-aware of unsupported parts of the body (lower back, knees) and now have a whole routine with pillows and rolled blankets to support the drape. Very conscious of shoulders when knitting in front of the boob tube--which is probably a good thing, but makes that activity something of a production. Plus, it annoys cats who are trying to snooze on the aforementioned blankets. Popcorn is often spilled. Spouse is crowded.

5. Ignoring discomfort. Sometimes it's easier to pretend you don't notice something that's bugging you, but I can't do that anymore. Why does that shoulder hurt? Where exactly is the pinch? How does that relate to arm position/posture/angle of head/etc? Do I need to do homework in a different chair (see #4)? Can I take an Advil, or is that just delaying the inevitable? What pose helps? Heat or ice? I've never done well with discomfort and now it becomes the source of a great investigation--discoveries filed away for later pedagogical use. It would save time to just grit my teeth and bear it.

And so on. I try to keep my fussing to myself and not force these issues on others (altho it takes great restraint to walk past poorly-executed stretches at the Y or ignore ill-fitting sandals). Some folks just haven't had the pleasure of being ruined by Yoga...

Has it messed you up?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Reflections from an Old-Timer

A. Durer, St. Jerome in his Study, 1514

...well, not that old. But the combo of Carole's question last week about long-time blogging, coupled with my 44th birthday on the 3rd (officially in my mid-forties, whatever that means), I've been thinking about what I've learned over the last five years of GTTSB.

It seems there are two levels of change: macro and micro. Macro is the level of
sophistication in the process-both in the software and the bloggers themselves. Vlogs, audio, video, beautiful graphics, bold templates; everything looks and runs so professionally (remember how long it use to take to just get one dinky photo uploaded?). And the authors: marketing savvy, cross-platforming, multiple technologies. Tweet, tweet. People are much more skilled at drawing attention to their work and themselves (for good and bad). Reading blogs is much more of an event, and I like all the interaction across these platforms and the humor and wit that bubbles up to the surface. Writing them seems to be a lot more work, tho, to stay abreast of all the technology.

The micro is how I've changed. It's funny to look back at the oldest posts--so earnest and helpful. More didactic than personal. I thought this would be more of an infomation clearinghouse: sequences, explanations of poses, lists of resources...a place to refer students who were asking for suggestions. I got a chuckle out of a post from November '06, when I speculated about the possibility of yogis all over the world communicating on the internet. Who knew?

The first few months I pined away for comments from non-relatives (altho I was very grateful for relatives who were actually reading), and finally figured out how to hook up with statcounter to measure hits and see where people were coming from. I began writing for Yoga (Thank, Erica!), which was a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at some topics I'd written about and also interview various notables about said topics. This also increased readership and invited more commenting.

In March of '07, I started to include more links on the page (good ole' Yoga Dawg gets a mention), which encouraged me to interact more with other bloggers. Son #2 was born in August of '07, and this seems to have given me a more personal focus. Maybe I was tired of "teacher voice" and wanted to start using my own "writer voice."

By '08 the topics sound more like what we're all used to: teacher training, hot bods vs blissed-out bods, what's authentic, etc etc. I can't go back to my "old" blog rolls, but it would be interesting to see who was on the scene at that point and how that affected the conversation (Y. Dawg, Nadine Falwell and Linda S. all commented, so that crowd is very familiar). In February of '09, I joined seems wild that social networking wasn't really on the scene until three years after I started. I project all the back and forth onto earlier memories.

By the middle of '09 the conversations were just that--chatty, sharing experiences and ideas (I cracked up re-reading a discussion of some one's "problem student" who always ended up with an erection during savasana. Gracious!) By October of '09, we were venturing into more controversial territory and many of the same conundrums (conundra?) that face us today; more people were responding on their own blogs and it was nice to read carefully thought-out arguments. By 2010, it was all-out, perhaps culminating in l'affaire toesox.

