Learning in Yoga and Life

On Thursday I am headed to Winnipeg, Canada. On Friday, I will deliver an all day workshop to middle and high school teachers (and maybe some principals) about how to work with students who experience reading difficulties in school. I am excited. Nervous, but excited. Understanding adolescents who have reading difficulties in school is how I spend most of my time when I am not at yoga or eating snowcones.

This workshop has been scheduled since last spring. Last fall, I was contacted by one of the organizers. She said that the teachers would be most happy if I would tell them what to do to help their students comprehend better. Basically, I was being asked to show up and say, “If you teach X way, then your students will be better readers.”

First, teaching doesn’t work like that. Second, I don’t work like that when I give workshops or a presentation or anything.

It’s not that I can’t provide teachers with ideas about how to improve their instruction. I can. What I have a problem with is that there is some magic answers, or a series of magic answers, that will automatically make everything better if the teacher goes off and does it. It’s the attitude that gets me.

Here’s what I can tell you about learning (and teachers sometimes don’t like this and principals never seem to like it):

1. It’s not just up to the teacher. Teaching and learning is an interaction between teacher and student and student to student. When I go to yoga, I hear the (roughly) same words repeated over and over again day in and day out. Sometimes, an instructor will offer me pointers on a posture. I could say that all the instructors at my studio are excellent Bikram yoga teachers. They hold up their end of the bargain very well. Now, do I return the favor? Ahhhhh…..usually but not always. Holding up my end of the bargain means that I show up to class, listen, and participate to the very best of my ability.

For example, since Saturday my right knee has been bothering me. It has made doing awkward challenging. Sometimes, I don’t do parts of the awkward series. I always go in and try and see how my knee is feeling and adjust accordingly. The other day, during the second part of awkward, I could not go down towards the ground. I tried, it was not a good idea, and so I balanced on my tip toes with my arms stretched out. I was doing everything to the best of my ability.

It is in this space where the instructor is talking, and I am working that I learn and my practice improves. It is through my struggles with a posture that I learn (if I engage with those struggles), and my postures – and my understanding of them – improve. If I choose not to engage with a struggle (and I can choose that) or not listen or whatever then there really isn’t much an instructor can make me do. The instructor can give it her all, but I won’t learn and grow if  I don’t interact with what is being given and also give something back – in any form.

I want the teachers I work with to know that they can’t do something to students and fix them. That is not what learning is about. I’m not going to pretend that it is.

2. Learning needs to be hard. Teaching should also be hard. Ideally both are fun. What I have learned from my practice is that a lot of learning comes from the space where I struggle. An instructor might guide me, give me some pointers, but she is also giving me the space to work with what she said and ask questions as needed.

If I show up at a workshop and tell you how to teach adolescents, you might be ok with that. If I don’t push you then you likely won’t get uncomfortable. You won’t have to question any of your beliefs. You won’t have to think for yourself. You also won’t understand what you’re doing and why. A month or two from now, you’ll go to another workshop and maybe toss all my stuff out the window and do what the next person says. Why?

Well, one reason I think is because that kind of experience requires no struggle, no engagement on your part. You might like it, but really, are you invested in it?

I have struggled, and still struggle, with my yoga practice. I have invested so much in it. I’ve spent money on the classes, the mat, and the clothes. I’ve spent a great deal of time going back and forth to the studio. I’ve attended more than 100 classes and poured myself into them. I’m not going to hop off the Bikram wagon and just jump on some other yoga train because someone says it’s good for me. I’ve seen how I’ve grown as a student, and I know what I have worked through in that studio. It’s all too amazing and wonderful to give up.

This is what I want to communicate on Friday – that learning is about our relationships, our successes, and our struggles. It is about what we get and what we give back. It requires us to fully engage with the process at hand. We will not always fully engage with the process because we are human. Sometimes we are tired. Sometimes we are scared. This is all normal. When we are on the learning end, we decide when we are ready to proceed and learn a little bit more. Our teachers should be there for us (and if we are teachers then we should be ready when our students need us), but no teacher can make a student do anything. We are in control of our practice be it our yoga practice or anything we practice in life. I


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  1. Trackback: My Own « NeoBoha

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