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.

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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.

Too Loud

I wrote this 6 weeks ago.  I would *never* have done such a thing today!

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“Do you think we should tell Rahul to talk less loudly?” Maher asks me as he enters the kitchen in the evening.

I walk over to the door, peek into the living room where L and R are playing. They’re excited.

“No. I don’t think so.  It’s not a big deal that he talks a little loudly.  And it’s not all the time anyway.”

Rahul and Leila are shouting now.  Fighting over the same toy as yesterday.

When Leila screams, I motion Maher to go and check on them.

Same toy, same fight.  Yesterday she wouldn’t let him play.  She ended up crying from a bite in her arm.

It’s that same cry.  Today. I barge in, demand to know what happened.  They’re still at it.  Loudly.  She’s wailing now.  He’s nagging even more loudly.  No one is able to tell me what happened.

“STOP SHOUTING RIGHT NOW. BOTH OF YOU,” I shout.

L and R look at each other.  R continues to nag.  He wants the toy.  She won’t give it to him.

My eyes are bigger than he’s ever seen, my index finger points at him and then at his room: WHY ARE YOU STILL SCREAMING?  YOU HAVE THE SAME TOY IN YOUR BEDROOM.  GO SCREAM IN THERE.

Maher looks away from me. I notice a quiver of a smile on Maher’s face. He looks away and speeds out of the living room.

“WHAT?” I glare at him.

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After the children fall asleep that night, Maher laughs uncontrollably. “Only 2 minutes before you screamed at Rahul for shouting, you said that we shouldn’t say anything about him speaking loudly!”

I relax. I break into laughter. “OK, so I fu*ked up.  I know.”

My mum calls soon after.  Maher insists I tell her the story.  She bursts out laughing.  We all do.

“It happens sometimes….”  I’ve heard that line of hers before.

Dammit – I was screaming at my children uncontrollably because they were screaming.  I hate that shit.

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I came across this the next morning, from a 1924 series of talks by Rudolph Steiner.

The first essential for a teacher is self-knowledge. For instance, if a child blots its book or its desk because of impatience or anger with something a neighbor did, the teacher must never shout at the child for making blots and say: “You must not get angry! Getting angry is something a good person never does! A person should never get angry but should bear everything calmly. If I see you getting angry once more, why then—then I shall throw the ink pot at your head!”   If you educate like this (which is very often done) you will accomplish very little. Teachers must always keep themselves in hand, and above all must never fall into the faults that they are blaming the children for.

Running Late

Last Thursday, at quarter to nine, I realised that it would take 20, 25 minutes to get to Judy’s studio on foot, and likely longer if I waited for a cab, and then jerked and snailed through the smoggy morning traffic. My Pranayama (breath work) would start at 9.

I decided to go on foot. I pulled out my Vibram Five Fingers, and ran there. Fast. The cool air blowing against my face, and through my hair was wonderful. Only half way there did I realize that I must have looked quite strange sprinting in my long, grey, wool coat, dangling a white Yoga Thailand cloth-bag on my right shoulder, and wearing my strange black shoes that fit each toe like a glove. I didn’t care though. A few people looked up from their cleaning, eating, sorting through veggies, but immediately returned to their activity.

Our dearly loved ayi (nanny) watched curiously as I donned my shoes. She has no trouble voicing her strong opinions – at least in our space: Rahul’s shirt is ugly. Leila’s pink t-shirt and blue tights suit her (she chose the outfit!). I have seen her look down, even flinch and then smile when she first notices me in a new, “strange” outfit. Yeah. My weird fashion statements have new meaning now.

But she thought the Vibram’s were interesting. Maybe even cool?!

Approval!

I arrived full of energy. The seven floor climb to the studio still got me huffing and puffing, but I had five minutes to spare. Not too bad. I taught the class; walked home after. Liberated. It’s the kind of feeling you have when you hold the keys to your own vehicle for the first time.

All that excitement got me hoping that I’d fit in many more short, “social runs,” over the course of the week. The only part of that statement that’s true is the “hoping” bit.

Baby steps.

In a few minutes I’m off to my Thursday morning Pranayama class. Late again!

Any barefoot / road / social running stories to share?

Related article / site:
Top 10 Worst Shoes (http://www.thesharkguys.com/lists/top-10-worst-shoes/)
Chris McDougall’s blog, Author of Born to Run: http://www.chrismcdougall.com/blog/

In the Game

Early Sunday morning, I tell L and R that I’ll be out until lunch; that I’ll be teaching Pranayama (breath-work) workshops.

“Afu Pa-ya-ma-na,” Rahul pleads with outstretched arms. (Afu is what he calls himself.)

I pick him up; tell him that he can do some Pranayama with me, but that he’s got to stay with “ayi” (meaning aunt, aka nanny in this case) for the morning.

10 minutes later, he blocks me from entering the shower, “Mama Yoga. Mama Pa-ya-ma-na.”

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The response was overwhelming. My Yoga teacher friend Judy, who organized the 2 sessions, back-to-back at her lovely little home studio, and I, haven’t worked together since I got pregnant two and a half years ago. It’s not only the “together” bit though, I haven’t taught at all.

Of course I was nervous. All week. It’d been a while.

But, I am confident about Pranayama, especially after all the workshops I’ve attended over the years, and most importantly, from my own regular practice: the years of regularity, the continuity of it regardless of bed-rest during the pregnancy, the slip during the NICU phase and stressful first year, the irregularity of practice coming back to it, and the decision of, “that’s it – it’s got to be for real, or not at all.”