So I like this new vein that we seem to be in--the evolution of yoga and how it serves us on an individual basis. Maybe we can finally put the "maybe you just need to do more yoga" suggestion for those who question hierarchies and tradition out to pasture. Waaay out. Do away with angry, ungrammatical commenting. We are thinkers who write (obviously) so of course we want to explore these ideals out loud. I'm all for it. Svadhyaya is its own niyama, after all, and even the ancients encouraged some self-reflection.

That's what I see from my perch of a half decade. But enough about me...what do the rest of you oldies have to say? What do you think is the biggest difference? The best improvement? Worst development? What's next? What have you learned during your tenure on the blog rolls?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Yogito Ergo Sum...

I like this. I like this very much.

As I emerge from my post-semester malaise (after a false start in May), having lost all my mo to math and science classes, I would like to give a giant shout out to my ever thinking, ever provocative Yogging (new moniker?) Catalysts: Carole, Roseanne, and Bob W.
Carole, of course, laid it out here and Roseanne blew back into the blogosphere here, and this all made me feel like I ought to step up and get back on the feed. It seems like a new energy is building and I'm really looking forward to their panel on yoga blogging in August at the Yoga Festival Toronto (transcripts? video feed? a crumb for your fans?).

During my state of blog-ennui, I missed the five-year anniversary of GTTSB. Dang, half a decade of this. And, truly, I can't imagine where my practice or teaching would be without it.
My writing is totally part of my routine (until last month) and all the svadhyaya it engenders completely informs the rest of my yoga.

This public--if you will--svadhyaya is what keeps me tuned into the online community: I'm not as interested in the discussion of yoga itself, as much as I am fascinated by how each individual writer processes the lessons of yoga through his/her own experience. Maybe it's the art historian in me, but I want to read how a creative person's back story informs the present story. What do you bring to the practice that is different from everyone else? How do you express that difference? Yoga through the political science/burlesque/prison workshop/curvy/ex-teacher/new teacher/tail-wagging lens.

And I can't emphasize enough how much I love good writing. And humor.

So, as Roseanne sez, here we are on the cutting edge. Awesome. Writing about a yoga of service and engaged living. Thrilling.

I can't wait to see what the summer holds....

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Well, I think I've finally decompressed enough from the spring semester to reenter polite society. Funny how you can teach yoga for years, practice for decades and still be laid low by the double-whammy of mental stress and over-scheduling. Am I just not listening to myself, or is this kind of thing inevitable when expectations are high and you want to do well?

As April, with its requisite tests and final projects and papers, rolled around, most perspective was lost. Sleep was interrupted by whirring thoughts, exercise fell to the wayside, and I started eating more carbs. Everything that I know I'm not supposed to do, but there it was. I could see the effects in my mood and ability to think clearly (and skin--acne, ack!). It wasn't until two of the three classes were complete that the knots started to loosen.

Lesson for next semester? Maybe the secret is in the scheduling I do control...perhaps it's time to do the rooster thing and rise every morning at 5 to do my work, when I'm still fresh and ready to crow. Only one cup of coffee a day. At least one Down Dog a day. Bedtime at 9:30.

Don't get me wrong, it's been exhilarating as well as exhausting. Learning all new things is really energizing and I suppose that's where the drive to do well comes from--I'd like verification that I am learning and comprehending, even when that verification is as superficial as a grade. But it's fun to think and it's fun to think about something different and that--more any caffeinated beverage--has kept me going through the blur of not-enough sleep and advanced math.

So now, it is time to embrace the summer, when my primary responsibility is applying sunscreen and keeping fresh iced tea in the fridge. (*sound effect of clinking ice cubes and sloshing liquid pouring into a tall glass*)


Sunday, April 03, 2011

Mano-a-mano (?) with the Inner Critic

Do we all agree (sort of) that yoga is working with your body rather than against it? At least in this day and age (I'm not sure you can call keeping your arm raised for a couple of years working with, but maybe that's just me). Are we trying to make peace with our bodies and quiet the monkey-mind, or are we trying to discipline the soft tissue?

