What’s Yoga Got To Do With It?

There we were, five of us, early on a Saturday morning in a large, chilly room ready to participate in a workshop on Yoga and Writing. The workshop was offered by an organization I’ve been affiliated with for several decades. I’ve always really enjoyed and benefited the opportunities it offers teachers on Long Island to come together to improve/hone their writing skills. The mission of the organization is to promote writing amongst teachers who will then share their skills and their passion for writing with their students.

Sadly, over the past five or so years, attendance at these workshops,usually held on Saturday mornings, has been slowly dwindling. The directors of the organization have tried everything they can think of to stimulate interest, but the numbers keep going down. Since the arrival of the Common Core Standards, most teachers have shifted their attention and their time away from such enriching experiences and turned them toward the data collecting, testing-driven enterprise that we still call education. There’s no energy left at the week’s end for Saturday morning camaraderie or enrichment. Or so it seems.

But here we were anyway…five intrepid souls plus a yoga teacher,
coming together despite all the obstacles. The yoga teacher explained that she would not be leading us in the “American yoga” style of teaching which usually involves assuming a variety of yoga positions throughout the session. Instead, she said, she would be drawing from her personal experience as a native of India who has been immersed in the philosophy and practice of a more ancient tradition of yoga. Her intention during this session was to help us “open” ourselves to a more relaxed experience of writing.

She then led us through an amazing series of prompts beginning with the visualizing of a beautiful waterfall before which we were told to stand and breathe, mindful of our natural breathing. Next we were instructed to “bathe” ourselves in the water emanating from this waterfall to cleanse ourselves and eleminate the toxins in our life. We were instructed about the seven places in our bodies most susceptible to energy blockages and to use the same rushing, gushing pure waters of the waterfall to flush away any obstacles or blockages in those seven places. We ended the session with several additional prompts that helped us to further focus on our breathing and how to coordinate it with movements of various parts of our body to achieve a deeper sense of relaxation.

The goal: To demonstrate how each of us has the power to gain control of our emotions, particularly when stressed, and to shift our focus toward a strength and stability in ourselves developed over time through these practices.

When the session ended, we unanimously agreed that it had been an amazing experience to share and of utmost importance to learn that we could turn to our inner strength and calm in times of stress.We never did get to the “writing part” of the workshop, but instead spent a good hour or so after the yoga session talking about how to salvage the program from its creeping demise.

Having this experience reminded me of how important the mind/body connection is and how we undervalue that connection in American culture and education. I mentioned how wonderful it would be for teachers to be able to engage in this kind of activity at least once a week, to enable them to deal with the increased stress in their work lives.

I went on to say how amazing it would be to engage in these practices with our students; how we have gotten farther and farther away from allowing children to experience physical and mental release from stress by reducing physical education time in the curriculum and playtime in general. Older students could benefit as well; they live in a pressure cooker every day called high school. Imagine how different their day would be if they were allowed a half hour of time in which to meditate, practice yoga, or just rest in a quiet, calm space.

What’s yoga got to do with education? Everything, it seems.

Today, July 4th, I Am Celebrating Many Things!

July 4, 2015

TODAY I am celebrating… the 4th of July, the day of our nation’s independence.  As for many Americans ,  for me and my family this day has become a reason for a three-day weekend, an opportunity for a  hot dog and hamburger barbecue with friends and/or family, and a chance to see an evening fireworks display.  After reading the morning paper about how members of ISIS are destroying even more ancient artifacts in Palmyra, Syria, I am celebrating the fact that I do not live in a country overtaken by religious zealots.  I am celebrating our constitution which was written to maintain a balance in our government and our daily lives. I am celebrating our relative peace and prosperity.

TODAY I am celebrating…the fact that I am still alive.  At about this time last year I had just retired from teaching and was looking forward to enjoying the “golden years” when I was suddenly overtaken by a 4th stage cancer with the odds definitely not in my favor.  Seven months later I was declared cancer free, and I now consider myself a cancer survivor…one of the very lucky ones.

TODAY I am celebrating the beginning of summer;  I have so much I hope to accomplish.  On Monday I will begin to participate in a two-week  workshop for teachers of writing with one of my favorite groups…the Long IslandWriting Project.  I have been affiliated with them for over thirty years and still think they serve a very important function in this mostly technological world.  I celebrate their wisdom, their perseverance and their mission to create a safe haven for all writers.

TODAY I am celebrating that, thanks to this website, I have become an avid blogger.  Participating for the first time this year in the March Slice of Life challenge, I overcame my depression from having cancer and could not wait to get up each day and read what everyone had to say.  Becoming a weekly blogger has introduced a very welcome discipline in my life which…dare I say it…is therapeutic and good practice for a would-be writer.

TODAY I am celebrating that I have taken some baby steps toward beginning to write a book I have been thinking about for a while.  I have joined an online writing community which will require me to post new writing once a week, and like Slice of Life, will provide me with some feedback on a weekly basis.  My long-term goal for now is to produce a first draft  this year.  My immediate goal is to produce new writing each week.   Without the encouragement of the community of writers at TWT, I don’t think I would ever have taken this first step.

TODAY I am celebrating the flowers in my garden, the clear blue sky overhead, the zero-gravity chair I am sitting on while writing this in my backyard, the time I’ve been given to pursue one of my passions, and the communities I’ve become part of that will be my support in the months to come.

What Does It Mean To Be a Teacher Today?

This past Saturday I attended a workshop hosted by the Long Island Writing Project (LIWP) at Nassau Community College offering K-12 teachers a chance to discuss and write about the topic “What Does It Mean To Be a Teacher Today?” This group of professionals has been my “go to” group since I became a full-time teacher over twenty years ago. It has consistently provided a safe place for teachers to hone their writing skills and learn how to help students become better writers. As a recent retiree (June 2014), I wasn’t sure whether I would still “fit in.”

I learned very quickly from the sharing of writing that took place at the workshop that teachers today are very torn between what they know in their hearts they need to do to help kids learn and what they are being told by administrators about how to spend their classroom instructional time. When teachers describe giving inappropriate tests to developmentally unprepared students as being “abusive” to their students, and then feeling guilty about doing so (as if they have any choice), we know we are in a state of crisis. When teachers are told to teach a “module” that will force kids to analyze a text beyond their reading comprehension level instead of one they can feel comfortable with and passionate about, teachers feel very conflicted and students begin to dislike learning.

I left the workshop feeling that my passion for teaching is still very much a part of me and that my “voice” is still welcome. But I felt both distressed and challenged by what I was hearing and grateful that there is a still place of refuge where teachers can safely express their feelings and ideas about what is happening to them. Now, if only we could do the same for students.