I’ve been enthusiastic about yoga lately. I’m just a beginner, no peacock pose for me (yet!), but I’ve been getting more into it. I practice at home with DVD’s and do my best. I can feel that it’s healthy for me, and rewarding. The body learns to like it, to want it.
Yesterday I found myself comparing yoga to my old nemesis, running. Most runners I know are concerned, to varying degrees, with numbers. The times, the distances, the 10K and the personal bests, and so on. Usually when they have a conversation about running — how a race went, or the training for the “Fun Run!” — mathematics quickly enters into the equation.
We like to measure things. The numbers tell us where we are, help us navigate the process; otherwise we are like ships lost at sea, the night sky absent of stars. So we are comforted by numbers, and motivated by them, too.
Whereas with yoga, one of the principal tenants is that each one of us has our own yoga experience. If you can’t stretch beyond your feet, grab an ankle or a knee. There are no winners, no losers. People of widely divergent ability can take the same class and each person will have his own (valid, rewarding) experience. You can’t measure it. Anyone who practices yoga and gives an honest effort will get something out of it, each according to his own need and ability.
It was like reading, I realized. We can all sit down with the same novel and turn the same pages, encounter the same characters, events, and ideas. Do we have the same experience? Of course not.
Was one’s experience “better” than another’s? Well, okay, I suspect it’s true; I agree with Mr. Pirsig that the quality of experience matters, certainly in terms of reading comprehension and how our (singular!) understanding of a text effects emotional and intellectual responses. However, we immediately get into slippery areas, since readers understand texts differently, and there are no “right” or “wrong” responses to a work of art. A skilled yoga practitioner may well get more fullness out of a sequence of movements than someone who is not yet able to hold the poses correctly. But in the practice of yoga, nobody tries to measure these things. It would be absurd. The important thing is that you engage in the discipline of yoga and get out of it what you can.
Given practice and effort, we trust that the process-oriented experience will deepen over time. Just like with reading. Yet in the academic world, there’s pressure to quantify these experiences. We have to separate the minnows from the sharks. Bestow A-pluses and C-minuses. Issue standardized tests. Strive to measure results, meet target scores, and achieve statistical objectives. The numbers guide us to the point where, by the sorry end of things, the numbers rule over us. In our pursuit of quantifying the mystery we are in danger of losing the essential thing, because we lack faith in reading itself.
We should look at reading instruction, and writing instruction, the same way we look at yoga (as opposed to the runner’s mathematical model). Or at least, align ourselves more closely to the yogic perspective.
Trust that reading is enough. Any reading. Trust in the process, and reward the reader for engaging in that activity. Sure, an instructor must still instruct, walk the room, adjust a spine, remind one to stay conscious to the moment, breathe. Or think about the book. Dwell in it, reflect, ask questions, make connections.
In my perfect world, anybody who reads — regardless of ability, regardless of age or experience — gets an A+ and a “Great Job!” sticker.