Erica had a nice post about not de-toxing last week, and it got me to thinking about the physical and mental gymnastics we run ourselves through in the pursuit of a yogic ideal. I'll bet most regular practitioners have some awareness (or perhaps Keen Awareness) of the constant juggling act between pushing yourself and not letting ego take over, but what about our students who aren't so tuned into these subtleties (or when you see yourself loosing the ego battle--"if only I could drop-back into a back bend!")?

Let me start by saying I'm constantly juggling (arm wrestling) the Inner Critic in yoga and almost everything I get it. But I'm always a little lost when I see students struggle with the need to do a pose perfectly or, sometimes, even do the pose at all. I try to frame up my class with lots of modifications and opt-outs for people who don't feel up to a pose or aren't ready. I usually let them at least set-up for a pose, even if I'm pretty sure they won't be able to complete it, and then quietly show them what comes next or make a suggestion for something else to try.

The class is all skill-levels and all levels of experience, so asana-ability is all over the place. Which, for me, is fine. It's a opportunity for the long-time yogis to refine and the newbies to try something new or work on being okay with a modification (usually the far-more difficult skill). But what about the regulars who don't have the flexibility or strength for a particular pose, yet attempt--with great effort--to do said pose every time it comes up in the sequence, even if they've been guided to modify or substitute the last time around?

Is this just my teacher-ego getting annoyed that I'm not being listened to? Should I back off and let them try---they've signed a liability waiver, after all? I don't want to scold, but I don't want to stand idly by if some one could hurt him/herself (or the person on the next mat).

What do you do--either to calm the over-doer or, even, to get yourself out of striver-mode? Is this something you can teach or is it knowledge that has to be acquired on your own?

I'm ready for some imparted wisdom...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Prescription against Proscription

Continuing with the theme of how we learn...what's the role of the teacher, the role of the student. I think I'd like to see those boundaries get a bit more mixed up. I don't think the person in front of the room is all-knowing nor should we expect that of him/her--teachers are human beings, just like everyone else, with a bit more experience in a specific area.

I chafe against rigid heirarchies. I think they're stupid and are designed to protect power more than anything else. They are certainly not in the best interest of people at the bottom of the heirarchy, despite what the people at the top say. But, I'm not an anarchist, either. I think plenty of
things need to happen in a certain order to function well and I think some rules are very useful. Maybe it's the rigid that I have a problem with.

I think it is very brave to acknowledge ambiguity. It requires a sense of security and centered-ness that is tricky to achieve, tricky to maintain. But, once you are okay with it, the world gets a whole lot more interesting. There are a lot of nooks and crannies to discover once you
can sit with uncertainty.

What does this have to do with the teacher-student relationship? Well, again, not a big fan of heirarchy. I want my teachers to be knowledgeable and have a deep understanding of the subject at hand. But I appreciate a teacher who knows there is always more to learn and encourages his/her students to go deeper on their own. Some one who knows rules are made to be broken and that the answer is often "maybe. The best discoveries are usually made by some one who doesn't know any better and doesn't accept the boundaries set by experts. Gets out of the box.

Maybe what I'm saying is that the true guru is inside you. A good teacher helps you discover that, but the realization is your own.

Learn to sit with uncertainty.
Do not follow me, I may not lead. (Maybe the other true guru is 70s posters)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


More on the confluence of yoga and mathematics from my calculus professor:

"My image of you (all) is infinitely doesn't matter what you subtract, it is still good. Since it is infinite, you can subtract 10,000, or whatever, from it and it is still infinitely good. That is what infinite means."

How's that for ego-less teaching?

Friday, March 11, 2011

How I Spent my Vacation...

Spring Break. So I broke a little, but E and A made sure I didn't take it too easy. Ah, the life of a non-traditional student.

