Recently, I received the following email from a student and friend who shall remain anonymous, about a teacher who shall remain anonymous (I don’t even know who it is), at a studio that shall remain anonymous. I’m not in the takedown business. Bad karma, you know. Here’s what the email said:
Oh my god, this past week one girl talked the entire time. I mean, never stopped speaking and teaching and speaking and teaching. It was like a 90-minute monologue. I wanted to die.
I don’t know this teacher. Yet, we all kinda know this teacher… While I cringe to admit it, I’ve been this teacher. With the exception of the absolute most taciturn among us, we’ve probably all been this teacher, those of us who are yoga teachers. Those of us who are yoga students (side note: if you want to be a good yoga teacher, start by being a good yoga student) know that there’s an art to how much or little a teacher imposes him or herself on a class, and like actual art, what people prefer is highly subjective. On the other hand, having practiced yoga for 18 years and taught, in different capacities, for the past 13 years, I’ve experienced and learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, what inspires versus what exhausts, what makes you wish you could sit down and chat over a cup of tea with the teacher and what makes you wish you had ear plugs.
In an effort to practice what I’m preaching here, I’ll make this concise. Here a three trademarks of yoga teachers and classes that respect silence and why they’re important. After all, how can any of us expect to “quiet the fluctuations of the mind,” as the sage Patanjali described the purpose of yoga, when we’re all making so much racket?
Start & End in Silence (Even If It’s Brief): Like bookends, a little dose of matching quiet to start and end class goes a long way. Especially in savasana, zip the lips! It’s crucial time to assimilate the asana practice and recharge. A little nugget of philosophy or closing the thematic loop of a class is nice. Yammering on with niceties is not. If I had a dollar for everytime a friend griped about this one on Facebook… I’d have at least $7 dollars (practically enough for kale juice!).
Check Yourself: Before you share that joke, story, homily, or hilarious moment from college, know why you are telling it. Is it genuinely meant to inspire, educate, or entertain? Or is it a mini ego trip, agenda-plug, or nervous air filler? If you’re leaving people in Frog Pose for a small eternity, talk to them– they need you! By all means, tell a joke to cut the intensity. But, more than we realize and more than they realize, people need space on their yoga mats (and in their lives, really). They crave it. To encroach for the entire class with uninterrupted chatter or incessant music is a disservice. Yoga can be a catalyst for profound transformation but only when we look and listen inward as much as out.
Place an Artful Pause: Contrast is what creates great art: an interplay of dark and light. Similarly, silence and speech illuminate each other. One makes us appreciate the other. If someone talks non-stop, we hear nothing. We mentally check out. When someone holds space without filling it, helping to put our bodies and minds in the same place at the same time, our attention is rapt. When we find quiet within rather than distracting ourselves from the stuff that brought us to our yoga mats in the first place– well, there are no words for how good that feels.