Meditation is a bit like flossing for the brain. Something you know you should do, and yet...
The good news is that there are many wonderful tools available to help with meditation. For example, this website reviews different meditation apps to help with focus and tracking time ( http://www.techhive.com/article/2461423/five-timers-just-for-meditation.html), many of which are free.
One of the tools that's available is less high tech: friends!
My wonderful friend Jenn (she teaches at Rishi Yoga in Reno http://rishiyogareno.com/room/jenn-olsen/) recently sent out a message via facebook asking who wanted help recommitting (or committing for the first time) to a meditation practice. She's formed a little facebook group in which we can post our successes and failures, ask questions, and share advice.
The beauty of Jenn's suggestion is its simplicity. She wanted to do something, she assumed her like minded friends would also want to do this thing, and so she created a solution that brings the friends together to support one another and interact more frequently (an added bonus!) over this goal. A similar group could be created about any topic. Easy peasy.
Now if only she'd start a flossing group!
Dry cleaning, though a chore I don't actually perform myself, is one I fail at all the time. We're starting the new semester this week, so I dropped a load of overworn, pretty grotty, and much loved work shirts off at the dry cleaners on Saturday.
As I stood at the corner, something yellow and blue caught my eye. So familiar, that pattern. Not entirely surprisingly, this was my spring jacket. I apologized to the woman behind the counter for leaving my coat for almost a year. Oh no, she said, you dropped this off in August 2013.
Oops. No one should ever give me their dry cleaning. The problem is that for me, when chores are out of sight, they quickly become out of mind. In contrast, I hate seeing dirty dishes stacked on the counter and so that's a chore that regularly gets done.
This New Year, I have resolved to strengthen and build some regular habits and to generally be more mindful about how I spend my time. To help strengthen this resolve, I needed to do something to bring these tasks into view.
My solution has been to create a series of little weekly charts (pictured here) to tape onto the wall above my desk. Each day, I put a little checkmark if I have done the task. Because this transforms my daily meditation into visual data, the goal and my progress stay in view. In contrast, you can see that I've done no running at all this week. My hunch is that this means one of two things: I need to find and preserve a specific time for my runs, or, I need to admit that this isn't a goal I care much about and release it. Seeing what I'm doing and not doing makes these realizations clearer.
Now I just hope I can get those shirts back...
Yesterday I attended a wonderful workshop titled Fearless Backbends, lead by Ohio-based Ashtanga teacher Taylor Hunt (http://www.taylorhuntyoga.com/)
Taylor taught us many magical adjustments and set straight many confusions about internal and external arm rotations. And for this I (and my students) will be forever grateful.
But there was also a bit of wisdom he imparted that was less specific to backbends and more broadly applicable to any kind of regular work or practice. He said, "it doesn't have to hurt."
This idea, as Taylor presented it was about more than rotating the arms to create room across the shoulders, thus relieving literal pains in the neck. Instead, he was referring to fixed ideas we tell ourselves that then become our reality. If we tell ourselves, "well, backbends just hurt;" or, "well, x is just supposed to be unpleasant," this story rules our experience.
In other words, when we tell stories like this about our work, we stop seeking ways to alleviate the pain. Let alone seeking pleasure in the practice.
It's a simple idea, but one that resonated. "It doesn't have to hurt."
A favorite idea that came from my yoga teacher training is also a simple one: take time to let go of what ever you were doing before going in to teach your yoga class. I've heard this described primarily in terms of physical ritual: washing hands and feet, getting to the yoga studio early, etc.
But I've been thinking a bit lately about my walks and my use of my smart phone while walking. I was a late smart phone adopter, so at my last job, when I lived in an apartment near school, I had the opportunity to walk 30 minutes to and from work on the days that I was not lazy and 10 minutes to and from my parking space when I was lazy.
Now, I have to say, I do love my smartphone. When I go on jogs (boring for me when done alone), I revel in the technological wonder that is my phone as I use it to track my mileage and pace, listen to a podcast, and when there is a quail on the path (hooray!), to stop, take a photo, and email the photo to my quailless family living on the other coast.
And yet. On those walks to work pre-smart phone--Let's call them dumb walks--I did a lot of thinking. Often this thinking prepared me for where I was going. If headed to a meeting, I could work out some ideas. If headed to teach, I often fine tuned or generated new material for lesson plans.
Lately, when I walk to campus with my phone in my hand, I'm either listening to a podcast or checking email (as though any that came in before leaving the house and arriving at the office could be so so urgent). What I'm not doing, to return to the ritual before starting yoga teaching, is allowing myself to "come into the space" of wherever I'm going. Instead, the shift is abrupt: phone off lecture begun; stop listening to serial, start writing.
So, while I'm not giving up my smartphone, I do want to start reclaiming a little strategic dumb time for myself. I do love a good podcast, so I'll start small--letting the walk to teach be a time free from other stimulation, bringing my focus to the task at hand.
It's teaching prep week at my house. Academic classes begin again a week from today, and I am teaching a new yoga class starting at the end of this week.
Prepping for the start of both teaching commitments, I've been thinking a lot about what my experience as an academic teacher might tell me about yoga teaching and vice versa.
One lesson that's been hard-earned has been the importance of not-cramming, not-rushing. Like most teachers, I love my material and have so much I want to share with my students. This can lead to a bad classroom translation of Wallace Stevens's poem "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," as I try to exhaustively present 15 ways of looking at feminist theory or 30 ways to consider Chaplin's Modern Times.
When I teach this way, I feel breathless and frustrated, racing to keep up with my content. We end class with a frenzy, never wrapping up. I say things to my students like, "hold that thought!" "No, throw that thought away, there's no time!"
Needless to say, students don't particularly appreciate this teaching style either. In his fabulous book Advice for New Faculty Members, Robert Boice explains that teachers who cram less into their lesson plans receive better student evaluations. Just as too much material can make the instructor feel breathless, so too do the students feel rushed through, unattended to, and confused by such presentations.
This insight, which has been hard won in my academic teaching is something that I both know and don't know in a yoga context. On the one hand, as a new yoga teacher, I have that new teacher fear of silence and a gap in the class ("must fill space with more poses!"). But as a student, I know how much I appreciate those moments when the instructor pulls us out of difficult sequence into child's pose to return our attention to breath and to catch up with our minds, which are perhaps racing about, panicked by the thought of another Warrior III.
The insight that rest and pause and simply taking a breathing break are perhaps the most important moments in a class is one that I continue to have to learn.
But as I plan my syllabi and my yoga classes this week, I'm trying to build out such moments for integration--places to catch our breath, catch-up days to pause in the semester and integrate difficult theoretical concepts, moments for reflection and freewriting.
How else might we incorporate the old adage that less is more into our teaching practices?
Get a Life, PhD
The Professor is In
The Thesis Whisperer
Tenure, She Wrote