New Elective to Combine Yoga and Poetry

Drawing on her passion for English and yoga, Catherine Tousignant, Instructor in English and Yoga Coach, will teach a new interdisciplinary elective this spring called “Yoga: Poetry and Practice.” Tousignant, in her 20th year teaching English and sixth year as a yoga instructor, created the class to explore the connection between movement and language, specifically poetry. She wanted to allow students taking yoga to have more time to reflect on the experience. “I’m interested in that intersection between kinesthetic learning and language learning and ways in which we learn in and of the body through movement. Yoga is movement into stillness, which I think is a great way of describing what poetry is also,” said Tousignant. “The philosophy of yoga is at work all around us all the time, in nature, in our bodies, in poems,” she continued. “Like yoga, poetry asks us to work hard, to make an effort, to pay attention to many details at once, to strive for greater flexibility, to let go of expectations and let ourselves be surprised and to accept things as they are,” said Tousignant. The class will read selections from Indian texts related to yoga for the English portion of the class, including the Bhagavad Gita, a classical Indian text, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a document that explores classical yoga philosophy and a wide variety of poetry, said Tousignant. The homework for this class will remain much like typical English class, and will include reading, preparation for discussion and weekly writing assignments, such as personal essays and reflections. Students will practice asana, a sitting yoga pose, along with breathing exercises and meditation in the yoga portion of the class. Although the location for the class is unconfirmed, it will be in a room equipped for yoga rather than in Bulfinch Hall, according to Tousignant. Tousignant said she hopes to impart the reasoning and intentions behind yoga practice. “Yoga is a set of strategies that can bring you more stillness, more equanimity, greater strength, flexibility, balance, a stronger core and evenness of mind in the sense that we move through our lives with better clarity. When we see things more clearly we make more skillful choices…Yoga can offer people a set of tools for finding a bit of evenness and calmness in a life that is rarely balanced. I hope [students] will take away the ability to slow down and be fully present in whatever activity they are doing,” she said. After coming up with the idea for the class, Tousignant met with Michael Kuta, Director of Athletics, and Jeffrey Domina, Chair of the English Department. Domina brought the course idea to the Academic Council to be approved and added to the Course of Study. The class will meet during seventh period on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and continue after school on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, counting for both English and athletic credits. “Yoga: Poetry and Practice” is a 500-level English elective. Seniors and Uppers with special permission are eligible to take the course. The class is open to beginners and experienced yogis. The introduction of “Yoga: Poetry and Practice“ follows a growing school-wide trend of interdisciplinary education. “We’re sort of at this moment where there is lots of discussion at school among the faculty about innovative teaching, interdisciplinary teaching and connected learning,” said Tousignant. The combination of athletics and academics in this class distinguishes it from other interdisciplinary courses, according to Tousignant. “The structure of the day keeps those spheres [athletics and academics] pretty separate,” she said. “We move through the world through the body, but so much of our struggle is trapped in our heads” “Poetry and Yoga have a lot to say to each other, and I’m interested in listening to that conversation and joining that conversation,” she continued. Tousignant started teaching English in 1992 and started practicing yoga in 2003. She completed her 200 hour certification to become a yoga teacher in 2007.