Talking in the yoga class
Some yoga styles like Mysore limit words to an absolute minimum. Other yoga teachers can be very expressive, metaphoric and descriptive, as in Scaravelli yoga. Hatha yoga can often include philosophy, echoing quotes from sacred texts like the Yoga Sutras. The way a teacher uses words is very personal to them.
Students are generally silent to support the inward direction of attention. Students only speak when they are totally lost between right hip and left hand, or really curious about the alignment of a pose.
On the whole I think this quietness is great and blissful! In fact, I imagine this peaceful quietness is one of the main reasons people come to yoga studios instead of busy gyms full of TV screens and loud music. For me, asana practice is an invitation to return to a pre-cognitive state, to feel and sense on a bodily level rather than to think and analyse from the mind.
At the same time, as a yoga teacher, I observe that after almost every class I teach, I have between one and five people waiting for me with questions. And often it’s not really the question they want answering, more so it seems they just want time to speak. I witness that many students need to share something of their inner world and inner struggles. There is a pronounced impulse to speak in a non-causal manner, on an emotional, psychological or spiritual level. This impulse comes from an innate wisdom, where we know that two minutes speaking openly and being heard without judgement is healing.
There is not time for an in-depth conversation in a yoga class and it is not the main focus of yoga. An overuse of words, I feel, would ruin the yoga class. Also, yoga teachers are not counsellors or psychotherapists and sliding into that field would only blur the clear, safe frame that yoga offers.
At the same time, yoga is steeped in the mind-body connection which suggests that the thoughts and unexamined assumptions that we hold about ourselves affect our biochemistry and impact our endocrine system, organs, immune system, nervous system, cells and molecules. In a very simple way, if one thinks negatively of their vagina, stomach or bowels, then those organs and cells will absorb the negative thoughts and regenerate with that negative structure in mind.
This mind-body connection is, and has been, proudly celebrated in yoga as an integral part of its science. But do we really engage with the mind-body connection as fully as we could? And would a little space for words help us develop? Talking is one of many paths that lead from the outer into the inner world. The words we use to describe ourselves, our bodies and our feelings are very telling of our own internal environment and dialogue. Talking also helps us to clearly lay out inner conflicts and dilemmas in order to gather new perspectives.
Look at it this way, if you compare what it requires to chop down a tree by yourself using only one tool, to chopping it down with three tools and a friend’s help, the latter method would be much quicker and easier and it would probably be more enjoyable too. This is why I believe creating a set time for speaking openly in the yoga class is worth considering. It adds another tool to the kit.
Space to talk and be heard is a vital component of human development. In our world of individualism and anti-dependence, people are becoming more and more isolated and lonely. This component of speaking from the heart and being heard without judgement is trailing off into the background with many of our other abandoned cultural inheritances.
Here’s a way to picture the effect talking may have in a yoga class.
Physically in asana, the student has tight hips, pelvis and lower back pain. They let the teacher know on starting yoga that they are having ongoing issues with menstruation and fertility, and that is why they have chosen to practise. Then, through structured speaking during the session, they realise that they hold the belief that sensual pleasure is sinful, and see that feeling satisfied is unbearable for them.
Now, this is a very clear map (mind, body and heart). It is far clearer than just body‚ the student has tight hips, pelvis and lower back. From this fuller map, the student and the teacher can cultivate an accurate practice on and off the mat, to assist transformation in the body, heart, mind and spirit so as to heal.
When speaking from the heart in a safe, non-judgmental, compassionate space, a lot of healing work happens mentally, emotionally, and of course, physically. That, married with the physical practice of asana, pranayama and meditation, is like a fast track to self-knowing and healing.
Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015