I’m definitely getting a sense that my Bikram yoga practice is blending into my life outside the hot room – and specifically my work life. As a university professor, part of my job requires me to teach two classes a semester. Very early on this year, I had a student tell me she (most of my students are females) found some aspects of my class to be making her uncomfortable.
It wasn’t necessarily anything that I was doing but rather what I was asking them to do as part of my class.
See, I like to create assignments and experiences for my students that push them (hopefully). And in doing so, I like to provide just enough instruction so they get a general idea of the what to do. I like to give them some boundaries, but those boundaries are very flexible. I hope to give them space that allows them to shape and mold what I am asking them to do in a way that is highly relevant to them and has the opportunity to let them be a bit more creative within an academic setting.
What this means is, I’m not the most rigid person in the world.
I have been told that this approach makes some students uncomfortable because they are used to being told exactly what to do, and I refuse to tell them that. I encourage them to play with ideas, to take risks, and yes, I even tell them it’s ok to fail. I don’t mean fail the course. I mean it’s ok to put yourself out there and fall on your face and learn from it. I won’t penalize you for that. Isn’t part of learning taking risks and not having to worry about what happens?
Recently, I heard a student talking about trying to figure out how to blend together a personal and professional life such that each complements the other, and I thought oh wow. I think I’ve done that without realizing it. Damn yoga.
See, in Bikram I have learned how to stay with the discomfort, and I heave learned to acknowledge when I walk away from it (and then I eventually have to come back to it). I’ve learned to be ok with things not being linear. I’ve found that great things can happen when you let go of expectations. And, I think without even realizing it, I started to apply all of this to my own teaching.
I encourage my students to be uncomfortable. I encourage them to not worry so much about where something will lead them and instead just see where they end up. I encourage them to push back with ideas and questions that will shape the class and make it better. I design my classes to foster those type of experiences as much as possible. I get us launched. I want them to take it somewhere, anywhere, from there.
And the reality is that my classes have the potential to look very different from what most people are used to. That’s neither good nor bad but simply the way that it is. It’s fun to see students to start to embrace the uncomfortableness of learning and to watch where it takes them. Of course I see some that refuse to go there. But the thing yoga has taught me is to not take this decision personally. It’s not about me. It’s about what they are/are not ready to do. I’ve taken enough yoga classes to know that while I can project my discomfort outward (onto the teacher, the room, the posture, and so on….we’ve all done it) it’s never really about any of that. It’s about my own ability to take a hard look at myself and stay when things get rough and see it through. It’s about engaging with the good and the bad.
And, for better or for worse, that philosophy has seeped its way into my professional life.