Even in a “normal year” (have we ever actually had one of those?), it’s natural to take time as the season ends to think about how the year has gone—what we did and didn’t do, what we might have done “if we had only known,” what worked and maybe didn’t, and though it usually falls at the bottom of our list, what we did really well.
OK, let’s get the critique out of the way first. Sure, if we had only attended that day in choral methods class when we covered “how to teach choir during a global pandemic,” then we might have changed some strategies, chosen different music, planned our time differently, and paid more attention when our tech-savvy colleague was trying to get us on board with all the cool opportunities out there.
This is where the wisdom of one of my yoga mentors comes back to me. During the many times we struggled with some aspect of our teacher training intensives and began to doubt ourselves, Linda, in her very practical way, would say:
“How human of you.”
The impact of that phrase still resonates with me. Wait, you mean this is just normal to struggle, to have not yet mastered the skill or figured out a solution or the “right answer” to the challenge at hand?
Linda taught several course modules, most notably, the one on adaptations — how to adapt a yoga posture or movement to suit the individual’s unique needs, whether those were influenced by injury or medical conditions or age or trauma background. Central to adaptation is the recognition of constant change, a principle known as parinamavada.
“The teachings of yoga include a view called parinamavada, the idea that constant change is an inherent part of life. Therefore, to proceed skillfully with any action, we must first assess where we are starting from today; we cannot assume we are quite the same person we were yesterday…. We are all prone to ignoring the changing conditions of our body-mind; we often distort the reality of who we are based on who we think that we should be.”
Adapting means assessing what is, “today, at this time,” and letting go of yesterday’s reality. As teachers, whatever our plans or past practices or successes, we had to adapt this year in a way like no other; to “pivot,” in pandemic jargon, literally every day. We had to recognize the reality of constant change, both in our larger world and in our personal universe, and we had to adapt with every ounce of grit and grace we could muster. It was tough and not always an obvious success.
“How human of you.”
We are feeling heavy after a year plus of pandemic life, and so are our singers. Adding a double dose of woulda-coulda-shoulda self-criticism is not going to help us, or them, and it’s not even realistic. Being human is not a liability. It is only because we are human that we can discern the need to adapt and then find a way to do it. And when we stay true to the music and the musicians and the overall welfare of our choral community, we are doing what is most needed at this moment in the constant flux that is our life.
“There is nothing permanent except change.”
Heraclitus, c. 535 BC- c. 475 BC
This year was a different kind of training module on adaptations. On accepting our humanness and vulnerability while also discovering and utilizing our strength, courage, resilience, creativity, and compassion for the betterment of our singers and every sphere of influence we have. So, what did we do really well?
We showed up (even when the schedule changed week to week, day to day . . .)
We got way out of our comfort zone learning new ideas, methods, and technologies.
We released perfection while finding new versions of excellence.
We recognized our opportunity to build mental wellness in our singers (and ourselves).
We continued to be a “dispeller of darkness” (the definition of a guru) in any way we could.
Only when we recognize the full spectrum of our humanness can we celebrate our ability to adapt and therefore, discover what we might not have otherwise envisioned.
By being aware, we are constantly adapting and transforming, and that means we are never done. Which brings me to another wisdom of Linda’s:
“I see more in your future.”
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
Shiva Rea, “Consciousness in Motion: Vinyasa”
Special thanks to Linda Troutman, BS, 500 E-RYT, C-IAYT