Teachings on teaching

March 17th, 2013

Nearly all the folks who were on the retreat are yoga teachers. In addition to Angela, one has her own Mysore program, at least two assist at Angela’s studio, four teach led classes in a variety of venues, and another is in a teacher training program. So, part of the discussion during the week focused on cultivating the teaching practice as an extension of your personal practice. While teaching yoga remains in the realm of when-I-abandon-this-ridiculous-academic-career activities, the discussions on teaching were still relevant.

Angela presented two ideas that resonated with me. The first is cultivating a team of mentors who you trust, who can call you on your b.s., who push you to do better, and who contribute different areas of expertise to your teaching practice. While I have had mentors at various stages of my career, I haven’t cultivated those relationships as well as I should have. I have let many of these relationships drift because of my fear of disappointing people that I respect and admire, unconsciously assuming that their criticism will be as harsh as my own. This reminded me to re-establish those connections to help me feel more secure and, therefore, more able to give.

This, then, relates to the second idea: poverty needs versus abundance needs. Poverty needs are, most basically, food, shelter, safety, and relationship. These are basic needs that must be met. When they are not met or — more relevant to the folks on this retreat — when you consciously or unconsciously don’t believe them to be met, you will act in a way to fulfill these needs to the disregard of others. The position of ‘teacher’ can provide opportunities for money/sex/power/etc that may be exploited in response to poverty needs. (thus, leading to yoga scandals!) This is in contrast to abundance needs: intimacy and efficacy. Abundance needs are things you need to feel fulfilled, once your poverty needs are met. These needs are, at least to me, the kind of fulfillment you feel when serving or working closely with others toward a productive goal. So, in my world, mis-assigned poverty needs are evidenced by professors who claim students’ work as their own or take advantage of their position of power to demand favors or special dispensation. And abundance needs are met in effective mentoring relationships and building collaborations on exciting projects. This kind of discussion of mentoring doesn’t really go on in my world, despite the fact that effective mentoring is the core of graduate student training.

For me, I can see how I act out of poverty needs in mentoring relationships when I fear for (or burnish) my own reputation through my students or use my position to demand their approval. That said, this is the part of my work that I find most satisfying because it meets my abundance needs, as well.

Wombat goes to Camp

March 17th, 2013

I spent the first week of March at yoga camp. It really was like camp. I was a little nervous to meet everyone — I only “knew” two of the people, who I had met previously in the cybershala. And it turned out to be such a lovely group of people and everyone got along swimmingly. It was a great mix of personalities, each with a warm heart.

It was interesting to be dropped into a new group of people with time to reflect on how you behave in a new group. When I meet new people, I tend to be performative at first and, even in a ‘we’re all here for the yoga’ setting, I have a difficult time leaving my academic identity behind. And some of that is ok– I am nerdy and excited about science and critters and stuff– but some of that comes from the desire for status or approval. It is funny that I try to seek approval that way, since know-it-all-ness (when not from sheer enthusiasm) can be so off-putting. Tim, clearly used to dealing with over-educated people, called me out on this with gentle humor, allowing me to see and abandon that dynamic. In any case, the performative stuff subsided by day 2 or so, and it was fun to hang out, expectation-free.

I stayed with three others in The Big Palapa, an three-walled room of eight mosquito-net draped single beds and two bathrooms, and it did, occasionally, have the feel of a sleep-over. I have lived alone for the past seven years, and I do wonder how that has warped me — it was nice to have company for a week.

There were a few small adventures — kayaking with Jade to a nearby beach to go snorkeling; rock-hopping on the beach, which always makes me feel alive; and surfing at the local point break, resulting in few nice rides (and cut up feet). And there was some fun bird-watching on the beach with Clare, where we saw Snowy Egrets, Whimbrels, lots of diving Brown Pelicans, Black-Necked Stilts, perhaps a Willet, a Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, a Bananaquit, and a large raptor that was not a Crested Caracara (much to my disappointment) but was probably a juvenile Common Blackhawk. But there were also just a lot of leisurely meals (the food was very fresh and tasty) and reading and talking on the beach.

