If you've ever wondered what it's like to view life after decades of devoted yoga and meditation practice, the book, Light on Life, by BKS Iyengar will give you a glimpse from the proverbial mountain top. I have to admit that I'm on my third reading of this epic work and am just beginning to grasp his profound observances and counsel from a man gifted with discipline, knowledge, and, at least to some degree, enlightenment. During my first pass, I picked up the snippet about every pore having an "eye" and it transformed the way I approached asana. The second time I read it I realized that he wasn't meandering semantically from topic to topic but rather drew on metaphor and profound analogies and examples so frequently that it obscured the meaning for me because the insight of each sentence was so intensely profound that trying to understand it was like skipping a rock over the surface of a lake - I was missing the depth. What I mistook for topical and semantic wandering was actually quite structured and organized, but it is written with such a freedom and detachment that its ethereal nature can be obtuse for even the novitiate of 20 years that I am.
His writing is so emancipated, yet remains deeply rooted in a disciplined approach to every organizational structure of his topic. His metaphors, analogies, comparisons, explanations, prescriptions and directives are each so aptly and uniquely put that it can seem that he is at once floundering and bouncing around. However, it was on the third pass that I realized that each sentence was so artfully crafted and contained so much intense training, experiential knowledge and so many seeds of enlightenment that it took me my 20 years of yoga study, teacher training, and extensive reading background to begin to understand it on an essential level or on any level at all. That being said, I would recommend it to anyone from the beginner to experienced practitioner of yoga, as sometimes it is helpful to at once build background through introduction to a topic as though collecting shells on the beach. You never know what you might find among the sands of passing time.
Light on Life has a logical progression from what yoga is and is not, how it should be practiced, how asana should be approached, and gets into more esoteric subjects such as the koshas or sheaths of existence and the kleshas or afflictions, and much, much more. He has a firm grasp of the yoga sutras, yogic texts, yoga philosophy, and intimate knowledge of the culture of India. However, his approach is universal and generic in his approach. He firmly maintains that while yoga has ties to Hinduism, it can be practiced in addition to any religious system; in fact, yoga transcends religion to be a universal complement to any organized religion, confirming what is laid out in the sutras: "one truth, many paths".
Reading his work is like a gateway to cosmic consciousness itself as you make instant connections between your experiential yoga practice, your secular life as a human being, and your sacred life with your understanding of God as you know him to be through both your belief system and your personal experience of Him. His writing will evolve and inform your practice of yoga as you realize essential concepts such as a multidirectional pull (both vertical and horizontal) in every muscle, limb, fiber, in every asana; the idea that every human must struggle to make a life, run a household, and maintain the discipline (tapas) required to uphold such a material existence; and that God is really cosmic consciousness and exists beyond duality.
I am still just beginning to grasp this insanely perceptive text based on decades of experiential yoga practice. Yet, somehow he makes it accessible, and I like the challenge of trying to uncover the gem of what he is saying about yoga in my own personal practice and understanding of the basic elements of life, yoga, and God. In the meantime, I will continue to practice with every pore an "eye" and an expansive sense of possibility for the involution of my asana practice for my life to bring a freedom and presence of mind to every moment.
Namaste Yogis and Yoginis,
Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown is a research-based text on cognitive neuroscience and how to deepen and sustain lifelong learning in any area of knowledge or expertise. They recommend various practices such as varied practice, interleaving, spaced practice, retrieval, generation, reflection, and more! These practices, when used, will increase the quality of your learning and will sustain it for the long term. For educators, parents, students, and children alike who are looking for ways to improve their learning of any subject or area of interest; this will have you getting high marks on your exams, teaching your students in a way that will produce long-term results, and learning in a way that will incorporate reflection and generation to lead to expertise in your field and a more profound understanding of basic or underlying concepts in your field of expertise.
The practice of varied practice differs from massed practice or blocked practice, in which you practice a whole bunch of problems of the same type or nature at the same time, followed by another different type of problem in a sequential block. This can be seen frequently in mathematics and sports practice. Students learn how to multiply simple fractions and practice example after example, or practice hitting a curveball in batting practice followed by working on another discrete skill such as dividing fractions or catching pop flies. The research shows that learning is improved when different types of problems are presented to the learner in a varied practice so that they must first identify the type of problem and work to retrieve the type of solution needed to attain the solution. This makes sense if you think about it for a minute because you cannot expect in a baseball game to only be thrown curveballs or in life to only be presented with a previously identified math problem such as a need to multiply a simple fraction. More often, in life, we are presented with a variety of problems, unique to their contextualized situation which my obscure the solution or require quick reflexive thinking which is more likely to occur through varied practice.
Interleaving I like to think of in two ways. In the past, in my teaching, I would present one unit for 4-6 weeks with a large assessment at the end. Now, I interleave or interject shorter units that are related to each other so that students can apply their skills to various thematic concepts versus diving into one singular focus where there is no horizontal learning. Another way I use interleaving is on my commute to work. I listen to various audiobooks, but only for 10-20 minutes at a time for each one before I switch gears (I'm currently listening to over 20 books) but applying the underlying concepts of growth, learning, improvement and education to many aspects of my life to inspire and motivate myself. Interleaving is also proven by research to be more effective because it demands students to identify implicit underlying laws or patterns of ideas in the work or how they connect or relate to each other across topics. Another example of how this works is my husband's piano practice. Although he attempts to master extremely difficult pieces such as piano concertos, he does not do so singularly, but rather works on 3-5 pieces at a time, interleaving them to sustain his interest and his application of piano techniques to various styles. I've also found this is a great way to sustain student attention spans as shorter units are easier to digest for the modern, digital native.
