Minimalism in Education: A Guest Post by Erica Killick

Erica: I am a Primary school teacher in Hong Kong. I’ve recently started a blog on moving towards a more minimalistic lifestyle. One of my hopes in living a simpler life is the freedom to be able to make a living doing my passion as opposed to being tied to a system I don’t believe in.

This blog post was inspired by my growing desire to break free and find out what freedom really means to me. You can find the same blog post and others at my blog: The Minimalist Makeover.

——————-

These times of transformation are exciting. But they are also challenging. I’m in that time along Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey where you’ve just set out and you feel hopeful and excited for the novelty of your new surroundings. But all of the sudden you realize, you’ve only just been called to your adventure and haven’t yet crossed the threshold and you’re still in the ‘known’ world; the mundane, boring and infuriating known world. Here’s a little recount of how my minimalist makeover rocked the boat on a boring old work day.

I was at work on my lunch break. Usually I would watch a make-up how-to video for 10 minutes or so on YouTube, while I ate my peanut butter sandwich. But seeing as I have made a rule for myself to not watch any make-up or fashion related videos in an attempt to curb desires for material objects, I have had to look for alternative videos to chill out with over lunch. Of course I realize the real next step is no videos at all and just mindfully eat my sandwich (something I have done for periods of time in the past) however today was not going to be that day.

Instead I stumbled upon a YouTube Channel called ‘Be Your Potential’ where a man named Matthew, his wife Toria and their 6 month old baby, Indigo are walking The Camino De Santiago or The Way of St. James in northwestern Spain.

They have been ‘vlogging’ daily along the way and so I got quite sucked in and watched 4 days in a row. I was so immersed in the pilgrimage through these YouTube videos that by the time I stood up to take a bathroom break, I was almost shocked to find myself in my present surroundings. I think I thought I would walk along a small path and take my washroom break in the bush. And that’s when something hit me.

I opened the door to my classroom and stood there, looking out at my view. It was no Spanish landscape that’s for sure. I’m in a concrete prison, and the children I teach are trapped inside with me. It was recess time when I stepped out my door and my classroom exits directly onto the ‘playground’. The playground is in fact a pavement square with some basketball nets and white stripes on the ground for races.

There are approximately 900 students going to school here and they were all wandering around aimlessly. It’s a primary school, ages ranging from 6-12 and I was struck by the kind of education they are receiving. And it’s the same education that in many ways brought me to where I am today. They are taught to stay in one building from 7:30am until 3:30pm. Bored, frustrated and lazy students, meandering around in front of me, with nothing better to do then tease or chase the student nearest them.

The juxtaposition between the video of sprawling Spanish hills and rushing rivers and the pavement playgroup the children were playing on was too much to bear. This can’t be the only way to educate the next generation! And it didn’t just hit me that the children are in a pretty mundane situation, I was also deeply disturbed for myself.

This is what I do, day in and day out. And it’s grating on me. I’m not teaching what I’m passionate about, I’m not working with my own natural rhythms or teaching the students while considering their natural rhythms. In that moment as I opened the door for a bathroom break, I felt the urge to break out of the school compound and run up the nearest mountain…to freedom.

I don’t know what the answer to this problem is (yet). Sure there are plenty of independent and alternative schools popping up, but will these ever be the mainstream? And I’m starting to even question whether or not school is the way at all.

The videos of Matthew and his family were so enriching, the lessons these two parents were learning and feeling in their hearts during this journey, the love and comfort their young son was experiencing by being able to physically be near them all day and all night was so beautiful and inspiring to watch.

I know this post might seem rather radical (especially coming from a primary/elementary teacher). I’m just sharing my experience and my emotions from today. Hoping my feelings are not only my own, but are potentially shared by others.

Let’s start a dialogue. I want to feel these things, think these things and let the feelings change me and the world around me. I don’t want to feel it, notice it and then push it away and hide it in the mental box labeled ‘too extreme and weird’. So here it goes out into the world-wide-web!

