Thursday, February 10, 2011

You do yoga?

AKA – All I need to know about teaching I learned in yoga

A lot of people are surprised when they hear that I do yoga. It is probably because I don’t look very bendy – and I’m not. Improving my flexibility is the main reason I started attending classes at a local yoga center. The amazing thing is that after years of practice, my flexibility of mind has well outpaced my physical flexibility. This is especially true when it comes to my teaching.

A good example of this happened several years ago when I first started yoga. I was in a class called Gentle Yoga. The instructor had us on our backs with both legs up in the air. While this was not a difficult pose I was struggling to keep my legs straight and vertical. As I looked around I was becoming discouraged when comparing myself to the others in the class.

I don’t know if the instructor saw me looking around or sensed my growing frustration but her next instructions seemed directed at me. She said something like, “Make sure that your eyes are closed so that you can bring awareness to you body.” I shut my eyes and became aware of how tight my hamstrings felt. After a little while, she continued, “Accept your body where it is right now.” This was more difficult for me. With every deliberate breath, however, acceptance became easier. Finally, she added the clincher, “Now grab what ever tool you need, a balance block or a stretching strap, in order to adjust your body and move closer to your desired goal. Please do not overdo it.” I grabbed a strap and put it across the balls of my feet. Gradually I pulled on the strap and my legs began to straighten toward the ceiling. It was a miracle.

After the class, I considered the power of those words: awareness, acceptance, and adjustment. I thought, “These are the exact words I need to share with the preservice mathematics teachers that I teach.” They were struggling to find appropriate activities to foster number sense in the young children they tutored. In reflecting on the preservice teachers’ efforts, I realized that they were either unaware or did not accept the current understandings of the children. Therefore, their activities were arbitrary and not adjustments. I finally had a framework that I could share with them that could make a difference.

Years later I encountered the Teaching-Learning Cycle. Remarkably, this educational framework reflected the lesson I learned in yoga. (I’ll discuss that connection in a later post, or you can in the comments.) For now, it suffices to say that this framework affirmed my thoughts regarding the power of awareness, acceptance, and adjustment in teaching.

I still go to yoga. I’m still not very bendy. Physical flexibility is no longer my main purpose for attending, however. I practice yoga because I still have a lot to learn about teaching.

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