In my every day life, opportunities to connect with new people are few, so that little thrill of meeting someone you click with is a rarity. For me, this was a week suffused with that thrill, and that was both incredibly pleasant and morale boosting.


March 6th, 2013



Culture Update and Workshop

January 13th, 2013

Update on my fermentation experiments: (i) the first batch of kombucha was a success! It didn’t suffer from a couple weeks in the fridge. When I got home last Tuesday, I split it into bottles and added some chia seeds. It’s a little too sweet for me, so I decreased the sugar in my current batch. I was worried when the scoby fell to the bottom when I added the tea, but it is back today and fermenting away. (ii) the kefir did not do as well with a couple weeks in the fridge. I blended it with some fruit to make it palatable, but it had some cheesy overtones that I don’t prefer. However, the two batches I have done on the counter since my return taste great. Again, I blended it up with some fruit and have been consuming an awful lot of kefir. This could definitely be a problem — I get a quart of kefir every couple days. It is great for breakfast, but… urp. That’s a lot of kefir. (iii) Need to check on the vinegar again, soon.

This weekend was the David Swenson workshop hosted by the studio where I practice. David and Shelley were very personable and humanized the practice with their own experiences. I liked David’s self-effacing humor, his accommodating attitude toward the practice, and his admonition to give 85-90% in each pose, not 100%, which leaves you exhausted and prone to injury (that sounds familiar). Specific content wise, I found a few good tidbits that I will apply to my practice and was adjusted a few times on a rotate-shoulders-outward theme, that will renew my focus to that aspect of my asana practice. Maybe I have been to too many workshops (or read too many blogs) over the years, but I’m not sure I need more workshops as much as I need a more consistent practice of my own. Nonetheless, it was fun to join with the local yoga community for the weekend (more than 150 people attended some part of the workshop) and to hang out with some of the folks from the shala who I otherwise don’t get a chance to talk to.

My most interesting experience was during the workshop on pranayama. I have learned a little bit of pranayama from past workshops with Nancy Gilgoff and Tim Miller, but I haven’t really incorporated it into my practice consistently. After some discussion of pranayama, we did a short sit with breath retentions after inhale, after exhale, and after both. He was easy on us, and the breath retentions were not too long. Then he had us sit and breath for another, perhaps, 3-5 minutes. While my mind was relatively focused during the actual breathing exercises, I was just a bundle of anxiety and nervous energy during the last 3-5 minutes. Ugh. It was very unpleasant. Now that I think of it, it reminds me of when I was a little fourth-grade Wombat, and my handwriting was terrible, and I received Cs in handwriting. My concerned parents discussed this with me, and I told them that when I tried to concentrate to make my handwriting neater, this little Wombat got a tummy ache. Actually, this little Wombat had the same tense and anxious feeling in her belly trying to make her handwriting neat as she did trying to sit quietly after pranayama.

Getting some culture

December 15th, 2012

The Wombat has embarked on a new project.  She is growing things.

A few months ago, I purchased Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.  I am here to report on my first few projects.

KEFIR:  For the past few years, I have been stretching my store-bought kefir ($5.49/quart!) by adding a cup at a time to fresh milk and leaving it sit out for a day.  But last week, I order my very own kefir grains, which arrived  from Ohio today.  I added some milk and in a mere 24 hours, I should have some new kefir to make into smoothies.  Yum.  I am, however, a little concerned about the beasties when I leave this Friday for two and a half weeks…

KOMBUCHA:  Last Saturday, I started a kombucha culture from store-bought.  By this morning, it had an oozy little film on the surface and it smelled just like it should.  I have added some more sweetened tea today and transferred it to a larger container.   I hope it will grow well until I have to refrigerate it for my trip…

MILLET PORRIDGE:   Well, Mr Katz gives an appealing description of millet porridge.  And, generally, the Wombat really loves her porridge — oatmeal, cream of wheat, cream of rice, and jook are all delicious!  So, I ground up some millet, added some water, and let it sit for a couple days until it fermented a bit, and then added more water and cooked it.  And it made my whole house smell unpleasantly of cheese.   Although cheese can be delicious, H pointed out that the smell of cheese is not always a good thing — when your feet, your yoga clothes, or a wound smell like cheese, this is a bad sign.  Well, my millet porridge smelled unappealingly of cheese and tasted bitter.  I decided that I would not feel guilty about throwing it out.  The Wombat does not care for cheesy millet porridge.

