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Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

The other day my yoga teacher was talking about how to go deeper into a twist during a standing pose. “Focus on your legs,” he said, “Root them. Strong roots will allow you more freedom of movement. Move your energy down to enable you to shift up.”

I know it’s a little cheesy, but it made me think of this effort we’re undertaking with our children. Raising them with deep roots, providing with structure within which they will hopefully be able to find their own movement.

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I’m a bit of a sloucher. It’s an ingrained habit which I’m not particularly proud of. In fact, if you forced me to make a list of 10 things I’d like to change about my physical presence, standing up straight would probably make the top 5.

Until recently, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. When someone tells me to stand up straight, I would be able to do it for a few minutes, but would always relapse into my slouchy stance.

Over several months of doing yoga, working on building my shoulder strength and opening my chest, I realize why I could never stand up straight – I didn’t know how. When reminded to do it, I’d roll my shoulders back. But it was always a temporary fix.

Really standing up straight, in manner that can be enduring, requires more than just rolling the tops of your shoulders back. First, you need to moving your shoulder blades towards each other, and pull them down your back. This enables you to open your chest without sticking out your boobs, creating breadth across your shoulders and chest and causing you to, yes, stand up straight.

Who knew?

Well, of course, lots of people knew. They just didn’t know that I didn’t know. And they just didn’t think to teach it to me.

One of the biggest challenges of learning new skills is that when you don’t know what you’re doing you don’t know what questions you need to ask in order to learn to do it better. 

This challenge exists when when you’re trying to build technical skills like qualitative research or doing a better asana, but it can be even more difficult if you’re trying to develop fundamental skills like connecting with others or standing up straight. People are used to teaching technical skills, and may even remember learning them, so they have a grasp on what the steps of the process are.

When we’re learning fundamental skills, our teachers may be unconciously compitent, or naturals at something, and therefore unable to effectively teach. Worse, we’re often trying to learn from people who are not actually ‘teachers’. They don’t always teach by breaking down a skill into it’s component pieces and helping you develop them one by one until suddenly, you’re standing up straight more than you’re slouching.

There are a couple of ways that as learners and teachers, we can help make learning fundamentals easiers. First, as a learner, know what you want to learn. But don’t stop there – be on the lookout for when people around you do things well that you struggle with and proactively engage them in a conversation about what they’re doing well, how and why.

As a teacher, take the time to break down the outcome you desire into the multiple elements that can impact success and failure. Then, focus on teaching those elements one at a time. Many basic yoga postures are interim steps that build upon each other and ultimately lead to the ability to do something you never imagined that your body could achieve. If, as teachers, we break down even fundamental skills like listening and leading into their consituent parts, our students can learn one element at a time, slowly making progress until one day, they can stand up straight all day long.

 

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How great is that quote? It’s from Oliver Wendell Holmes, quoted in Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I’m particularly taken with it as I’ve been thinking about how since I’ve recommitted to yoga, it’s impacted both my work and my home life in a positive way. Which is funny, because I’ve avoided it for a while because I worried that it would take away from those other activities. Instead, it’s given me another way of looking at the other things I’m doing, plus it makes me feel better physically and mentally. So Holmes and Jacobs are right – more life can equal better life – and more of an especially good thing breeds other good things.

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A funny thing about being a parent is that once you are one, you are one. There’s nothing (barring the insane and/or criminal) that you can do to not be a parent. You can, of course, choose to be a completely uninvolved parent, but still, there it is, your progeny roams the planet.

I sort of like that. Although I sometimes dream of the free-wheeling days before I was a parent, I never agonize about whether I want to continue to be one. It frees me up to focus my energy on thinking about what kind of parent I want to be. Not just in terms of being a good or bad parent, but how much do I want to structure our days vs. being flexible, how much I want to rely on existing guidelines vs. following my intuition, how much I want to work vs. be with the kids.

I’m going to try applying some of the same logic to other parts of my life. As many of my friends know, I’ve been waffling about staying in my job for almost as long as I’ve been doing the job. And five years is an awfully long time to waffle. So this year, instead of having ongoing conversation in my head about whether I’m going to stay in the job or not, I’m going to accept that I have my job and it just is, just like I am a parent and it just is. That way, I can focus on what kind of colleague/consultant/manager/ leader/salesperson/writer I want to be. Not necessarily easier, but a much more interesting, and more fruitful conversation, I hope.

Likewise, instead of wondering if I am going to go to yoga or not go to yoga, I’m going to try to think about when I’m going to go, and how I can cover off on work and childcare so that I can make it.

Finally, in one more domain, I’m going to try to act as if I am…allergic to cookies. Well, that might be going overboard.

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