When I began teaching, and for some time after, I used to try to assuage such anxieties by crowding them out with activity. I would prepare 15 pages of lecture notes for an 80-minute class session. I would assign 70 pages of reading for every class meeting so we wouldn’t run out of material. I would cover over any pauses in the discussion with more lecturing, more PowerPoints, more handouts. I had students write research papers and exams and bibliographies and presentations and blog posts and quizzes — just so that it would be clear that I had a plan, and I was in charge, and I was well-prepared, and I knew what I was doing.
It didn’t work. I was exhausted and tense, and my students were baffled and overwhelmed. In class, they just checked out. No one had room to breathe. The quick shallow panting of my own fears about teaching sucked all the air out of the room, leaving nothing left for learning.
Taking time to breathe in the university classroom meant acknowledging that much of my pedagogy — however well-intentioned — was arising from a desire to ease my own anxieties. I was fighting off negative inner voices by throwing readings and assignments and lectures at them.
I encourage you to read the whole piece. Whether you take breathing as a metaphor or an actual practice (or both), there is some excellent advice in here (including helping students focus on what you are teaching). And it applies to much more than teaching.
Even without any knowledge of yoga or any other kind of breathing practice, I find it helpful to just notice whether you are breathing. Paying attention to whether you are breathing and consciously taking deeper breaths slows you down to a more sensible pace. Do this while you are planning. Do this while you are writing. Do this while you are teaching. Do this when you get home to face all the things you need to do there. Breathe.
If you are interested in this actual practice of breathing, there is a self-paced online course offered by Trish Elting called Just Keep Breathing that may be helpful. (I don’t get any commission for telling you about this. Just sharing what might be useful.) Or check out local yoga studios.
How could you bring more space to breathe into your schedule?