Giving my brain a yoga workout

This year, I decided to go back to school.

Not in a physical academic institution but I've been going for classes online, as well as in the cosy rehearsal studio of the arts space Centre 42 in Waterloo Street.

After a few years on the job, I've been feeling my synapses chafing at some of the repetitive routines I've internalised, such as the formulaic "linking paragraphs" or "nut grafs" I've started to use in my writing. It was time to get out of this rut and back into the pilot's seat.

So, earlier this year, I signed up for two courses on theatre and the arts. One, organised by Goethe Institut and Germany's Leuphana University, was a massive online open course (or MOOC for short) called Managing The Arts: Marketing For Cultural Organisations.

I write about the arts daily, so the course would be easy peasy, I thought. I was wrong. There is something quite counter- intuitive about grappling with the arts from an entirely different perspective, moving from informed observer and analyser to hands-on worker.

The ongoing online course covers everything from how the cultural economy works to how to create digital brands for the arts. Participants from all over the world, including Croatia, Nigeria and Colombia, were up and raring to go, flooding its forums with excited discussions about the arts.

Many of my recent weeknights have been spent poring over and making sense of reams of academic papers, oiling the creaky cogs and gears in my brain that have sat, unused and unloved, for a little too long.

Another course that I signed up for was more of a personal challenge to myself.

Local theatre company Drama Box, which primarily produces work in Mandarin Chinese, announced that they would be putting together a 12-part monthly introduction to theatre, called The Anatomy Of A Play - and that it would be conducted entirely in Mandarin.

My Mandarin is passable and I can acquit myself in interviews done completely in the language, but it is nowhere near the standard of someone who is comfortably bilingual.

So I bought a package as a promise to myself that I would attend every single class, from Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, one of the high points of ancient Greek tragedy, all the way to Singapore practitioner Li Xie's critically acclaimed VaginaLogue (2000), an adaptation of Eve Ensler's pivotal play, The Vagina Monologues (1996).

I am very familiar with all the plays on their list, but this would be a chance to broaden my theatre vocabulary in Mandarin, so there will no longer be interviews with prestigious Chinese theatre practitioners where I am struggling for a specific theatre term and attempting to surreptitiously use Google Translate while I stall for time.

During the first class, while my classmates made fluent, articulate arguments in Mandarin, I sat silent at the back of the room, awkwardly taking notes in wobbly, wispy Chinese script. I might have broken into a cold sweat when the facilitator called on me to respond to the text and I can't remember what I said next.

I suppose with all back-to-school jitters, working those academic and linguistic muscles will take some time. Perhaps there's a reason why our teachers used to give us the much-dreaded "holiday homework", to keep our minds supple.

And despite working full-time, it's been such a pleasure to take some time out from the daily grind and immerse myself in learning done purely for my own development, no matter how daunting it might seem.

I recently picked up yoga too, and during my first class just over a year ago, I simply could not stand on one foot. I would fall, embarrassingly, over and over again, and stare wistfully at my confident, ridiculously flexible classmates extending themselves into mind-boggling poses.

But a strange thing has been happening this year. After subjecting myself to a minimum of one class a week, my awkward, klutzy self can miraculously twist limbs and appendages into positions I never thought possible before.

If that's what my brain is doing - I'll take it. Maybe I'll be doing handstands next year.

corriet@sph.com.sg