The videos of Matthew and his family walking their pilgrimage somehow inspired me to think there is another way to bring up the next generation; a way to teach our children and help them teach their children how to love the Earth, how to spend quality time together, how to care for and respect animals (and all living beings). The pilgrimage left so much time for the family to reflect on their experiences, share their feelings with each other, meditate, pray and bless their food, be grateful even during the times you think there is nothing to be grateful for. Isn’t this what ‘school’ should look like?

Matthew’s YouTube Channel. Follow this family on their Hero’s Journey.

Advertisements

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Always get Back by Petra Carmichael

Petra is a yoga teacher and the owner of Divya Yoga Studio in Zagreb, Croatia.
She is currently based in Boston, travelling and managing the yoga school in Croatia.  She is also studying at Middlesex University of Ayurveda London.

Always get Back

I’ve been practicing yoga for a several  years. Do I really have the right to say that considering it’s a 5000 year old practice? Anyway let’s just say I have some experience.  I can definitely say that it’s something  I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Yoga teaches you to focus and aside from the physical exercise, it takes you away from the everyday activity in to your own space.  A space where you can see the real values helping to step besides your own little world and realize there is more to everything. Now this might be a little confusing. First I said it takes me into my little world and then besides it.

About a year and a half ago I found out that I was pregnant.  As you practice yoga you definitely develop some sensitivity towards the changes in the body.  I remember the time when I felt that something was different.  I took a home test and it was positive. That moment was amazing – I was happy and scared. At the same time I kept the big news to myself for another couple of days.  Straight away I stopped practicing asanas trying to take the best care of myself.  I really loved being pregnant.  It’s a special time in a woman’s life.

When my pregnancy was stable I came back to the physical part of yoga, to the asanas, and I must admit, it felt great.  My back especially, but the whole body and mind were almost screaming for movement.  When you are pregnant people sometimes treat you like you are sick or disabled.  I definitely took precautions and was very careful with what I was doing with my body.  But I was on my mat everyday.

The practice was completely different from what I was used to. It was soft and gentle all the way into the ninth month of my pregnancy carrying a big baby.  My little son (10 pounds 6 ounces – so much for little) was born six and a half months ago.  I felt more love than I have ever felt before.

He was a strong healthy baby, but he didn’t pass the hearing test. That really scared my husband and me.  Further testing showed that our little one is profoundly deaf.  That moment when you find out such news is indescribable. First you start questioning what you have done wrong. Why you. Why your baby.? There is no answer to these questions.  I know I didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s simply how it is.

But to come to that point of understanding it definitely takes some time and energy.  The practice helped. I got back on the mat 10 days after my C-section; only tiny stretches to keep myself sane.  It wasn’t easy not to be able to touch my toes and to go through pain as the body was slowly getting back into shape.  But it definitely kept me out of my mind and of the situation.

I hear a lot of parents complaining about how they can’t keep the practice because of the child.  It’s not easy and I am very lucky to have a calm child who watches me as I practice, with a smile. But it’s not always like that.  There are days when I have to assist him many times, get off the mat and feed him or change a diaper, but the important thing is to GET BACK ON THE MAT.

My Transcendental Meditation (TM) teacher, dearest Narasimhan, told me if there is someone at the door, go get it, do what needs to be done but then return and continue with your meditation.  I think that’s really what it is and it doesn’t only apply to parents.

So I have  one suggestion for every soul fighting with tapas – the daily practice.  Just get on that mat every day no matter what happens, and keep returning.

At the moment we are in the process of getting cochlear implants for our son.  Hopefully he will be able to hear his first Om in late July this year.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: The Mantra of a 5 year-old by Shelley MacPherson

Shelley: My husband tells me I talk too much. I tell him that I have a lot to say. Here’s the solution…Welcome to my blog!

The Mantra of a 5 year – old

I teach kindergarten.

I teach the ABC’s of Yoga.

I work with 27 amazing young minds every.  Single.  Day.

Each one of those minds is housed within a nonstop, typical 5 year-old, healthy, on the go body.

Trust me; I get exhausted just being around them.

Trust me again when I assure you that they truly (ironically) energize me!