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Maher attends the 9 O’clock session. L and R hang onto our sleeves, crying as we leave the apartment.
It does him good to have a refresher. It’s a nudge, to get him back into a regular practice.

“I need it,” he says to me, almost every day.

He’s sick more often than ever before. The children are always coughing. As soon as we’re in the street, I have sharp headaches. I catch myself turning around to see if there is someone smoking right behind me. All the time. We’re feeling the pollution. It’s worse than it’s been in the last 6 years. There are more buildings, more cars, and more people.

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A month ago I did my first serious workshop since before I was pregnant. It was in Koh Samui with Paul – my teacher. He asked if I was Back in the Game. He meant everything – Asana, Pranayama. He has children of his own. He’s had many other first-time-mum students who needed the push to get off their butts and practice again. He’s dealt with the ones who disappear for a few years, and then return, for a nudge. He knows about my pregnancy and the early birth, the stresses.

I suppose that’s why he asked me if I was back. A few times over the 2 week course. My doubtful but positive response at the beginning of the workshop had a completely different meaning to my confident one at the end.

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At the end of each session, Judy and I leave 5 minutes for questions.

“It’s doubtful that I will remember any of this. Can we have a follow-up class?” one of the students asks.

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I rush home after the second class. Maher, R, and L are having a good time. Laughing. Playing.

“They had a great morning; they didn’t cry a drop after you left,” ayi reports as she leaves.

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We’ve organized one follow-up session; possibly more over the next few weeks.

So am I Back in the Game?

A written declaration of it might make it more real.

Practice at home with your little yogis.

Here’s my five cents on the “Saving money with multiples” theme week at How Do You Do It?

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The yoga industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry, attracting hordes of us to join the trend. It’s wonderful that more people are benefiting from yoga, but it’s not so straightforward to know what you really need. Some studios are looking and acting like high-end spas. Yoga clothing and equipment is becoming specialized, even hyped. There are whole lines launched by big-name designers. You can buy yoga tank tops, bras, pants – long, short, wide, or tight. Then there is everything you can put on top of your practice wear, skirts, jackets and hoodies. There are scarves to keep you warm and looking good while you walk to and from the studio  and then to use as a blanket in Savasana the final relaxation. There are yoga gloves and shoes that grip. Not sure what the deal is with those, that you can practice without a mat on a ship maybe?   There are eco-friendly yoga mats,  funky bags, chakra-balancing jewelery… There are  hundreds of yoga magazines featuring hot, fit models in wild postures. They must eat healthy, organic, and take strangely named supplements.

And then there are as many studios as corner stores offering many styles. There is Vinyasa, Iyengar, Ashtanga, even Chocolate yoga, and Doga (Yoga for dogs). How do you choose? And all teachers say different things don’t they?. Taking a yoga class can be costly. A single class can range from $10-$25. Multiple class passes or monthly memberships are more affordable, but depending on the studio, still quite pricey. And how many times a month can you, MoM get to a studio anyway? What’s supposed to be an ancient method to simplify and unify our thoughts and outlook has become a daunting world to join. How can you start simply, without either sprinting away from or falling for all the crazy marketing?

My suggestion: develop a self-practice. Do it on your own floor or on 1 good quality yoga mat (they wear out quickly otherwise). Wear comfortable clothes that you find in your cupboard. Do it any time other than right after a meal. Take ten minutes or an hour, by yourself or with your little yogis alongside. More likely they’ll end up on top of you, under you, or both. Read on.

Yoga House Ahmedabad

Dec 2010, Ahmedabad

In July 2009 I was put on bed rest due to complications in my pregnancy. I have taught one class since. It was in my grandfather’s house in India. My habit of teaching in living rooms continues. Maher, my two brothers, two cousins, and an uncle took the “Intro to Ashtanga” class that morning.

With 16 of us under one roof, it was no easy task to organise anything. Thanks to Maher and Nanu for making the class happen, Saloni for the lovely photos, and the willing students for trying it out.

Restorative day

With slight fever, a head ache, and general fatigue my first thought is “rest day”. That is with respect to asana of course. A typical Ashtanga practice is out of the question the way I am feeling. My muscles and joints feel like they have sat through a ten-hour flight. It’s a holiday weekend so there is no help from the ayi. L, R, and M are all a bit sick too. The children need to eat and have their diapers changed regardless of my dull aches and malaise. There is a feeling of stagnation, as though prana isn’t getting to the extremities, heels, arches, fingers, knuckles…(I think I developed plantar fasciitis, same as Nanu and mum, after the bed rest and immense weight gain during pregnancy) The practice has kept it at bay so far. So a rest day, and there have been a few too many in the last two weeks doesn’t seem to be the best solution.

A twenty to thirty minute restorative session is. Long and gentle breathing. One to three minutes in each position. Sun salutations or not, (today is not), any “lunge” types asanas, kneeling postures especially with the toes curled under, a long down dog, child’s pose, pigeon, relaxed baddha konasana including while on the back, a gentle supine twist on both sides, and whatever else comes up along the way. Some viparita karani or legs up the wall. A nice long savasana.

Such a short and simple session can be balancing and invigorating. I seem to have some life in my arches and toes again. Headache all gone.