Yoga and Math: A Recipe for Awareness
February 25, 2009
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“Math can be enjoyable. Empowering.” This comes from, no surprise, a math teacher. But the surprise lies behind the reasoning of the statement.
Professor Vytas Baskauskas isn’t your average math teacher. At first glance, you may mistake this instructor with a full beard, skintight jeans and chucks for a fellow student. Even more surprising is this teacher’s expertise as a resident yoga instructor.
Baskauskas, now in his fourth year of teaching at Santa Monica College, has called Santa Monica his hometown for over thirty years. “I feel a kindred connection because I’ve walked through these halls,” says the Santa Monica native. “I’ve seen this campus grow. I even biked through it as a kid.”
Like many who have been born and raised in the area, Basakauskas has a close bond to the college, having attended both Santa Monica High School and Santa Monica College as a student. After going through the city’s educational system, Baskauskas has, in the past years, transformed his role as a student of the local schools into a teacher to the residents of the community, contributing to the cycle of education.
After completing his graduate studies at UCLA in mathematics, Baskaukas transitioned into the role of instructor, teaching a plethora of classes, ranging from Arithmetic, Calculus, to Applied Mathematics. Baskaukas says of his passion for teaching,”There is a feeling after solving a problem that is so great.”
“The only thing that feels better than this feeling is empowering someone else to solve a problem.”
Math and yoga don’t naturally come to mind as the perfect match, but the fusion of the two is found in one of our college’s very own instructors. Baskauskas, through the principles and teachings of both mathematics and yoga, maintains the quality of his life and helps others do the same.
“Students often come to me saying they are scared of math, that they feel anxious about the subject,” he says. “But students need to calm down and take a breath because you won’t learn anything if you feel nervous or anxious.”
For many students, math classes may cause one to groan and may merely be a reminder of the requirements needed to fulfill for graduation and/or transferring. Although many students who are not a fan of numbers and formulas may never chose to make it their life passion, Baskauskas explains that mathematics can be applied to life in many ways, from handling finances to budgeting time.
“The principles of problem solving can be used as an intellectual tool that reaches far beyond the classroom,” he says. “It is a logical, rational thought process.”
Although math may not seem to be deeply connected to those who hope to continue their studies in areas such as English, Art, Medicine, Law or Theatre – the principles learned in math and most classes are applicable to a student’s daily life.
Classes should not simply be a means to graduate and progress to further destinations of study but should also be mastered in order to help an individual mature and apply them to real life situations outside of the classroom.
Those who study a way of life, philosophy or a sport can empathize with the idea of applying teachings to their daily lives.
This real life application process is common in the practice of yoga, Baskauskas’s other area of expertise.
Initially, Baskauskas was exposed to the practice of yoga through friends 10 years ago. Baskauskas continued to practice yoga for mostly physical reasons for the first few years but soon realized the mental and spiritual aspects the practice has to offer.
“Through my years of practice, I have found and begun to eradicate the imbalances that were so pervasive in my life. At first, the most obvious were those in my body, the physical imbalances. But the imbalances that haunted me the most were those that lived in my mind. The ability to hold on, but not to let go. The desire to be loved, without giving love. The yearning for acceptance, without the openness to accept others. The craving to be right, without giving myself permission to be wrong.”
Yoga gives Baskauskas a “quality of mind”. He says, “I had stress, fear, suffering, anxiety. In other words, I was experiencing the human condition, something that we all experience.” Yoga helps Baskauskas cope with uncomfortable feelings and situations that are present in most of our lives.
Baskauskas is no stranger to the obstacles life has to offer and by no means has his journey been linear. Baskaukas holds behind him, during his own transition out of high school, a history of heroin addiction, which resulted in a year in prison.
“I made it a point never to do certain things, but eventually broke down on each of them. I had told myself I would never use needles. I would never steal from my parents. I would never live on the streets. I crossed all of those lines.”
After making lifestyle changes and taking control of the direction of his life, Baskauskas was able to fall in love with both mathematics and yoga – which would not have been possible without sobriety.
“Sobriety introduced me to clarity of mind – to be able to learn again,” he says. “I became clear enough to be stimulated mentally.”
This teacher’s past is an example that change is possible regardless of where one is at in the present moment. Making decisions to take charge of one’s life can allow one to face and tackle obstacles.
Baskauskas says of his life now, “I am blessed, fortunate, lucky.” He adds, “I am happy with great relationships now.”
The idea of clarity of mind is essential when receiving and understanding information given to us as students. A quiet mind, silenced of distractions and noise, can make learning much more powerful and effective.
This idea is important when understanding a student’s motivations for enrolling in classes.
Baskauskas says, “Many people are here for the wrong reasons, sometimes because their parents told them to enroll. They see this as their 13th year of school, after the 12th grade,” he says. “But it is important to see what you really want to do – if this is it, or if it is something else.”
An essential idea that is often overlooked by students of all ages is the idea of taking responsibility for one’s own education. Often times, in modern society, people choose to study or pursue a career for wrong or unexamined reasons. This is why it is crucial for students to, as Baskauskas says, take a step back and “chill out.”
For most, balance is necessary to maintain homeostasis in life. This is the role of yoga and math in this instructor’s life.
Baskauskas says, “A math mind alone will yield only insanity.” He says additionally, “Yoga has given me insight into the importance of balance in my life and allowed me to not only rely on my strong logical mathematical brain. The problem solving and abstract analytical skills that I have learned in math are powerful tools.
But alone, they can only take me so far. It is through learning when not to use them that I have grown happier and more free.”
One can maintain a balance of both the logical and emotional through moderation and balance. Intellectual stimulation and growth is achieved through education, but is retained best when massaged into a mind of clarity.
Baskauskas hopes to continue to empower students of both mathematics and yoga. Fitting for the words of a yoga instructor, Baskauskas says he will be pleased “as long as I loved everyone in life well, let things go, and helped along as many people as I could.”