Kindergarten is a long day and a short year.  Naps no longer exist and recess simply isn’t long enough.

What the curriculum expects of these young learners is not always age-appropriate.

As a kindergarten student, the expectation is that you will perform and conform.

As a five-year old, you know to listen to your teacher (and your body).

Not necessarily in that order.  Children know how to prioritize, they know how to self-regulate.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Maybe Tomorrow by Ian Hoke

Ian Hoke is a husband, father, and teacher living and working in Zurich, Switzerland. Catch more of his thoughts at his education blog.

Maybe Tomorrow

I am, by no means, a yogi. I have practiced, enjoyed, and benefited from yoga, in particular from the practice of Ashtanga. For several years I delved into and became absorbed by my yoga practice. My practice developed into something regular, five to six days a week. My body felt stronger and simply more comfortable than it had for years. My mind was more focused and disciplined. The two years in which I explored Ashtanga were also the first two years of my eldest daughter Dorothy’s life.

Dorothy is like a clock, wedded to routine, and has been from three months old. The predictability of her schedule and the amount of freedom afforded by life in Chengdu, China, where a teacher’s wages made us fabulously wealthy allowed me to attend several yoga classes each week. Household chores were nonexistent. My job was relaxed. Once per year, we flew to a fabulous Thai island for a week of clean food, yoga, and massages. These were, in the words of H.I. McDunnough, the salad days.

When I arrived in Switzerland, I practiced several times, tried out some new yoga studios, and ultimately stopped cold. The reasons for this are myriad, but can be boiled down to a poor reaction to change on my part and a reduction in what I perceive as my free time. For the first year in Zurich, I could easily have continued to practice, but in May of last year, we had a second daughter and I no longer see any spaces at all for practice. I have no doubt that opportunities exist, but I do not see them.

As such, the past two years have seen my body weaken, my posture slump, and my mind become more distracted. What I learned through my brief yoga practice, I still know. What I gained in a concrete sense, like improved discipline, is gone. But what I wonder is this: Am I stopped on the path or have I lost the path entirely?

That yoga is a tradition emphasizing the importance of gurus makes sense to me now more than ever. What is a teacher if not a guide who cares enough about the long view to keep us working today, against human nature that seems remarkably myopic? I have not found a teacher yet, or maybe I have and chose to forget. In a virtually connected world, the importance of physical proximity to one’s teacher remains clear, uncluttered by wires and silicon chips. I don’t have that.

What I do have is a mat and the knowledge of part of the Primary Series. What I lack is the will to roll out that mat and begin. I should. I may. It would be, for a man with two special daughters, powerful modeling that inaction is no thing, no way, and that right action is better.

I think “Maybe tomorrow,” but there is some today yet remaining.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Featuring “My Children and Yoga” by Paul Dallaghan

Welcome to the first in a series of Guest Posts: “Parenting and Practicing Yoga”.

If you are interested in Guest Posting on this topic, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me at nat(dot)devalia(at)gmail(dot)com.

I’m happy to have Paul’s permission and honoured to post his article on my blog. The article as published originally, as well as many more articles both by him and others, at the Centerd Yoga website – Resources section.

Paul is a senior Ashtanga yoga and Pranayama teacher, founder of Samahita Retreat Centre in Koh Samui, Thailand.

My Children and Yoga

I am often asked the question: “Am I teaching my kids yoga?” My typical response is: “They are teaching me yoga.” Tongue in cheek it may be but nevertheless much truth lies within that response. At the same time, stepping back in to the parental shoes, what should I be teaching them and where does yoga fit in? Is it merely introducing them to the asanas and telling them to breathe?

Anyone who has the good opportunity to raise a few kids knows that it is the seventh series. It does require sacrifice and tests your patience and inner abilities to control yourself just so you can be a normal human being, and not this ogre screaming over minor things in the course of life that have all accumulated here today and burst out in one mass of frustration (whew!) Not that that ever happened to me but you can read about it on parenting blogs everywhere. Shocking stuff really. As Chekhov once said, “Any fool can handle a crisis, it’s the day-to-day stuff that wears you down.”

