Yoga: Poked Slapped and Kicked

Image

It took me years to get used to the idea that someone would come around and “adjust” my while I was trying to perfect my down dog or my half moon.

It didn’t hurt that some instructors were absolutely refined young women with a touch as gentle as a breeze.  I’m just the kind of guy that doesn’t like it that much.

I’ve gotten over it.

In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I still don’t like it, but I appreciate it.  That guiding hand helps me refine my pose and understand the fine muscles that normally get ignored in daily life.

Along the way I’d heard stories about teachers from the old country (India) where such adjustments weren’t so gentle.  When a teacher wanted you to pay attention to between your lower shoulder blades, you could get a very sharp poke from a finger.

Or if your leg was turning out in tree pose, a healthy slap from the teacher reminds you to level the hips and push through the heel with your outer thigh while bringing the inner upper thigh up and in.

In a recent interview, I heard about one of the great Masters (BKS Iyengar himself) who kicked his disciple in the back while she was in headstand.  She remained poised and steady, and he congratulated her on finally “getting it.”

Why?  Why this brutality?  Why do some of these experts cause pain, while the nice teachers are gentle?

In the light of #MeToo, and with a little bit of psychology, there are other reasons it makes sense to guide students with an iron hand.

First off, it makes an impression – sometimes literally.  There is no ambiguity as to where the teacher is drawing your attention.  If it gets you off balance, that tells you that you’re not grounded enough either.  Even in a handstand you should be able to hold your position, even if guruji kicks you.  And you remember better.

Secondly, in the light of the so many complaints emerging from women who have been “man-handled” through the years, it removes another kind of ambiguity.

A light touch is often associated with attraction, arousal, and ultimately seduction.  If the situation involves a male teacher and a female student, the opportunity for drawing the wrong conclusion is high.

On the other hand, even if the most handsome teacher in the world slaps you on the back, or pokes you with a sharp finger right in your thigh, there’s less chance you’ll think it’s some kind of foreplay.

Do it right and feel your eyeballs vibrate!

So, if you’re caressing your students, think about the impression you’re leaving on them.

And if you’re on the receiving end of a sharp comment, appreciate it for what it means.  The teacher wants you to remember and get better.  No extra strings attached.

AUM….

Measuring a Teacher

Image

Have you ever argued for your best teacher?  “Mr. A was the best!”  and your friend says “Oh yeah!  And in college I remember Ms. B teaching me the most.”

Perhaps you may have debated who was greatest among classic philosophers: Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle?

It’s a fun debate, and I’ve revealed my choice earlier.  But here, I can provide us with an objective measure that we should all be able to accept.  It has some shortcomings, but every measure has benefits and drawbacks.

The greatness of a teacher should be measured by how many subsequent teachers they create.

You see, it’s not necessarily important that they teach something totally awesome, although it doesn’t hurt.  It’s not even important that we be able to understand what it is they did.

With respect to philosophy, Socrates taught Plato.

Plato taught Aristotle.

Aristotle taught, hmmm, who did Aristotle teach?  I heard that he taught Alexander the great, but Alex wasn’t exactly known for being a good teacher.  He was more of a doer.

There we have it for philosophy.  So Socrates is the greatest teacher among them.  We can debate which of them had the “best” philosophy [1] but that’s for another day.

How about something like physics?  Archimedes is easily the first in this category, both theoretical and experimental, but we don’t know if he left any teachers behind.  Tycho Brahe was a polymath that included physics, he taught Kepler, and Kepler taught Newton.  Who did Newton teach?  No one directly, as far as I know.  He did teach many indirectly, but I’m not counting that.

Einstein is one of those people who learned from Newton, Faraday, and many others.  But did he teach anyone?  Not sure.

So, are Archimedes, Newton, and Einstein still great scientists?  Of course.  But were they great teachers?

My measure says no.  Is that worth anything?

Now that is something we should discuss another day.

[1] Socrates, with Plato being a close second.  Archie was a hack who sold out for celebrity.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Education

Image

Mrs. Bennet is one of the most complex characters in P&P.  She may be the most complex.

In fact, she may have been so complex that she hid her brilliance from the omniscient narrator.

She did not hide it from the author, and here’s two reasons why.

First, the author was Jane Austen.  Nuff said.

Second, the author left us a few breadcrumbs as clues to the truth.

I wrote about one a few days ago.  Here’s another in Chapter 6 of Volume 2 (Chapter 29 sequentially).

Elizabeth is meeting Lady Catherine, and in responding about her (lack of formal) education, Liz says, “… such of us as wished to learn never wanted the means.”

