Time to Fly!

Kelly and Bernadette
Me providing support for my fellow teacher in training, Bernadette Wan Pacana.

Congratulations to my fellow graduates of the Spring 2014 500-hour Yogaworks teacher training program! We’ve been building a solid foundation and now it’s time to fly! Thank you guys for your encouragement, company, and spirit for the past six months.

The Future of Yoga Summit

Conferences seem to be (or be becoming) as popular in the yoga world as in the academic world. In the latter it’s more about attending than presenting, but nevertheless, they both generally involve relatively high registration fees and travel costs (or hoping that the one you want to attend is happening close by).

The Future of Yoga Summit (August 4-6) is free and requires no travel, no matter where you are. I haven’t registered yet so I don’t know what hidden costs might exist (and already I’ve noticed an “upgrade” option so there is money involved somewhere), but it seems a straightforward online summit about the state of yoga today and where some practitioners/leaders in the field would like to take it. The home page offers the following topics for the summit:

  • What’s revolutionary in the world of yoga – and where it’s headed
  • Exciting ways yoga can help transform culture and societal structures
  • Yogic wisdom for maintaining peace when facing social injustice
  • Ways yoga is contributing to resilience in youth and health and healing for ALL
  • How women’s experience transformed yoga in the contemporary world
  • The ways the Internet and technology is shaping yoga
  • The role of the guru, especially in light of scandals with prominent teachers
  • The most hopeful developments we’re experiencing in yoga today
  • Ways you can best contribute to yoga’s potential to bring positive change

A lot to cover in a few days, but doable in an online format. The list of featured speakers is fairly impressive and includes Cyndi Lee, Sean Corn, Hala Khouri, Suzanne Sterling, Judith Hanson Lasater, Richard Miller, and Shiva Rea.

It seems to be as geared toward regular practitioners (of all levels) as well as teachers and studio owners. Should be interesting. Will report back on what I’ve learned from my living room.

I was an English teacher…

"I was an English teacher. The demands of the system required that I give out grades, but I never felt good about it. How do you grade someone’s writing? Writing is about revision. It’s about access to self. If a student writes a poem, and it’s the best they can do at the moment, how are you supposed to compare that to the student sitting next to them? How are you supposed to give one a 90, and one an 85?" Source: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/90761463721/i-was-an-english-teacher-the-demands-of-the
“I was an English teacher. The demands of the system required that I give out grades, but I never felt good about it. How do you grade someone’s writing? Writing is about revision. It’s about access to self. If a student writes a poem, and it’s the best they can do at the moment, how are you supposed to compare that to the student sitting next to them? How are you supposed to give one a 90, and one an 85?”
Source: http://www.humansofnewyork.com/post/90761463721/i-was-an-english-teacher-the-demands-of-the

Site Spotlight: Aware of Awareness

Last week I met up with Crystal Fleming, who runs Aware of Awareness, a site for “Musings on Spirituality, Academia & Well-Being.” Crystal’s academic work “draws upon cultural sociology to explore how people interpret and respond to oppression” and her new project will look at people of color in the yoga/meditation/mindfulness community.

Crystal participated in the June yogathon I pulled together this year and it was a treat to finally meet her in person. We sat for hours discussing the various intersections of identity that we manage as academics of color with a dedicated contemplative practice.

I first “met” Crystal via Twitter – doesn’t Twitter always know when you should know some one? – and I take her site as an example of how we can marry these seemingly separate parts of our professional and personal lives. Aware of Awareness is a bold statement about the ways in which these parts are not actually, or always, separate. We can be professor, scholar, sociologist and irreverent, fly fashionista and contemplative, spiritual practitioner and angry, black woman and starry-eyed, love-struck idealist and….

From the first post on the blog (June 2012, “Popping This Blog’s Cherry”):

This blog is a space for me to share realizations, questions and musings related to spirituality.  It is inevitable not impossible that you may also stumble over posts about academia, France, thrifty fashion, cooking, champagne, cigars, social theory, activism, Mad Men and the existential angst of Blackness.

My spiritual practice draws upon two main principles at the core of a variety of Western and Eastern traditions:

(1) We are all interconnected

(2) What is real in existence is the conscious experience of the present moment

I love Crystal’s irreverence and the myriad things I can find of interest in just this one site – I can especially get lost in her posts in the “Poppin’ Tags” category about her thrift store hauls. Those of you who cook might also like her “Vegan Recipes” section. But it’s best to just go for fun, with an open mind about what you might find today.

PS – I find the following note at the end of her About page totally stealable:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Given that I am a tenure track professor, please know and understand that while I love your comments and connecting with readers, I am not able to post and reply as often as I would like, particularly during the academic year.

Jillian Pransky at TEDxNavesink

One of the guest teachers in my 500-hour yoga teacher training program, the gracious and generous Jillian Pransky, gave a talk recently at TEDxNavesink. In this talk, titled “Mindplay to Expand Love in Your Life,” Jillian explains the benefits of metta meditation and leads the audience in a short practice.

