Exercising New Teaching Skills – Literally

I consider myself to be a versatile teacher. I’ve taught all ages, all topics, and in all settings—or so I thought. But this week, I had an all new setting for teaching Judaism: at the gym, during an actual exercise class.

Rewind to a few months back, when I was asked to teach the first session in a new series of classes from our local San Antonio Jewish Community Center (JCC) designed to combine education with exercise. As a runner and a professional Jewish educator, I was immediately excited. I care deeply about both education and exercise! Plus, I’m always game to support strategies that are outside of the box.

But still. When it was explained to me that I would be teaching while my students were working out on stationary spinning bikes, I’ll admit it sounded kind of, well, wacky.

I said yes, and decided that I’d have plenty of time between winter and July to get this figured out. Then winter flew by, spring disappeared, and my extremely busy month of June came and went—and before I knew it, my session was few days away. Now, I was freaking out! What in the world would I teach and how would this possibly work?

My frantic and doubting emails to the JCC series coordinators were met with positivity and a “let’s go for it” attitude. They knew that what they were doing was out of the ordinary and they knew that they had nothing to lose. Aren’t the best moments in education made of that exact formula? I started to breathe a little easier again, and started to prep for this wacky class.

I decided to teach about Jewish approaches and philosophies about health and wellness. It turns out that our tradition has lots to say about our bodies, which are ultimately viewed as holy vessels created in God’s image. I was able to find texts about eating (of course), sleeping, sex, exercise, the care of one’s body, how we move when we pray, and much more. The content was there, now I just needed to worry about the execution.

I honestly couldn’t picture it all in my head. Would I be screaming over the spinning instructor? How would they participate? Would I be adding to their workout or hindering it?

What the heck should I wear?

I was told to picture the bikes merely as the seats for the students. Instead of students sitting motionless in chairs, they would be moving their legs. This image worked for me and even reminded me of the treadmill desks that are gaining popularity. In the education world, we refer to this as kinesthetic learning, or learning connected to movement.

Even though I was now prepared, I was sure that NO ONE would show up (and part of me was maybe secretly hoping that this would be the case). But one by one, my exercise-and-education students arrived and got situated on spinning bikes. They were all ages, fitness levels and even religions, and they were all excited to try this funky new class out.

The fitness instructor was there to properly position everyone and to make sure they knew how to use the bike. Her only instruction was to “pedal at your own pace.” Then I was introduced, and we were all off and running— or should I say, cycling.

The 40 minutes flew by and these students reacted the way any class would. They asked questions, shared comments, laughed and pondered. Some were clearly also getting a good workout, while others pedaled at a leisurely pace. It was weird and wonderful, and it was beautiful Jewish learning. I was even told that this should be my new gig! While I’m not sure about that, I am thrilled to have been a part of something so creative and yet so rooted in what education is all about.

I’m excited to see the classrooms that await me next!

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