RED WINE VINEGAR:  Last Saturday, I picked up a cheap 1.5L bottle of red wine at CostCo for my first vinegar experiment.  I poured the wine into a large, 2-gal glass wide-mouth jar, added a cup or so of raw cider vinegar and covered with a towel to await transformation.  It is starting to smell more like vinegar.  On Monday, I will take a sample to the lab to test the pH and see how things are coming along.



Underwater wombat

December 11th, 2012

Occasionally, this time of year, a high-pressure system stalls and the  tradewinds hold their breath.  By Thursday, when deadlines were passed, the mares’ tail cirrus clouds that I learned about in ninth grade earth science class hinted that the system would be moving soon.   But the weather held as we headed out of the Bay. Not much wind, but there are still rollers, so Jason drove the Whaler gently, like the considerate captain he is, and we made it to the offshore rocks. Our little crew of five divers (four female doctoral students and me — yes, marine biology will soon lose its prestige with its over-representation of women in the junior ranks, not to mention all the giggling) out for a ‘proficiency’ dive.

On our second dive, we entered a large cavern. The entrance to the cavern was in shadow, and it got darker as we went further back. Colors turned to gray-scale. Waves, sometimes gently, sometimes roughly, rocking you in the water. One got a little woozy from the motion and lack of contrast.

After we surfaced, the woozy one barfed and looked miserable. (Quid pro quo from a dive we did last summer where I was the one barfing). I surprised myself a little when the old dive instructor kicked in, and I told her to relax and briskly towed her back to the boat. She would have been fine, of course, but nausea can make fools of us all. I’ve been feeling weak and old, so it was nice to be superwoman again, if trivially and briefly.

Post-proposal pit… A plan!

December 5th, 2012

I haven’t posted here in a while, and I’m not sure it’s a good day to start again. Writing proposals requires such hope, such investment in a possible future, and then I turn them in and feel drained. So I am now in a post-proposal pit. Pbbt. The proposal due yesterday would be interesting, but I am unsatisfied with how I wrote my part of it — there wasn’t enough time, and it was a bit out of my area to make a convincing case without time for research. That one won’t get funded. The one due today… Well… I am not sure I even want to do it. And I am such a terrible procrastinator that it is always a last minute panic. I thought I would grow out of that, but apparently not. So this evening I am in a rotten headspace to which my immediate emotion is to want to quit my job bc I am obviously no good at it. Perhaps one of these days, this will lose its potency, but not yet. And despite feeling like this since college, I haven’t quit yet. The Wombat can be rather tenacious. Or, perhaps, the Wombat is just afraid not to know what to do. Or both.

Luckily, I have already planned something fun for tomorrow. The weather has been exceptionally calm this week — a high pressure system is keeping the wind down– so I have scheduled a special lab dive to an offshore island. I dove at this site once, more than 15 years ago, and it was quite remarkable at the time. Maybe I will have some good pictures tomorrow.

Practice Notes: Portland

August 13th, 2012

I have been at a conference all week in Portland and chose my hotel to be close to Yoga Pearl, home of the Portland ashtanga mysore program. It is always interesting when someone new has a look at your practice. (Mine is a little sorry right now, after a month of traveling around in Australia and only practicing a couple times). Anyway, mostly so I don’t forget, here is one change and one observation from practicing in Portland:

1) Turning hands out slightly in chaturanga, upward, and downward dog. I had my middle finger forward, he suggests the first finger forward, or maybe even a little more turned out. This felt good for my shoulders, and demanded a bit more from the “pull-down the scapulae” muscles that I know need to work more. A similar suggestion applies in backbends.