Jillian’s easy charisma and her willingness to weave anecdotes from her own life alongside words from teachers such as Pema Chodron make the practice and the philosophy behind it accessible for audience members at all levels of experience with meditation. The talk is less than 12 minutes, but could easily be the highlight of your day today.

Motivation and teaching

From the New York Times article, “The Secret of Effective Motivation“:

THERE are two kinds of motive for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.

That’s the first paragraph; it sets up much of what comes after. It’s a fairly short article, and not all about teaching, but the last portion struck me as relevant to teachers of all stripes and subjects:

There is a temptation among educators and instructors to use whatever motivational tools are available to recruit participants or improve performance. […]for students uninterested in learning, financial incentives for good attendance or pizza parties for high performance may prompt them to participate, but it may result in less well-educated students.

The same goes for motivating teachers themselves. We wring our hands when they “teach to the test” because we fear that it detracts from actual educating. It is possible that teachers do this because of an overreliance on accountability that transforms the instrumental consequences of good teaching (things like salary bonuses) into instrumental motives. Accountability is important, but structured crudely, it can create the very behavior (such as poor teaching) that it is designed to prevent.

Unfortunately, as teachers, we may not always have control over how students are brought into the classroom – whether it’s a college classroom or a yoga studio – neither should we stick our heads in the sand about some of the incentives that may have brought them there. The authors of the article – Amy Wrzesniewski, Yale School of Management and Barry Schwartz, Swarthmore College – conclude by cautioning:

Rendering an activity more attractive by emphasizing both internal and instrumental motives to engage in it is completely understandable, but it may have the unintended effect of weakening the internal motives so essential to success.

This advice is relevant not only in academic situations but also any learning environment. If a student is physically present for instrumental reasons only – say, a partner has pressured said student into attending a yoga class; or a student needs a class for a gen ed credit – then he or she is at best, only semi-available to learn. If we have no say in how or why the student shows up, how do we reach the ones who do?

25 ways to sleep better

One of my favorite TEDtalks is by the poet Rives from 2007, titled “The 4 a.m. Mystery.” It’s comedic, but as with most good comedy, also quite true. I am sure exceptions exist – most probably for young partygoers and lovers – but in general, 4 a.m. is not a pretty hour to be awake…. It’s a downright ugly hour if you’ve been trying to sleep since midnight. In that case, 4 a.m. is the time you know you are going to have a bad day tomorrow. At 2 a.m. you were still optimistic; at 3 a.m. you began to go over your day to see what you’d done to deserve losing sleep; at 4 a.m. you give up and start trying to rearrange the day ahead to accommodate your misery.

I’ve had these nights (and those days ahead) and so I’m always looking for information on how to prevent them. Most recent to come across my screen is an article on MSN.com by Marnie Soman, seductively titled “25 ways to sleep better tonight.” Unfortunately, if you didn’t do some of these things today, you won’t sleep better tonight (unless, of course, you’re reading this at 4 a.m. and have all day to get some of these in). We all know much of this already, but it’s always good to be reminded. Some highlights:

1. Pump it up
Regular aerobic exercise — bicycling, walking at a moderate pace, swimming laps — for 30 to 40 minutes, four times a week, improves sleep quality. You can break it up into two 20-minute sessions if that fits better into your life.

Hmmmm…no mention of yoga here but a strong vinyasa class would surely fit this bill. The article warns, however, that said exercise should end at least 3 hours before bedtime.

3. Choose cherry
The fruit is rich in melatonin, which helps the body regulate its sleep/wake cycle. When study participants drank eight ounces of a tart cherry-juice beverage twice a day for two weeks, they reported significant improvements in insomnia. Find the juice at Whole Foods Market and natural foods stores.

Perhaps we can claim cherry-juice as a medical expense? Business-related expenditure maybe? Then there is the old standby at number 8:

Frazzled people sleep less and have worse sleep quality, and compromised slumber contributes to stress.

No kidding. My job market and tenure years immediately come to mind. Soman suggests a warm bath to raise the body temperature, which “may enable you to fall asleep faster and then shift you into deeper sleep.” Not sure how that squares with number 6, which advises you lower the temperature in your bedroom because “A cool bedroom lowers your core body temperature, which initiates sleepiness.” I guess you choose which works for you (I find a Bikram class totally knocks me out while a cold room means I have to make several trips to the bathroom).

One of the 2 items I can totally get behind comes very near the end:

23. S-t-r-e-t-c-h
In a study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, women who did upper- and lower-body stretches four times a week for about 15 to 30 minutes reduced their problems falling asleep by 30 percent.

Yup, make time to do some yoga. Even if it’s in bed. Even if you’ve already tried the other 25 strategies. Even if it’s already 4 a.m.