Learning Without Walls
What would it be like to work in an office without walls? Maybe cubicles and modern open-space offices come to mind? Ok. What about attending class at a school without walls? You might think that sounds completely unrealistic and ineffective. Surprise! This is a thing.
North Andover High School, located in North Andover, MA., used to be an open-concept school. The school utilized movable dividers (which doubled as shelves and blackboards) between “classrooms”. It may sound like the recipe for a chaotic, unproductive learning environment, but I can attest the layout created some very strong and flexible students. I spent four of my oh-so-formative years there and graduated…well…a number of years ago. 😉 Having to focus our attention on the voice of the teacher in front of us, rather than the din from other nearby classes, was just one of the skills we needed to hone to become attentive and engaged students. Test-taking, reading, and group discussions all had an added layer of difficulty as the sounds from outside trickled in around our walls-on-wheels. We had to build our own internal walls to block it all out. Little did I know that any learning that I would do after graduating from this training zone would be so much easier.
Flash forward to 2018, NAHS has been wall-full since its rebuilding in 2004. Although I am not sitting at a desk in front of a teacher, surrounded by lockers slamming and droves of kids chattering, I still use my focusing super-powers when life gets too noisy. Each passing year brings more and more static – to-do lists, worries about loved ones, places to be – the stakes rising. These are the times that I roll out my mat, face plant in child’s pose, and see where I need to go from there. Often, several deep breaths, with eyes closed, has a huge impact and opens my ability to “get away” to find balance and calm. However, some days it’s much harder to dig deep internally to just be – peacefully. On these days, it feels like there is rubble screaming at me, poking me, from all directions. Coming to my mat time and again, turning my mind off, shoveling away the rubble, silencing the mental noise – it is yoga practice for a reason, and it takes work. It is a new kind of learning without walls.
Build Your Internal Space
Living my yoga is a thread that keeps me tied to my time on my mat. Lessons learned in yoga (while struggling to focus, struggling to hold a pose, or just struggling to get the mat out at all) mirror the kinds of struggles we face or create in daily life. What happens when those everyday struggles are external disturbances? These disturbances can easily become excuses for not following through. Choosing to find good, find love and connection, find adventure, find joy – this is the track I strive to remain on. Everything else is secondary. When I find that things are interfering with my well-being or happiness (other people’s negativity, the hectic daily race, fatigue, or other worries and nuisances), I give myself permission to turn it all off just for a short time. Physiologically, our bodies need time to rest and recover daily to maintain mental well-being and healthy systemic functioning. Cultivating a consistent practice of giving this time to yourself is essential.
All of that rubble building up around you? It’s there for a reason. Use it. While you may want to toss it all to the garbage and turn your back, the junk that life gives us is fodder for growth. Take the pieces – stress, worry, discomfort, inner turmoil, negative self-talk, sadness and grief, insecurity, aggression, – and turn them into the bricks and stones needed to build up your own walls. In yoga, in life, we have to convert the negativity so that it doesn’t take away from our very important internal work.
I don’t suggest overhauling in one day your way of coping or interacting with the world. It takes practice. By starting small, minor choices become habits which will eventually extend far beyond into bigger change within you. Returning to our wall-less land, consider your home yoga practice “without walls” in that you are away from a studio, away from accountability from other students, and in the thick of your own world (rife with the trappings of daily stressors and distractions). It can be more difficult to immerse yourself in your practice at home. Roommates, spouses, children, pets, tumblefurs, bills, dishes and laundry, calls to family, shopping lists, that thing with the car, the big item you’re saving for that’s still out of reach – need I say more? No. There is way more, but even one of those “distractions” (as endearing, exciting, or necessary as they are) is plenty. It is empowering to make the choice to let it all wait, and it will wait for you – away from your mat. This inward quiet grows within you, creating space you didn’t know you had, and increasing your mental and emotional reserve. Once you’re ready to roll up your mat, those distractions will be just a bit easier to tackle. Your practice gives you time, and mental space, to grow stronger and more resilient.
My personal favorite distraction from my home practice is finding things that need cleaning. My inner dialogue is sometimes like this:
“Those tumblefurs are serious business and they shed light (pun intended) on some of my own hairs floating around. Their favorite spot to hide is under the couch. That pen I lost on Sunday while writing my to-do list is under the couch, too. Oh, what did I do with that list? I still need to get shampoo. Back to the hair. My hair is so fine – totally not like my Dad’s. I should call my Dad. I’ll just text him quickly. Pick up the phone, go to text, get distracted by other text, look at Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest. Oh, now I’m distracted by the phone. Back to yoga. Maybe music will help? Grab phone again, open Spotify, scroll through a few songs to find one to start with. But what will play next? Wait, did I have dinner plans tonight or tomorrow? Tomorrow…pretty sure. I should put that on my calendar. This week is already so busy. I should see my Dad soon. How is my Dad? I’ll talk to him when I’m done with the yoga. What’s on my foot? Oh, hi cat. Don’t squish the cat. One day, I won’t have this cat. One day, I won’t have a lot of the people in my life.
WHOAH. STOP. Self, you have a warm home, a loving husband, a wonderful family, two cat buddies, and yes, some housework to do. Relax, take in the love all around you, and do 20 minutes of cleaning once you’re off your mat. Put it all aside for now. Build up the internal wall to turn inward. Breathe. And don’t squish the cat.”