Dispatch from the mat: lessons on teaching gleaned from yoga boot camp

Yoga boot camp is a contradiction in terms.  Yoga, by nature, is meant to be peaceful and meditative.  The only “boot camp”-ish thing about this yoga boot camp was the 6:15 start time (and thus the 5:30 wake up call).  The first day or so was tough but now that the first week is over, I am glad I committed to getting myself, my brain, and my body to class.

As a student, yoga is a “practice” in that you’re working with the limitations of your own body and mind to “perform” different stretches or “poses” during the course of a class. When I first started practicing yoga after I graduated college, I lived in New York City and felt intimidated in a room full of bendy dancers and models.  I came to learn, though, that practicing means striving but never quite reaching a pose.  It is about finding stillness, not perfection.  I found ways to adjust myself, use props, and eventually (with patience and dedication) develop a really great practice for myself.  Sustaining a regular practice over time has always been a challenge.

Part of the boot camp experience was returning to that student role and submitting myself to five new teachers, none of whom I knew, to guide me into a new routine.  Being a student is fun because it gives me a chance to reflect on my own teaching style and on the things I need (and subsequently that my students might need) to be successful in this current setting.  Yoga isn’t a new idea or a new activity for me but practicing this regularly is certainly not the norm.

In a few weeks, I’ll face two classes of students who will also be making adjustments as they learn from me in my role as a professor.  I’m translating the skills I’ve gleaned from my yoga practice as a student to strengthen my teaching practice.  A few points I must continue to remember:

1.  Yoga poses are like new ideas for the body.  And like many new ideas, the poses may feel uncomfortable, stressful or even awkward in the beginning.  It will take time to convince the mind that the body is capable of doing something new.  In yoga class, every time you find peace and comfort in a pose, instructors typically encourage students to push past complacency, to make their minds and bodies even more active as they “practice” taking the pose further, past the edge where you really want to collapse or even retreat.  As a teacher, I understand the ideas I teach, but sometimes, I forget that my students need time to adjust to the content.

2.  Learning a new idea looks different from person to person–not everyone is a sweater.  After an hour-long practice conducted in a heated room on a humid summer morning, I feel like a limp noodle.  I’ve sweated it out, I’m drenched, and I need a shower (is that too much information?).  On the first day, a friend practicing next to me hardly broken a sweat, though she assured me that she felt the intensity of the class.  I looked around and many folks in the class were dripping, while others were simply dewy.  Not everyone shows their cards as they work through new ideas and the same thing applies to my classes.  Students take time to absorb information and not everyone shows their outrage, indignation, confusion or support in the same way.

3. Students will be (and should be) suspect of their teachers at the start of any new teaching/learning experience.  This past week, I’ve practiced with five new yoga teachers, and while all five were incredible women, each had a style all her own.  Though I heard the same instruction five different ways, it resonated differently depending on the source.  Since all five sources were new to me, I kept reminding myself that it will take time to adjust to a new teacher, and I should give my new students the same latitude this fall.  Trust takes time to establish in the classroom.

4.  Teachers will make mistakes–we’re not the only experts in the room.  In class on Tuesday, one instructor led us through a really challenging (read: sweat-inducing) sequence of poses for one side of the body, and a student’s alert that she was about to repeat the same sequence brought the whole class back on course.  Trust your students as experts, too.  Listen to them and validate them.  In the long run, you will be a better teacher.

5.  Be kind and patient to yourself and to your students.  Adjusting to new ideas takes time.  Yoga is about the long view, about committing to awkwardness and discomfort in exchange for incremental growth over time.  Some poses get easier but progress doesn’t happen overnight.  It could take days, weeks or even years before you take flight and you’re balancing on your arms or you’re upside down in a head stand or you’ve mastered some other crazy pose (tripod head stand? It feels like I’ll NEVER be able to do it).  I could be staring at blank faces in class for weeks until I feel like I see light bulbs.  And those light bulbs will go off, but it could take semesters, years or even decades before it happens.  I have to keep trusting in the seeds I’ve planted, and hope for those errant emails from students who really got it.

5 days of yoga to get me ready for a new semester in 53 short days.  The countdown is on.

About rglw

Sociologist mom writes for work and for pleasure.
This entry was posted in academia, blogging, health, higher education, lessons learned, students, teaching, work, yoga. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Dispatch from the mat: lessons on teaching gleaned from yoga boot camp

  1. ajwhitcomb says:

    Yoga boot camp sounds fantastic! Great insight.

  2. I like the way you applied what you learned from yoga to your teaching.
    This post reminded me that I would like to start doing yoga or Pilates. Pilates especially appeals to me but the problem is that my local classes are so expensive. They are run by an excellent teacher but as I am an undergrad student on a budget, it is difficult!
    Your last sentence about getting ready for a new semester reminded me that I need to start preparing, both mentally and physically, to return to my degree after a year’s leave of absence (I had to take time out to be a caregiver to my seriously ill mother). Even though academia isn’t physically demanding, I know my writing and research is much better when I keep to a routine of energetic physical exercise. The potential link between physical fitness and academic prowess could perhaps be an interesting study!

  3. amandatea says:

    Love love love. And I can help you with your headstands! 🙂

  4. Pingback: A tale of two conferences: the postmortem on ASA in New York | rogue cheerios

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