So when I consider what yoga means to me it is an opportunity for willing self-reflection, a building of character, an effort to be nice, ultimately working on myself. It’s obviously all the things I am doing in life. And much of that has, and should be, spent and shared with my adorable children (eh, sometimes, no, of course, most of the time:)).

The time taken to practice is the training time in working on myself, refining the nervous system. I am happy to report that over the years of practice I have seen a positive change. I have seen myself transform in terms of handling and being with the children. In that case it was not the practice alone but being given the precious situation with the children to temper it, to mould it. In other words, the practices without corresponding life situations would be close to impotent.

The big lesson here is that my response to whatever it is coming up with the children, while being primed so to speak, is actually the teaching I give them, the yoga I pass on. Especially in their formative years. In years to come will they remember their daddy’s asana practice or ones I showed them or will the memory of being together, sharing, having fun, bonding, be embedded in them? A thoughtless reaction borne from frustration, not properly channeled, sticks much stronger in a child’s memory. I have witnessed a particular stimulus bring up a frustration in me and from there I have observed the pre-existing pattern of how I could act. Fortunately, I feel from awareness practice over the years, I have the wherewithal to see the two options inside and am able to channel that force, energy to respond in a more constructive manner with them, which may include a stern rebuke or a patient response to further explain. And may I say, this is a work in progress, by no means perfected. But that is exactly what I mean by the interaction with the children being the yoga lesson.

As a first principle then I value love, care and time shared together as the primary yoga with children. Next to that is the set of values I have worked on in my life that I aim to share with them. In terms of a yogi it is easy to hone in the values from the yamas and niyamas. I am grateful to my kids (and wife) that I am able to look at these everyday, inculcate them, live them. Believing in ahimsa, I will promise them that I will not hurt them. I have to look at that on all levels: physical responses to mind games and emotional care. Am I living a life based on truth, honestly, or is it just when it’s convenient?

Though these and the other values are often considered obvious they can easily be forgotten in the course of a day. To live with these values of being kind, honest, respectful, loyal and faithful, and knowing what is enough is to share them with your children. They will naturally have the opportunity to form their own values over time and have their own personalities but these are universal and essential. I prefer to see signs of caring coming from my boys than them being the “best”. This may again seem obvious, especially to one not involved, but be clear, time and opportunity all too easily slip by. You have to make a clear inner resolve to “be” it at all times. I see this as one of the true values of what yoga has taught me and also what I have learned during my time with my parents. My wife and I have not forced any formal religion on them as they are exposed to many through our life and the community but already they know certain Sanskrit mantras as we’ll do them together at night when giving thanks.

Finally then we come to the techniques of yoga, the practices of asana and more. I know that constructive skills learned at an early age can be invaluable throughout life. At the same time it is important for anyone, including my children, to come to a practice of yoga by their own volition. But my wife and I do have both the duty and opportunity to introduce these elements. Already the kids have played with yoga poses and are quite adept at using it as a term to get rid of me, “papa, go do yoga”, if they don’t want me around (which of course is very rare:)). I also see they are a little young to properly engage in it yet. That is a popular question: what age should they start? Some say 8, others 12 or as long as the child can take care of themselves (through dressing, feeding and teeth brushing). So that leaves it a bit open. In my opinion it comes down to a certain amount of maturity to want to do something. At this stage soccer is much more valuable for them than yoga. It’s their primary choice and it really gets them moving. Of course in time they’ll find this ‘stuff’ their parents do can help their football playing.

As my specialty lies in the breath I am always aware of how I or others breathe. I have noticed the rapid breathing of my children as infants to a more normal one, still quick, as young children. When they have been upset I have put my hand on their upper abdomen and tried to get them to be free there and breathe. I have tried but it is difficult because the emotion at that age overrides the rationality and a reactive state takes over. It’s almost an inevitable part of human growth. And at this young age to keep an awareness on the breath is almost impossible. It requires maturity. Yet if I can introduce an awareness on the breath early on I feel I have done some good for these growing boys.

