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Memphis Daily News
Ready to Learn and Teach
March 9, 2017
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

I have heard it said many times that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The wisdom in understanding this is being open to learning, and prepared to teach what you learn, when either opportunity presents itself.

Dr. Colleen Butterick retired recently after 25 years in private practice as a well-respected psychologist and family counselor. Of course, retirement looks different to everyone, and it seems as if no one whose career is rooted in service to others really retires. Colleen also “dabbled” in yoga over the years, mostly to unwind and regain calm after long days of guiding families through crisis, grief and overwhelming challenges.

During one yoga class shortly before she retired, she had an overwhelming urge to get serious about practicing yoga and to become a yoga instructor.

“If I feel this peaceful, calm and centered after a very hectic day,” she told me, “I could teach others to have the same experience in their lives.”

So, this high-energy grandmother in her 60s became a student so that she could become a teacher.

“It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be,” she admitted, “The rest of the students in the class were less than half my age, and it took a year and a half of intense training, but I was determined to do this.”

Colleen became a certified instructor, prepared to teach.

And the students came. They were mostly teachers who came to her yoga classes to learn the techniques of mindfulness, how to focus, to breathe, to meditate, to calm down. There is a study from the UCLA School of Medicine that describes the physiological-based effects of meditation on the brain, showing it to become less reactive and more resilient, calming its fluctuations. Her students learn and practice and look forward to the classes, and to the feeling of calm.

But what if you never experience what calm feels like? What if you always operate in a fight-or-flight mode? What if your life is marked by chronic stress and trauma? What if you’re a child or a teen living in poverty in an underserved urban area marked by blight and pockets of hopelessness? How do you feel calm?

One of the classes Colleen taught was at an urban high school at the request of the guidance counselor. The counselor wanted her students to learn intervention strategies for when they felt angry or stressed that would help them respond rather than react, to learn how to be calm. The students were ready.

The results were dramatic as the students learned to focus, to breathe, to experience peace and calm, and to do something for themselves that gave them a new way of controlling their own emotions. One student who had lived in foster care most of his life experiencing instability, anger and chronic stress, summed up his new way of coping by practicing yoga when he said, “It just calms my mind.”

Maybe someday he’ll teach others. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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