Lessons from the Yoga Mat

Dear Teachers,

Every week I look forward to my favorite 75-minute Deep Stretch yoga class. It’s a delicious and therefore very popular class, so I always try to arrive early so I can find a spot and get settled in. Today the spot I selected was about a mat’s length away from the front corner of the room, and I knew I might be crowding someone who might want to lay his or her mat down in that space. I didn’t have a whole lot of room to back up, though, and spots were going quickly, so I eyeballed the space I was leaving in the corner and hoped for the best.

As it got closer to the time for class to start, a woman did approach that space, and she started to roll her mat out in the spot. She was somehow holding her mat, a water bottle, her gym bag, her flip-flops, a yoga blanket, and a couple of yoga blocks, so she was pretty laden down. I asked her if she had enough room and told her I would try to move back a little. She said she thought she had enough room, but looked at all the stuff she had dumped on the floor near her and said, “I just have all this baggage.”

“Don’t we all,” I said and smiled, and she and the others around me laughed knowingly.

Those of us who go to yoga do it for probably somewhat similar reasons. We want to be more flexible. We want better balance. We are more about improvement than about meeting a particular once-and-done goal. We feel better physically and mentally when we practice yoga than when we don’t.

My Saturday morning yoga instructor is Lisa, and I love her class for many reasons, not least of which are her humor and her wry word choice. She  and the other yoga instructors have some great catch phrases that work really well off the mat, too. (It’s almost like they do that on purpose.) When I compare yoga to life off the mat, I often think about this ISTE poster and blog:

Screenshot 2018-09-15 at 12.42.26 PM

I’ll be leading an ISTE Certification Train-the Trainer session again in a few days, and one of the opening activities (spoiler alert) encourages participants to consider how each of the ISTE Standards for Educators is similar to a yoga pose. This time out, I hope to remember to drop in some of my favorite phrases that I’ve heard my yoga teachers say.

  • “We’re looking for functional flexibility.” I have turned this term over and over in my mind, and I really like it for so many reasons. We try to get physically more flexible in yoga, sure – but cognitive, social, and emotional flexibility are so important, too. Being cognitively flexible allows us to look at problems from different perspectives or design new experiences for our students. Social flexibility means that we know there are different ways to behave in different social situations and different ways to communicate depending on our audience and established group norms. Emotional flexibility means that I don’t necessarily *have* to have exactly the same emotional reaction every time that coworker or relative says something off-putting.
  • “Everyone is put together with different glue.” Differentiation, anyone? All of us have different needs, and those needs change even within a single person from day to day. Education is such an art! Think about all those ever-changing needs and how they all contribute to classroom dynamics each day (or each hour). It’s okay – even essential –  to make instructional modifications based on the particular “glue” that is holding a student (or you) together on a given day.
  • “Perfect is the enemy of good.” When it comes to ed tech, I sometimes feel that teachers think that they have to use it perfectly on the first try. And that if they don’t use the tool “perfectly” on the first try, then they just won’t use it at all. My personal corollary to this one is “Doing something is better than doing nothing”even though I might *intend* to get to yoga 3 or 4 times a weeks, I know I feel better if I make it only once a week. So I like to encourage our teachers, especially in the area of my favorite subject, digital citizenship, that taking even a small, imperfect step is much better than not doing anything at all. Ignoring the necessity of #digcit instruction altogether is just not good for anyone. I encourage you to try something new and innovative in your classroom this week – even if it doesn’t come out on the first try exactly the way you had imagined it.
  • “Nothing is good for everyone all the time.” We talk to teachers all the time about why specific technology tools are not written in to our curriculum. There is an art to selecting the best instructional strategy for a particular learning goal and set of learners, and this is perhaps especially true in the area of educational technology. The best tech tool for one teacher and his or her learners is dependent on many factors: What devices are available in that classroom? How comfortable with technology is the teacher? What is that particular group of learners like; could they handle more independent tasks or do they need more instruction? (Pro tip: those “digital natives” do NOT automatically know how to get the most out of every technology tool that comes their way, the first time they see it.)We try our best to help our teachers think through these questions as they consider ed tech implementation in their classrooms. We customize our recommendations so that teachers can join the ed tech conversation at any point where they are comfortable. We give lots of options for modifications if teachers aren’t ready for a more challenging technology. We stress that just because their neighbor across the hall is using a particular tool, that doesn’t mean that a) it’s being used appropriately and b) that’s the best tool in every situation. Teachers (and yogis) are different and are at different stages of learning. So if you are one of those teachers who compare themselves to others, remember that sometimes you need to close your eyes and mind your own mat.

This week as you go about your teaching, consider some of these lessons from yoga: start where you are, work with others, stretch yourself a little, strive for balance, and don’t forget to breathe! And above all, remember that we all have baggage, so be sure to save room for those who seem especially laden down.



P.S. Shoutout to my favorite yoga studio, The Mat. If you’re in the North Dallas area and are looking for a yoga home, The Mat might be just the place for you!


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