“More Research.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about research. There are actually quite a few reasons for this, but to the point: Nancy Gilgoff’s comment about those early students in Mysore: “We were the research.” And, I’m currently teaching a new writing course in research methods. Also, Steve’s previous post has stirred some thoughts.

The writing course I teach is limited by the University to 20. Every year, tight budgets put pressure on this number: administrators try to get that number raised as high as possible, maximizing the dollars they pay me. Every term, students also come to me, begging me to overload, to make an exception. No, I say—to both administration (firmly) and to the students (more gently).

The reason for this is, of course, energy and attention, how much a class needs. I don’t have assistants. There’s only so much energy to go around, and my students are new writers, learning the complexities of putting ideas in written form for the first time, really. (High school, as you probably know, teaches you what not to do.) Each student has a different set of experiences he/she brings to the page; in order to teach well, I have to be aware of this, and customize my approach to fit the student. If I walked into my classroom tomorrow, and there were suddenly 300 students and 3 or 4 assistants, I could teach writing, but not to beginners.

The student would already have to know what to do.

Guruji named his shala, “The Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute.” It was a good name. Research, as I tell my students, involves advancing the field. Your job as a researcher, I say, is to learn what has gone before, analyze it, and then make it better, no matter what field you’re in. That’s what it means to be a student in a research institute.

So when Nancy Gilgoff was there with one, two, or three others, the field advanced. (I get chills thinking about what I could accomplish with just three or four students in a writing class.) At one point during our workshop, Nancy talked about the fact that Guruji “didn’t care how you did it, as long as you did it.” But then, in the next beat, she discusses whether or not to do a vinyasa after uthpluthi. She is a teacher, so she sees no contradiction in these things. I have learned one way from Tim, one way from David, another way from Jörgen. Nancy acknowledged this: “Take what works from each of us,” she said, “and then do it.”

The important thing, for me, is to learn from a researcher in a small class. I don’t think I’m alone. When Guruji first saw Nancy’s shala in Maui, he told her it was too small, and that she should make it bigger. She resisted that pressure, and, gently, said no.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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