In a sense I could breakdown the sharing of yoga with my children into different ages and phases. Early on it is all about the care and love. These should dominate throughout life but naturally change color and shape. The sharing of clear, strong values is imperative to their growth and maturing, something that becomes more relevant as they get into later childhood and adolescence. Then finally, the practices themselves, that are initially play but later, really post-puberty, constructive and formational. From their mid-teens on it’s really up to them. I myself only began yoga at 23. I had many other things to experience and pass through. All things being equal it would have been great to have been exposed earlier but that cannot even be considered as life had its path of experiences to share with me regardless of what I think I could have done. So it’s all about what I do with it now. I hope to share yoga in all its ways with my children: through love, kindness and caring; with strong, clear values that carry them through life with integrity so they develop in to adults that are of value to society and all beings everywhere; to the practices themselves, full of their own inherent wisdom and refinement that can help transform their nervous systems and enrich the children’s growing years into adult life.

Far From Home: A Guest Post by Kalley Hoke

(Welcome to the 5th in our series: A Monday Morning Guest Post in Multicultural Mothering. You can find Kalley’s cullinary adventures at http://www.ianandkalley.com/kalleycuisine/)

Kalley: I grew up on a cattle ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I couldn’t wait to leave my small home town after graduating from high school and attended university outside of Los Angeles. That transition was perhaps the biggest change I have experienced to date, and I loved every minute of it. After university I served in the US Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, meeting my husband in Kyrgyzstan where he was also a volunteer. We both lived in New Mexico on the Navajo nation, and then moved to China. We are currently living in Zurich, Switzerland. While neither of us is fluent in a language other than English, we have both studied a number of languages and hope our daughters will surpass our abilities.

————Far From Home ————–

I have a strong sense of home and it pervades my personality. My father recently moved out of the home he had lived in since he was 2. My mother had lived there her entire married life. My older sister has moved into that same home with her three young children and they will likely live there for the next 20 years. My childhood home was a 45 minute drive from any gas station, grocery store or friend’s house so my sisters and I learned well to find entertainment at home and would stay there for days on end. Thankfully, this home is a beautiful Colorado ranch with all the fresh air and open space a kid could want, but our dedication to this one place has built in me a strong desire for place based traditions and experiences – perhaps to a fault.

My husband and I have chosen to raise our family overseas – moving from place to place as wanted and needed – as international teachers, and this decision invades my thoughts on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

At least once I month I am angry. I am angry because I can’t find a suitable place for my perception of a birthday party. I am angry because our small apartment has a cramped concrete balcony where my 3-year old rides her new bike around in circles. I am angry because my daughters will not experience Friday night high school football games – growing from the young kids who play tag in the dark to the preteens who practice flirting to the teenagers who actually watch the game and cheer for their classmates.

About once every other month I feel guilty. The guilt comes from not being able to support my mom as she goes through a medical crisis (and from hoping that my older sister is strong enough to help our mom on her own). It comes from not seeing my niece grow from an 8-month old who can barely sit up to a walking, talking toddler, and from not meeting my nephew until he is 10 months old.

More often than angry or guilty, I feel sad. I am sad because my dad doesn’t have the chance to wiggle my infant’s kneecaps and fold her ears while marveling at the flexibility of little ones. I am sad because my daughter doesn’t always recognize pictures of her aunts. And I am sad because it feels more appropriate than angry or guilty.

And more frequently than any other negative emotion I am scared. I am scared that without the consistency of place I experienced growing up that my daughters will feel lost, and that, more realistically, they will wander the globe leaving me far from my grandchildren when that day comes.

Fortunately, for as many times as I have negative reactions to being far from home, I also have positive thoughts about the experiences we have. My daughters will know the absolute deliciousness of bitter lemon soda. My oldest calls churches “temples”, and knows to be quiet and respectful inside both. She can count to 10 in three languages. We make the most out of every new friendship and every old visitor. And our home is our family unit, able to feel joy whenever and wherever we are together.

Do others have fears similar to mine? Do you also find they are balanced with positive experiences? Where and what do you seek on the days when the scales tip toward negative?