By Claudia Ricci
Regular readers of this blog may recall my post of just a few weeks ago, when I explored the idea of introducing yoga into a college classroom. Early in August, I wrote about a conference I attended at Smith College. A couple dozen university professors had gathered to create new curricula that incorporate mindfulness practices, including meditation and yoga. At the end of that post (August 7th) I said I was exploring the idea of developing a class myself.
Who would have thought that exactly four weeks later, on September 4th, the class would become a reality?
What happened is still a bit of a mystery to me, and to the young woman with whom I am teaching.
The day I went to the Smith conference, I met educators from all across the U.S. and some from around the world, as far away as Thailand.
Curiously, there was one graduate student at the conference. That doctoral student -- Rebecca Ossorio -- happened to sit behind me at the morning lecture. That graduate student, amazingly, was from the very same University where I teach (SUNY Albany.) What are the odds of that coincidence, I asked myself at the time.
Rebecca and I had a nice conversation. We ended up at the same table for lunch. We sat with a professor of history from Vassar College (where Rebecca completed her undergraduate degree ten years ago.) Rebecca and this history professor explained to me how they were planning to team up in the Spring of '09 to teach a class together, one that incorporated yoga. Rebecca, who is a certified Kripalu instructor, would teach the yoga.
Well, so, after lunch, we exchanged phone numbers, and Rebecca and I promised each other that when we got back to SUNY Albany in September (where she is a doctoral student in education) we would get together to talk. She asked me if I'd be open to collaborating on a class together, and I said, "sure," thinking we'd probably get around to THAT class in 2011.
Three weeks later, as we started back to school, I got a call from Rebecca, and a few days later, she came to my office at SUNY. And what happened then is quite mystifying. I mean, if I had TRIED to do it, I'm sure it wouldn't have worked!
Rebecca sat in my office for about 45 minutes, during which time she told me that what she really wanted to do was work with young Latina women (she is herself part Cuban.) I told her that many of my students at SUNY (in the Educational Opportunities Program) are Latina.
And almost by magic, they started appearing at the door of my office. First came Natalie, a wonderfully talented student. Great writer, very bright, and highly stressed. Last year at this time, she was having so much difficulty concentrating on her studies that I gave her some extra "breathing exercises" (i.e. meditation) to do outside of class (she did them and LOVED them and wrote about them with great enthusiasm.)
So there in my office, quite unexpectedly, was Natalie, and Rebecca. The three of us started to talk about the kind of class Rebecca and I envisioned. One that included yoga and readings about mindfulness. And lots of journal writing. And a mid-term paper and final in which the student would explore her reactions to the practices.
Natalie, without blinking an eye, said, "that's the class I want to take THIS semester."
Rebecca and I looked at each other. "Well I suppose we could teach it as an indepedent study," I mused. Rebecca's eyes lit up. Natalie smiled.
Before long, a second student appeared. Betsaida, another A student whose only problem in college is her perfectionism. And her tendency to drive herself way past her limits. We told Betsaida what we were thinking about. And even though Betsaida was already signed up for six classes, she said, "this is the class I need!!! (Of course, it's not clear how she is going to handle a seventh class, and we are still trying to figure that one out.)
Meanwhile, though, I was dumbfounded. We had two students before we even had a class.
A third student, Yineska, arrived. She had gotten an A in my English 121Z a year ago. And she came to college at age 16 because she was so accelerated. She too has the over achieving, perfectionist gene.
To make a long story short, there were, oractically overnight, five or six Latina women wanting to sign up for the class. When I poked my head into the office of my supervisor, Maritza Martinez, to describe the class, I expected to have to sell the idea.
Maritza smiled. "How many students can you take?" she asked. Maritza knows all too well well the kinds of stress our EOP students face. EOP, or Educational Opportunities Program, caters to students who are economically disadvantaged. Often first-generation immigrants, or the daughters of those immigrants, these students come from financially-strapped families in inner city neighborhoods. They struggle to pay the rent and put food on the table. These students have great difficulty balancing academic pressures and their troubles at home.
Within a day or two, Rebecca and I had written a course description, selected our first readings, and set to work finding a space for the class (that's been our biggest challenge!) The first day of class we had no classroom, but the Unvierse delibered us a warm and brilliant morning, and so we gathered behind the Bio building in a beautiful garden space. On the cement steps leading down to the garden, someone had tattooed a beautiful face, a peaceful countenance that to my mind, kind of announced our class!
Here we are in class on September 4th. It was a remarkable class. Rebecca is an amazing yoga teacher, and a wonderfully dynamic and thoughtful educator. We are delighted to be teaching this class together, to a group of very special college students, all of whom are highly enthusiastic about practicing yoga and meditation.
Like I said, it's a bit of a mystery -- no, make that a miracle !!!! -- that Rebecca and I are actually teaching this class barely a month after meeting each other. But then, when the Universe is ready for something, it is my experience that all the doors open. The seas part. And poof, the seeming improbable just
comes to be!!!!