One thing I did do, was work on my Education project: a 10-hr. observation of an educational setting. I am fascinated by project-based learning and how it is used to create an entire curriculum in a classroom where the students make most of the choices about what they learn. It's not as loosey-goosey as it sounds, and there's a whole rubric set up to help students select projects and define the way they are investigated. There's a charter school in Beloit, that is part of the public school system but is entirely project-based and I spent Monday seeing how it all works.

It was so interesting to watch the kids and think about my own prejudices about how school should run. What was remarkable was how engaged the students were and how sophisticated their projects--and their descriptions of these projects--were. Everyone one I sat down with could pull up research they'd used (not just wikipedia) and could describe how they were turning this research into a final project--short story, 1/4" scale model, song, concert. For the quantifiers in the audience, the test scores are the same or a bit higher than the kids in the regular middle and high school (partially due to all the reading) and almost all graduates go on to college. So why not let the kids call the shots--within reason?

There seem to be some weak areas (math, science), but on the whole I couldn't really see how this form of learning would be less effective than a teacher-centered, lecture-based approach. And I could see how it would be a lot more appealing.

So, re. yoga. It seems like we're stuck in a very teacher-based form of instruction, and I'm not sure that such a good thing either. Very traditional. Very susceptible to ego trips and misinformation.

Of course, you have to learn how and probably some why at first. A sensible framework to organize the information is good, too. But the endless celebration of this guru and that superstar, and this brand and that patented technique gets awfully far from the whole point of this practice, which is to unite within oneself. Isn't it?

One thing an advisor (not "teacher") at the charter school told me, was that kids who want to be told what to do and simply perform to get a grade never last very long at the school. They can't handle the freedom and the responsibility. Which is fine, some people can't. But I wonder if that's the case with so much of the yoga teaching in the West--people want some one to boss them around and grade their asana. Anyone who finds that model confining and paternalistic is seen as suspect--all this "us vs them" that seems to be such a desired dichotomy to establish.

Carol H. keeps writing about Yoga 2.0 and I think it has potential to move us away from this more traditional way of thinking about instruction. I don't really mean that a yoga class will become project-based, but maybe in terms of the discipline becoming less dependent on master teachers and all that. Stop grading (or *sigh* awarding olympic medals) and start investigating.

I dunno, is that too radical?'s up!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Alone/Together in the classroom

I've been thinking about classroom community. Do we learn better when we know who we are learning with? Is a solitary pursuit more focused? Is it better to feel a part of a group or to be an individual in a bunch of individuals?

I have it all ways this semester. In my Ed class, we spent a whole day learning each others' names and interests. In Bio we work in pairs, so I know the students to my left and right. In Calc we all sit facing forwards and just casually converse before class...if even. In my once-a-month yoga class I don't know anybody and just come and go with a few words to my teacher.

And it's all good. I hate a forced community--I'd just as soon keep to myself. However, when I know everyone's name and the class includes a lot of discussion, I do feel more invested in the group. Is one better than the other--I think it depends, on what the subject is, how you are learning it, what the desired outcome is (is that an expectation?).

As a teacher, I try to learn everyone's name as soon as possible. I don't call on people in yoga classes, but if I can murmur an instruction using the person's name, I think its effect is more immediate. And whether there is talking or not, I want people to feel like I am keeping track of them--whether for adjustment purposes, safety, or inclusion. What's the point of taking a yoga class from a teacher if s/he isn't aware of each student (we've discussed this before, teaching vs demonstrating, remember)?

For me, I like a mix of alone and together in my yoga. I like the energy of a room full of people and the post-class vibe of everyone calm, relaxed, and happy. I hate partner work and I don't want to touch other students (when I'm a student, myself). I'm not really interested in conversation. It's a completely different experience than practicing at home, but it is still very solitary.

Alone or together. Where do you stand (sit, invert, twist)?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bumpy ride

The landscape continues to to change. Last week Linda Sama shuttered her Yoga Journey, joining another well-respected, provocative blog favorite it's all yoga, baby in the gone-but-not-forgotten category. It's getting lonely here in Old Timer Land. Both authors have very logical reasons for moving on...but I'm sad to see them go, and have missed their opinions during the discussions of 2011 (which, so far, sound a lot like the discussions of 2010/2009/2008/etc).

