Course Prep, Ergonomics and Acupuncture

Course Prep

I have heard it said that teaching is a coveted position primarily because professors and the like get “three whole months off.” I have also heard that snipe hunting is great exercise.

It is wise not to believe everything you hear.

One of the most interesting things about turning to teaching as a career is unlearning certain assumptions you had when you, yourself, were a student. I remember congratulating a professor at the end of the exam period, suggesting that he could now get to relax like the rest of us–ignoring the reality that year-end means most instructors have two weeks to grade 67 essays and 43 exams…wade through 30 emails about why the last paper was late, 20 begging for leniency or clemency, and 10 requests for extensions. Not unlike secondary education, many American universities require many hours of face-time with students, and many more offering very personalized feedback to great hosts of young learners. But even when the dust settles and grades are turned in, the summer cannot be a sweeping free-for-all of beach-going and nap-taking. First, there are research obligations… You have to publish those papers and books some time. Second, if you are aiming for an environment that fosters learning for the greatest number of in-coming students, a lot of hours must be spent in course prep.

I am lucky. I have two cats who are very fond of facilitating the endeavor. Oliver, for instance, hovers over me like a sinister supervisor, and then expresses his disdain for the hour’s work by deftly stepping on the delete key before I save it. Bartholomew is in charge of ergonomics. He helps me by ensuring that I don’t type to much–mostly by using my forearms as comfy pillows. They do their best.


Unfortunately, ergonomics is something I tend not to be very focused on most of the time. That is, though I ought to be considering very carefully how I sit–and for how long–I often spend four to six hours wrapped into an uncomfortable human pretzel. It isn’t, of course, that I set out to be a contortionist; twisting about until I can see my own hindmost is not really a requirement for my job. Unfortunately, extraordinary focus makes most people forget their own physicality, and in some very strange ways the Life of the Mind tends to wreak havoc on Embodied Selves. Today, after losing track of three hours–along with my right foot, left knee, Lumbar L5 and Sacrum 1-4–I rose to find rising rather difficult. This is partly due to an accident from my mid-twenties. My wonderful old mutt Hawk and I were having a walk…on black ice. He saw a squirrel and went south; I went east and my spine went north-west. (It was a global catastrophe.) Years of weight-training have largely alleviated the lingering malaise, but there are those days. What to do, besides ice and painkiller? Well, it so happens that there is a more interesting and useful option. Here in Winona, we have a very excellent acupuncture clinic.


Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of being pricked by small needles, and I find that misunderstanding and misinformation abound. However, acupuncture has been practiced much longer than our Western medicine. Starting in China ans spreading to Japan, Taiwan and other parts of Asia, it is even being embraced by high-profile medical clinics in the US who have come to realize its potential benefits. The Mayo Clinic, for instance, has acupuncture treatment options and information.

Traditional Chinese acupuncture, however, was often practiced in a community setting–that is, not a single patient and doctor in a small room, but many people being treated at once and on a large scale. There are multiple benefits to this type of treatment, not the least of which is cost savings. More patients can be treated, which lowers the cost for everyone. As a business model, it is ethically sound and community minded.

Jade Community Acupuncture

To return to my sciatic woes, I spent the latter part of the afternoon at my choice for acupuncture treatment: Jade Community Acupuncture. Jade is a seasoned practitioner, highly recommended and highly trained. Her certifications include NCCAOM, Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology–and she is licensed in both Minnesota and Florida (for any snow-birds out there).

I have been coming to see Jade for about a year now; my first visit was last August for a pinched nerve in my shoulder, and I can admit to a few nerves of the other sort. However, Jade is professional and friendly, patient and soft-spoken–she immediately puts a person at ease (and I am rather tightly wound, so that is high praise).

And of course, acupuncture is, itself, extraordinarily relaxing. The muscles become calm, the mind serene…and I fall asleep. Every time.  Today, I was treated for the back pain but also for a lingering chest congestion. I am not going to attempt to describe why or how this works, but I will say that the muscles of my chest, my shoulders and my lower lumbar relax their pinching hold once the slim little needles are in place. It’s a bit like going through a vigorous yoga class without moving at all. I will return later this week, as it sometimes takes a few treatments, but the cost-effective nature of community acupuncture allows for this. All treatment is done on a sliding scale between 15$ and 35$. That is, if your problem requires continued visits, you might pay 15$ 2-3 times a week, rather than 35$ for a single visit. You are requested to pay what you can, and it is very much on the honor system. An ethical business model and a deserving clinic–I should mention that Jade is my herbalist as well.

Long live “alternative” medicine (a funny label, since of course, it was here first…) If you are in Winona and inclined to accidental contortion, stop in.  If you are visiting Winona, you probably spent something like a half-century in the car to get here–so come in for a little untwisting of the L 5.

Now: back to writing assignment rubrics for English 111…

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