Spaced practice is just as it sounds. You should intentionally leave space between study times or learning times. For example, you may not want to cram one long study session in right before that final. Research proves that equal amounts of time studying, but one where the time is spent spaced significantly apart, will lead to increased results. So plan studying for that final a couple of weeks before. The effort you need to expend to work at retrieving it will sustain the learning, as it is proven that the more you struggle with something, the more likely you will be to eventually master it.
This naturally leads us to the next practice, which is retrieval. Retrieval is the act of recalling, without rereading or referencing material but rather quizzing yourself. Old-fashioned techniques such as flashcards, covering up lines in a script, or taking practice tests is very useful for deepening learning. So instead of rereading and highlighting that textbook, maybe try doing the practice questions at the end of the chapter to test how much you actually know. This will give you an accurate account of how much you know in reality versus the illusion of mastery you may have created through rereading and rereading.
Generation is when you struggle with a problem first before being presented with the solution. This is something that is research-proven to be more effective than to simply be told the solution by an expert or someone who knows already. An example of this can be taken from my art history class where the professor asked us to solve the way that Stonehenge was built before being presented with the actual way it was built. Taking 20 minutes to struggle with this before him continuing his lecture not only put us in the place of our ancestors but sustained our learning of Neolithic-monument building.
Reflection is one of my favorite ways to extend and expand learning. I've actually created this blog as an attempt to "reflect" on my learning of the audiobooks I listen to and books I read. Reflection is simply asking yourself what you learned, reflect on your process and reiterate what you have retained, and how you might improve in the future. I incorporate this in my classroom culture by planning 5-10 minute "quiz" reflections on the day's lesson or the unit we had completed that week. I've found it helps the students to cement their understanding by identifying and codifying it. In addition, it helps me to identify the areas where students still need to continue their exploration of the topic.
Overall, Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown was tremendously helpful to someone who is an educator and is dedicated to lifelong learning! I believe in the future I will definitely reread this text to make sure that I have applied all of their practices to my classroom and the culture of learning I am attempting to build in my life, my family, and my classroom!
"You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book." - Dr. Seuss
- Betty Lynn
Angela Duckworth defines grit as "passion and perseverance for long-term goals". In a world where the everyday professional is constantly being told to "reinvent himself" and "shift gears" this is a unique and refreshing concept; evocative of old westerns and heroes who truly had what it took to win the long-term battles of survival in a rough and tumble world. However, aside from old western titles like, "True Grit", what does grit mean in today's world? Duckworth tells stories of ambitious entrepreneurs who make start-ups just to sell out in a couple of years. She uses this as an antithesis to grit. Grit, it seems is more like tedious toil watered by years of dedication and increasingly finer and finer crafted skills to become adept at something that takes years to master. Despite having changed careers 2-3 times herself, Duckworth asserts that it is not only long-term career dedication that is exemplary of grit, but can be simply perseverance through difficult, but shorter trials that may make you give up at something such as boot camp, freshman year in college, or that first week of daily exercise.
Grit is something that she sees as lacking in this generation. Actually making the claim that older generations were more likely to show grit, with younger and younger generations being more likely to flit about, give up, and chalk their failures up to external circumstances beyond their control. Fortitude to persevere is something she believes could be fostered through education. She believes that young people today need to be given the opportunity to struggle and be encouraged to see it through difficulties and strife. With high college drop out rates, high rates of underemployment and high turnover rates in job markets, she sees this as a sign of the times and a call to duty for educators, psychologists, parents, coaches, mentors, and bosses alike - to mentor you people in developing the quality of tenacity: grit.
Short-term payoff seems to be the norm these days. We want 10% back for signing up for emails, we want fast food for cheap, we want weight loss without dieting, we want health without exercising or meditating, and we want peace of mind without cultivating this in a daily practice. And it seems like everyone is selling a "quick fix" from study guides for not having to read the book, to diet pills to eat whatever you want and still lose weight, to ab exercises that work in only 10 minutes a day, to every other scheme people can cook up...the possibilities seem endless. Sometimes we have to realize though that a problem, challenge, or adversity may not require a bandaid but an intensive, long-term, dedicated solution. The solution Duckworth suggests? Grit.
She gives many examples in her book on grit of paragons of grit (perfect examples). She mentions artist, educators, business people, and more who are examples of grit. What these paragons of grit have in common is near continual decades of diligence and dedication that included many diverse and nearly defeating setbacks which the paragons overcame by showing tenacity, doggedness, and persistent backbone in the face of adversity, hardship, and even disaster. She talks about the research of experts on world-class experts and how what paragons of grit all have in common is eventual, sometimes monumental, success. What young people today don't realize is that success isn't handed to you after putting in a couple years of 60 hour work weeks, a couple of intense study sessions or other intense periods of work. Rather, this is something that comes with seeking negative feedback, experiencing failure, learning from mistakes, cultivating a spirit of dogged determination and honing your skills over a lifetime of struggle.
So next time you are wondering how to sharpen your edge, boost your marketability, or mentor your child, you might take a long hard look at grit and ask yourself, "how can I commit to more passion and perseverance for my long-term goals?" Instead of, "What's the quick fix?"
- Betty Lynn