The Bennets had no governess.  Mr. Bennet wasn’t involved in the raising of the girls.  That leaves ONLY Mrs. Bennet.

It means that Mrs. Bennet provided her daughters with all the resources they needed in order to achieve their personal educational goals.

Hmmm.  Sounds a bit progressive, doesn’t it?

Somehow or other, Mrs. Bennet managed to enable her daughters without enforcing educational standards upon them.  Lizzy was smart, and lacked nothing.  Thank you Mrs. Bennet.  Lydia was silly, and was equally encouraged to develop her strengths.  Thank you Mrs. Bennet.  In the end, the girls got the education that fit.

Why didn’t their mother take any credit?

The best teacher not only leads students to the well of knowledge, but shows them how to dig their own wells.  Only the greatest teachers do so in such a way so that their students think they did it themselves.

Talk about building self-confidence.  Talk about being progressive.  Talk about brilliance.

Thank you, Mrs. Bennet.

Thank you, Jane.

 

Socrates’s Mistake

How do I dare say this about the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I wouldn’t have applied for the job of Socrates, Two, if he hadn’t overlooked this subject.

In his defense, he didn’t so much as overlook it as have a much larger issue to deal with first: teaching us how to learn about the natural world.  The Golden age of Greece had great insights, but they weren’t insightful enough to invent and use engines, electricity, and airplanes.

Socrates gave us the tools necessary to learn about the natural world.  That learning gave us the tools needed to start the scientific and industrial revolutions.  Those revolutions gave us engines, electricity, and airplanes.  That’s how deep his teaching went.  Not bad.

The problem he avoided was behavior.  Socrates left it off the table.  By doing that, he was implicitly teaching that our behavior was something beyond nature, something we couldn’t study using the tools of logic and measurement.

Bull s***.

You heard it right.  I who never swear said this in the strongest, most emphatic terms I can imagine.

Behavior is natural.  We have tools to study natural phenomena.  If we don’t study behavior, humanity is doomed.  And here is the final shocker.

Socrates knew this.

He had many things to teach.  A good teacher only teaches one thing at a time.  A good teacher only teaches as fast as his students can absorb that knowledge.  Socrates was a good teacher.

Socrates knew his students believed in Gods.  He knew society was very protective of their gods.  And the gods were a very popular cause of behavior.  Much craziness was sourced directly to those denizens of Olympus.

If Socrates interfered with the gods, it meant he couldn’t teach them about the rest of the natural world.  So he stayed away from behavior.

Socrates knew that a true study of behavior as a property of nature would also mean denial of gods, any gods.  He also knew his students weren’t ready for that.

Most modern people still aren’t ready.  Here we are, almost 2500 years later and it’s hard to go anywhere in this world without bumping into someone’s god.

That was Socrates’s mistake, an intentional one.  For if we are to truly study behavior in a scientific manner, we must consider ourselves part of the natural world.  We must deny the supernatural in all its forms.

After all, if there are deities that control everything including our fates, then what’s the point?

Putting it another way: You got God?  Party time!

 

Socrates, 2

I angered my friend by asking questions, too too many questions.

Most people don’t like that.

Most people are done learning early in life.  Some are done by the time they’re teenagers.  Some wait until they’ve finished school.  Others will fade as their hair changes color.

A few never stop.

Socrates never stopped.

He was going full tilt all the way to the end.  He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens almost 2500 years ago.  He insisted on a trial, was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death at the age of 60.

His legacy was his students; and they had his methods, his conclusions, and most importantly, his enthusiasm for questions.

Today we live in a larger world by every possible measure.  Socrates would have marveled at the size, power, and speed of everything we take for granted.  Yet his questions are as powerful today as they were then.

In fact, they are more powerful.  For one important feature we have today that Socrates didn’t have then; information about how people behave in great detail.  We have access to thoughts, desires, and choices far beyond the simple toga-toting times of Athens.

It’s time for the sequel to Socrates.  In this day and age we are used to sequels, and even sequels of sequels.  Why not a sequel to the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I’m applying for the job.

I’ve got lots of questions, a good handle on the use of logical reasoning, and a fairly open set of assumptions and biases.

Additionally, I’m familiar with many of the modern disciplines, scientific methodology, and many of the technical tools available.

There it is, friends.  I am applying for the position of Socrates, too.  The sequel.

I’m affordable, work from home, require little supervision, and have a fairly decent sense of humor.

I’m also open to shortening the job title a tad.

How about,

Tusok?