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!