Read below or listen now.
Quick and shameless plug: I’ll be teaching this and similar content for yoga teachers in 2017. Check out the schedule here. Now onto the goods.
License to Chill: Creating Silence in Yoga
We’ve all been there. You’re in yoga, enjoying the flow and the music. You think “This teacher has a great rhythm and my body really needs this today”. But after the sun sals and the first flow, you notice the amount of instruction, the amount of words and cues, the constant talking won’t stop. The words just keep coming and coming. “Geez”- you think, “does this guy ever shut up?”. Before you know it, all you can hear are his filler words. You hear all of the um’s, the yep’s, the right’s?, and the okay’s. It’s nearing the end of class and the mood is winding down. Sweet, sweet savasana is on the way. But he just keeps talking. This teacher has a case of silence-phobia: the inability to allow any silence or quiet during one’s own instructions. It’s more common than you may think. You might even be reading this and considering, “that sounds kinda like me”. But just as we’ve all been there as a student… odds are, if you’re a yoga teacher, you’ve been there as well. So the good news is: you’re most definitely not alone.
Loads of teachers have been taught what to say and when, but not many of us have been taught what not to say, and when to allow some room for that void. You have to find your own rhythm and voice, and part of this means finding your own natural pauses. Many of us tend to view silence during a yoga class as an awkward vacuum, a time when the students might be judging us, or an empty space we’ve inadvertently created— leaving their minds to wander without our valuable guidance. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth.
BREAKING IT DOWN
tick tock. When we’re guiding a yoga class, we’re asking the students to do quite a few very specific things: breathe, lengthen, reach, ground, press, extend, breathe again, relax, melt, open, etc. These movements and actions take time within the human body to set, adjust, and refine. For example, when we give our students a cue like “lengthen the spine on your inhalation, and see if you can twist a little bit deeper on the exhalation”, it is beneficial to then allow a few moments for them to explore the cue, to dance the dance, to observe any changes, to feel the effects, and ultimately to decide if that cue served them or not. A lot of what we say in yoga is flowery and poetic, so breezing through these cues or discussing deep philosophy without a moment to reflect and absorb isn’t helping anyone. Practice allowing silence to highlight what you just said. It’s a powerful tool, and often more important than adding even more words.
save something for the next time. It can be really tempting to tell our students all of the things they should be doing and feeling within a sequence or a set of poses. After all, we’ve been studying this stuff and we know it will make them feel better if they just listen and do it. That was our experience! We also want to tell them how they probably got to this point, that they need to drink more water, that their sedentary lifestyles are killing them, and don’t forget that awesome Rumi quote you stumbled across earlier in the week. But this is overload. You have so much to share, but this is like trying to get to know everything about your partner on a first date— it doesn’t work that way. Convince your students that what you have to offer is beneficial, but that this is just a taste of it and they’ll keep coming back for more. You can even theme an entire class around one point or concept — like overcoming a sedentary lifestyle — and flesh that out while saving your intellectual property, talking points, and energy for the next class.
go inward… but keep listening to me. Much of what we practice in yoga is self-reflection. We encourage our students to go deeper and get to know themselves, have conversations with their inner voices, and explore their mental landscape. It is our job to guide this process, but that is all we can do. The rest is up to them and it’s important that students get the time they need to sit and observe, uninterrupted. Facilitate self-reflection and observation, but then step away and let the process work its magic. By continuing to talk over their thoughts, we are distracting from their process of unraveling.
final rest is SACRED. One of the first comments I ever received when I started teaching on YogaGlo– an online yoga platform- was from a woman who said “a silent savsasna! Oh my goodness, what a treat”. I didn’t fully understand that because most of the Savasanas I had been in were silent until I attended a class in which the teacher spoke the entire time. I’m practiced in the art of tuning people out, but when this teacher settled us into savasana… and then kept talking, I almost raged. I understand that this is my own issue of opinion— and had she given us some silence, perhaps I could have addressed those inner demons on my own— but she actually kept calling us back mentally to her own stories and thoughts. I couldn’t tune her out because she kept demanding our attention with more of her own reflections on her current situation and quotes she needed to hear. I left feeling frazzled and ungrounded. As teachers, we should be sharing ourselves personally and authentically— I credit her bravery in that. But we are supposed to act as mirrors to our students, not shadows. Our aim should be to reflect toward them relatable approaches to handing all of the life stuff we encounter, not to overshadow their life stuff with our own. Allow savasana to be a final respite from not just the stressful and crazy world in which we live, but also from you. It’s sacred. Leave them to themselves.
So, if you’re like me and tend to talk talk talk in your life off the mat, then perhaps your teaching can also be a practice for you. Practice listening, watching and providing meaningful silence. The benefits are there not just for your students, but for you as well. This allows you to take a breath, to be more clear with your message, avoid overloading your classes and connect more with your students. Give it a try and let me know what you think. Until next time, Namaste.