The departure of these dear friends and thoughtful minds from the conversation (at least in blog world), made me think about my own motives for continuing on with GTTSB. It certainly isn't a cash cow and does take up valuable time; the main reason, more than anything other, is that it has become a familiar habit that I can't imagine breaking. For me, this is like a yoga practice--I use it to smooth the lumps and bumps of daily living. Focus the mind and settle the thoughts.

In a sense, it is almost a journal, but one written for an audience. So, I must to use proper grammar and spelling and need to make sense in my ramblings. This is my written pranayama; if I am thinking hysterical thoughts--angry and unfocused--I have to center myself and become rational and reasonable. Not necessarily right, but at least I have to make sense. It's an exercise in making connections between all the varied elements of my life (yoking, doncha know) and forming a world view that is thoughtful and fair.

I'm flattered and a bit incredulous that I actually have an audience. In a way, blogging is very self-indulgent, so I am ever so grateful for all the connections I have made along the way and the voices I keep in my mind as I write (who might chuckle, who will recognize this picture, who will see themselves in my example).

I do feel there is starting to be a shift in focus and topic among the yoga bloggers, so it is fun to watch the scenery unfold: curvy yoga, recovering (from) yoga, saucy yoga, yoga intellectuals. I guess that's the privilege of senior status (so to speak), having been around for awhile I get to see how the new crowd reads the tea leaves.

You all rock. Blog archives rock. I'm glad to be one of you. Keep your seat belts on...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Why do we do?

I'm still stuck on expectations. I really like my calculus' teachers declaration that, "I have no expectations. If I have expectations, I cannot teach you." It seems very wise that, as a teacher, you practice non-attachment to results. If the teaching is driven by wanting to see a desired result from your students, the whole enterprise moves away from learning to just getting something. That, to me, isn't good motivation.

But is there good motivation? As students and teachers (and parents and mentors) is that something we want to cultivate in certain situations, or should that be something that comes from within? Should the desire to learn be the individual's alone, or are there external influences that are good and healthy?

Probably, a little of both. I think the learning that is held the deepest comes from within. You may start to do something for external reasons, but the reason it sticks with you--and you with it--is because that something resonates and the activity moves from chore to pleasure (or habit?). But maybe the push or encouragement or rule some one else imposes is what you need to get started.

I think about sending my boys to school; while they're young, they'd just as soon hang out with a roomful of 6-yr-olds than stay home with me, but if it was framed as something they have to do, it might give them pause. But, that doesn't matter, they don't really have a choice, because of their age. Internal or external? Maybe by the time they're teenagers, the acquisition of knowledge and experience will have its own attraction and going to school is just part of the routine. (I don't doubt for a minute that there won't be plenty of groaning and foot-dragging, but that's all part of the teenage performance)

And maybe that's the way it is with yoga, too. Some one suggests it will improve your flexibility or strength, or maybe you have to do something low impact until an injury heals. I hope it isn't just to get rid of bra fat. But, whatever gets them in the room, I can tell when new students get hooked. The first few classes, they are usually a bit tentative--looking at everyone else, overdoing a pose, confusing right and left. But, the ones who stay move out of that place of insecurity pretty quickly. You can see their expressions shift and how quickly they come to stillness during the opening meditation. It's just a matter of days before they come up after class and ask where is the best place to get their own mats. I love that and I don't really think that has a whole lot to do with me as a teacher, but how they absorb the subject and make it their own. Internal or external?

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.
If you build it, they will come. Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig. This topic isn't new, but it's what I've been thinking about.

Would you like to think about it, too?

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Periphery of Comprehension

For much of my life, I was a person who pursued things that I was already good at. All my education and career choices utilized skills that I had a natural talent for...if I wasn't good at it, it wasn't worth my consideration. I suspect this isn't a particularly remarkable trait...we usually like the things we are good at and are good at the things we like.

