I spent 18 hours of last weekend in stretchy pants, making deliberate contact with various weight-bearing points of myself to a sticky mat, in a big sunny room, with 20 other people, taking notes, touching people with my “magic button” hands, directing their sun salutations, and being quizzed on the broader points of Ayurveda.
I’m in yoga teacher training. And it’s really weird to be a student.
Obviously, I’ve been a yoga student for years already, relinquishing the seat of the teacher to someone up at the front of the room, keeping my eyes on my own mat. Being a yoga student for me was an exercise in letting go of control, of letting someone else direct the show for a while, of keeping my eyes on my own mat and learning to be mindful. Getting into that flow is fairly easy for me. Yoga is a practice, not a perfect: you do it right by showing up, and continuing. Yoga in this way is a lot like writing: a lonely endeavour requiring grit and steady effort, over the long haul, accumulating into strength that manifests in individual ways.
But yoga teacher training is more like class: there are tests, and homework, and other assessments and you’re being taught a body of knowledge you have to master before you’re done.
So I’m that kind of student again, and it’s probably a useful experience for my life as a professor, now that I’m (ulp) fifteen years out of the graduate seminar, and seventeen years away from my undergradute experience. The gulf between my experience of university classrooms and that of my students is growing: I see class more and more as a pure learning space, as an obligation that needs to be regimented, too, if I’m going to get my other work done, as a luxury of dedicated time to be curious and access a subject area expert, as a set of names and stories I have to manage to make a connection, without burning out. I don’t know, really, how my students see class anymore.
But I just spent a weekend in their shoes. (Or bare feet. On a medidation cushion rather than a chair.) I have worried about how I’m going to find time to get the homework done–two hours of home yoga AND two classes a week? That’s hard! I can do the written homework fairly easily … oh and someone made digital flashcards for Sanskrit pose names. When is the courseware package going to be available? I’ve shot up my hand and given the wrong answer in front of 20 other people and been met with, “Yessssss, that’s interesting but no.” And I’ve shot my hand up enough to have my teacher’s eyes slide past me with, “Can we hear from someone who hasn’t given an answer yet?” I’ve been puzzled and I’ve been confident. I even got a little bored and my back hurt and I wanted a nap, at a certain point on Sunday. I’ve done group work, introducing myself awkwardly to strangers, and figuring out a process to take turns pushing on each others’ inner thighs, or leading sun salutations with verbal cues. the whole time I’m wondering if I’m doing it right, and how I would know that. It’s exciting and exhausting and confusing and worrying and fun.
At yoga teacher training, it seems, I’m learning (again) what it’s like to be a student, in a formal learning endeavour with real stakes. It’s humbling and illuminating.
I went back to my own class on Monday–the one I teach–and looked at my 14 sudents with a new kind of perspective. I heard what I was saying to them with a sort of doubled consciousness, like I used to when I was just starting. I could imagine what they felt like as students, even as I continued to occupy my role as teacher. Some of them are more or less curious. More or less prepared. More or less awake, or hungry, or distracted. Some have a burning desire to just graduate and others have a burning desire to learn to use Photoshop and some are too overwhelmed by the bombarbment of new information to desire much except a little respite and maybe a muffin. Just like me.
I am grateful for this unexpected extra benefit from my new training. I guess I forgot how long I’ve been in the classroom just as a professor, and not as a student, and didn’t realize what impact this might have on my teaching and on student learning. As I whipsaw between intellectual and physical/spiritual pursuits, between student and teacher, between satisfying learning and frustrating learning, I’ll keep in mind that that is what it is like to be a student. Any student. And we’ll see where that takes me, and my own students, in our time together.
|Embodied learning: feet truly parallel, and active|