2) My hamstring flexibility exceeds my hip flexor strength: I can passively stretch my leg quite high in the first part of UHP but can’t actively hold my leg above waist level in the last part of UHP. This is the same reason that I was shaking today in urdhva mukha paschimottanasana. I noticed this particular weakness when I returned to practice last week after travel to Australia. Ugh. This on-again off-again practice that I do when i travel makes it likely that I will injure myself because I retain my flexibility more than my strength.


July 31st, 2012

July 24, 2012

Morning on the isthmus between Mid Moll and South Moll Islands. There is good beachcombing here and relatives of my dissertation crabs.

After he made his suggestion, a butterfly caught the light, fish erupted from the water, and two dolphins surfaced nearshore.

I thought it was a good idea, too.

Feedin’ Leeches

July 31st, 2012

July 15, 2012
Pete told us that, despite what we may have read, there was nothing in the rainforest that could hurt us. There were wait-a-while vines with curved hooks that would snag you if you weren’t careful– but these are easy to see if you are paying attention. And it’s ok to grab onto trees and vines to steady yourself over a muddy spot or stream crossing, but don’t grab the lawyer cane with its dense possum-deterring spines that protect its growing tips. He also gave us step by step instructions for testing the edibility of forest fruits (First, rub a little on your inner wrist and wait 20 mins. If no ill effect, then run some on the mucous membrane of your lip. Wait another 20 minutes. Still no problem? Chew a little and spit it out. Wait another 20 minutes. Don’t feel sick yet? Swallow a small piece. Wait three hours. Still ok? Good to go). And he told us that feeding leeches is good karma — the leech won’t need to feed again for a year!– so, if you get one, just wait until it drops off. Especially if it’s on your eyeball. In that case, definitely don’t pull it off because it can damage your cornea. We laughed and didn’t get any leeches on our walk with Pete. And Pete took us to a lovely swimming hole, turned our tongues blue chewing small (edible!) fruits from a tree, and showed us a creeping beach vine (a succulent Convolvulus) with sap that had a topical analgesic for H’s bug bites.

Sunday afternoon, after some beach combing, we decided to hike the lower part of the Manjal Jimalji rainforest trail. The trail took us through a sea of waist-high ferns, then along and across a stream, and steeply up into the vining, twining, epiphyte-rich forest. The trail turned left over a log, and got a bit muddled. As we looked for the right path, a man crashed down the trail right up to us, startling himself. He had an urgent look in his eyes: How far to the stream?  I gotta get these fuckin’ leeches off me. His legs were bloody. They had started early and reached the top, but there was no view with all the cloud cover.  You’ll see Christine behind me… And he crashed on down the trail. A few minutes later we did see Christine. You’re not going to the top now, are you? No, we explained, just hiking this lower bit. Good. And don’t worry – the leeches don’t start until higher. And she continued down the trail.

We continued up another steep section of trail and paused at the top. That’s when I found the leech firmly attached to my ankle. A moment of revulsion. But Pete said good luck for me, right? Oh! There’s another moving on my foot. Quick get it! Oh! there’s one burrowing through Henry’s sock! Then we see them:  leeches rearing their heads out of the leaf litter, waving around, and inch-worming towards our warm and carbon-dioxide emitting bodies.  Gah! Must keep moving! The light is getting low, so we head back down the trail, no stopping to chat or the leeches rear up and crawl our way.   Back at the stream, relief. We rinse our feet and inspect ourselves. My now-engorged ankle leech falls off.  H has the unpleasant revelation of a leech on his bits, luckily it has not yet attached and is easily removed. As I sit on a streamside rock putting my shoes back on– gah! — more leechy friends wave toward us from the streamside rocks. Get moving!

Back at the car, a thorough inspection reveals another leechy friend on the back of my knee. I cover it with a plastic cup while we drive to dinner in Port Douglas. Leechie falls off before dinner, and now I have Leechie in a small yogurt container.

I’m not sure what to do with Leechie. For now, our new pet is traveling with us.