[Are you flexible because you do yoga, or do you do yoga because your are flexible?]

However, this latest batch of schooling (teaching certification in biology) does not draw as heavily my strengths. Or at least my strengths, as I've defined them. So it's very interesting to hover in this place between understanding and confusion, ease of effort and hard work. I kinda like it.

This whole project is very meta (one "t") in that I keep switching back and forth from being a student of the subject to imagining teaching it, so when I do get stuck, my mind vacillates between getting annoyed at the difficulty and appreciating the learning value of having to concentrate on something. In a way, it feels very akin to yoga and its work on quieting the fluctuations of the mind.

I suspect,(and I've said it before) if you can handle the insecurity of not knowing for sure (which is really all life is about, anyway, right?), it's a good place to be. Having to think, but not being validated with the right answer.

And then, when you do figure out the answer, or at least come to terms with the question, that can be its own reward.

But what do I know, anyway....

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Noblest Profession...IMHO

In all the latest folderol surrounding yoga rebels, management teams, talent agency synergy, and bra fat, I wonder...

Are we still talking about teaching yoga?

To me, teaching is a very intimate experience. Two people come together over a period of time with the understanding that information will be shared, understood, processed and applied. One half of the pair will facilitate the learning and the other will absorb. Both are affected by the interaction and both emerge with a deeper sense of the material. The key to this definition--in my mind--is over a period of time.

Learning does not happen in an afternoon or a weekend. It may start in a day, but it is an ongoing process. It's important for students to have the continued support and attention of their teachers as this process unfolds. Not constant attention, but students should feel like help is available and that their teachers can guide them on their way.

Think back to your most valuable learning experiences. How much contact time did you get with that teacher? Were you just a body in a sea of freshman during a huge Psychology lecture? Was it during a weekend team-building exercise for work? I doubt it. What we remember as our education highlights involves a close connection to the teacher who helped make it happen--coaching during the school play by the drama teacher, yearbook work nights with the journalism teacher, dissertation advice from a major professor, career guidance from a mentor at work.

So how does this relate to the aforementioned dust-up? I get so weary hearing about expensive yoga retreats, massive yoga workshops, yoga stars jetting back and forth to this or that studio, because I wonder just how much teaching is going on. Inspiring, informing, showing and demonstrating, yes...but a week after the workshop, when you can finally follow the sequence but don't understand the logic behind it, who do you turn to? Or if you remember the pose wrong, but keep doing it and hurt yourself? Is there anyway to assess what is actually learned?

Maybe we need a second category for these kinds of learning experiences--yoga demonstrations, yoga performances, yoga lectures? Some one is showing and some one is watching or doing, but the close connection never happens and there is no follow-up. These experiences are valuable--obviously we value them more, performers make a whole lot more money than teachers--but I don't think a lot of teaching, as I've defined it, happens.

So there it is. What bothers me is equating success with how many demonstrations you do a year, or how many people you "reach" through books and endorsements. Yoga instruction as a revenue generator. All of that has its place (well, I'm not sure about the endorsements), but I wish we did more than just pay lip service to the teaching end.

Not everyone can teach. Not everyone can energize a ballroom full of people. There is a place for both, but they are not the same thing, nor should they be. Being able to do one, does not guarantee being able to do the other. They are separate and distinct experiences.

...In My Humble Opinion.

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.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Re-conceived notion

Joseph Cornell , Untitled (The Hotel Eden), c. 1945, Construction

Nothing thrills me more than a creative re-interpretation of something. M aybe it's just the greenie in me, but re-cycled, re-presented, re-purposed anything--done with intelligence and wit--makes me swoon. I love to see the mind at play, especially as manifested in an object. I never ceased to be amazed by what people will come up with, and how a creative person will rise to the challenge of making something brand new from stuff that already exists. Collages, mash-ups, assemblages, ready-mades...oh, be still my heart.
So I was really intrigued by a reference in last week's Home section in the NYTimes. A Berlin artist has turned an old factory into a living space/gallery (also an interesting re-use of a building), and often hosts art events at her home. Including--get this--an artist whose medium IS YOGA! I spent quite a lot of time searching for said artist to see what s/he had come up with...but without any luck (anyone know who this artist might be?).

An artist whose medium is yoga. Not an artist who uses yoga as subject matter, but whose form of expression is yoga itself. How does that come about? What do see when you look at this art? Surely it's more than just some sort of dance using poses, right? Maybe it's a piece that doesn't even reference asana. What could it be--I'm so curious.

And so energized. How exciting to use this thing that we've all come to see as a privileged practice, intended for good mental and spiritual health, as a source . Like I said, I love a good re-interpretation, and using yoga like a paintbrush or pencil or sculpting medium kind of blows my mind.

Something to incorporate into Yoga 2.0? Something that could inform our usual practice or teaching methods? I wish I knew what the piece or performance actually was--but it's an interesting exercise to try and imagine it...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


In one week, it all starts again. School--calculus, statistics, Education for a Democratic Society--a full load for the newly christened full-time student. Good Lord.

But I have a strategy, that I was able to implement on a gradual basis in the fall. I call it, "Two Trips, Bren," after my father's admonition when I was younger and would try to carry every dish off the table to the kitchen at once. So you loose a dish every once and awhile, fair trade for getting done quicker. Except you're out a dish and some one is glaring disapprovingly. Two trips, Bren, two trips.

Perhaps the metaphor can carry into daily life. There is a time for multi-tasking and there is time to uni-task. And, actually, I think it's when you are the busiest that it's best to uni-task. Better do something carefully, with full attention and presence, than to be half-assed about it. The glass that shatters could be something really important.

I practice it with my physical pursuits--running, biking, swimming (as if you could do anything else...the beauty of the sport), asana. Mentally, it's my biggest challenge. Trying to stay focused on a single thing, or merely two things, is not my strong suit...that monkey-mind, you know. I work on it during yoga class and with pranayama, but the day-to-day implementation needs work.

So, let's add "two trips" to "never say never." It will be a year (semester?) of being present and open to opportunities. A time for math and a time for Legos, a time for making dinner and a time for reading.
Keeping all plates whole and and considering new crockery.

I hope.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Never say Never

From From the Mouths of Babes File: the 6-yr-old and I sat assembling an Egyptian temple (oh, the complexity of today's Legos), while the 3-yr-old amused himself with the little figures that came with the set. I missed the rest of the conversation, but I caught one Egyptologist's sage advice for his companion, "Never say never."

Where do you suppose he picked that up? I don't think there's any kids' version of 007 floating around (altho there might be some money to be made on that), so it's a mystery to me. We had a good laugh at this pint-size philosopher's wisdom and continued constructing Anubis.

New Year's Eve rolled around with its requisite bubbly and Latvian bacon dumplings (in my parents' house, that is), and the conversation turned to resolutions and upcoming events. Taking heed of Dr. Legoman's words, I resolved to make 2011 the year of Never Say Never. I was being glib (those last 10 lbs. have resolved to stick with me anyway), but, on closer consideration, I think it's a pretty good choice.

For starters, we puny mortals don't have the power to declare Never. Who knows what's going to happen next and it might just be something grand. Or, at least, an opportunity that's worth consideration, even if one isn't predisposed to it. I can think of a few bridges I thought I was over, but find myself crossing again...math and off-site yoga, anyone?

Maybe it comes with age, but I think declaring Never seems like a particularly difficult attitude to uphold--making my resolution an easy one to keep.
There's no point in deciding about what might or might not happen; you have to wait and see what does develop, and then deal with that. Aparigraha, for you yoga types. Best to be open to the unexpected and prepare to be surprised (if that isn't too much of an oxymoron).

Here's to 2011 in all its shiny newness. I hope yours is full of delightful surprises and manageable *never* know what will happen!