Learning to Listen

Recently, I lost my voice. Almost in tears at the doctor’s office, I pleaded for help. I need my voice to teach yoga, to read to my kids, to talk to my friends. My voice NEEDED to be heard. But the doctor simply shrugged, and suggested I get used to being quiet. My initial reaction was fury. How dare he tell me to be quiet? How was I supposed to do that, anyway?! After the anger subsided, I realized that he was correct. I was going to have to try and give my voice a rest.

When it was time to read a bedtime story, I asked my kids to read to me. I was amazed at how well my 5 1/2 year old could read. She rarely volunteers to read, and I rarely give her the time to be heard. I started to listen to the stories that all three of my kids had to share. Before, when I could talk, I would interject with “thoughtful” questions, or guidance. But not being able to speak forced me to listen to what they had to say in full, without interruption or interpretation.

Teaching yoga was another challenge altogether. I could speak enough to cue poses, but I could not sustain the usual detailed breakdown of each pose, and the meaning in each moment. How was I going to inspire or entertain my classes without my voice? Honestly, I got substitute teachers to cover a couple of my classes. But when I couldn’t find anyone to teach a class, I had to teach. I led the quietest class I’ve ever taught. Pose name, short alignment cues, and then silence. Silence. More silence, broken only by the flow of ujjayi.

Silence terrifies me. Even at home, I have the radio on, or the chatter of my kids to fill the void. In yoga, the teacher’s voice fills the silence. When I am teaching, I talk a lot. Not being able to talk shifted something inside of me. I started listening more. At first, I noticed who was breathing. When the room needed to breathe more. But other things came up to the surface, as well. I noticed the energy in the room, because I wasn’t busy filling it with my own perspective and narration. I started listening to everyone more.

In the era of social media, it is very easy to shout out to the universe how you feel, your opinion, pictures of your cats, etc. If Facebook, and Twitter, were turned into real life, it would be a ridiculous scene of people yelling random sentences at each other, occasionally giving each other a thumbs up. How often do we really have meaningful conversations on social media? And yet we are addicted to our devices. We get bored in the line at the grocery store, and we take out our phones. We do the same thing at home. More and more often, we have stopped listening and started shouting over each other. What would happen if we all got quiet? What would we hear if we could be silent?

I wonder what would happen if we took the time to listen to each other. Beyond just being quiet and letting someone speak, what if we allowed ourselves to absorb what someone else had to say? Could bridges be gapped? Could divides be brought unified?

While I wouldn’t wish a week of laryngitis on anyone, I learned a lot. I found that I could and should listen to what my kids have to say. I found that I didn’t need to fill every moment of a yoga class with my own personal perspective. But more importantly, I found out how to listen to the energy around me.

Much of the yoga practice is about listening to the little universe inside of yourself. This is vital, and important in the practice. But it grows when we leave the mat. Try giving as much focused attention to those around you. Don’t predict what will happen. Be quiet. Let the discomfort pass, and listen.

My first experience with yoga was at my mother’s behest. And, although I refused to admit it to her at the time (I was 16 and full of teenage angst), I loved every bit of it. The teacher was charismatic, guiding the class through encouragement rather than the kind of heavy-handed instruction I was used to getting from high school teachers. I loved how my body, mind and spirit felt during and after class, and was hooked by the warmth the class gave me during the cold Pittsburgh winters. I was addicted immediately. As a teenager it seemed silly to me to dream of becoming a yoga instructor. So I dutifully went to college. However, while I was studying for the psychology GREs I had a break down. I vented to a friend that I didn’t want a life spent behind a desk; all I have ever wanted to do was help people by teaching yoga. She simply replied, “why don’t you then?” Within a few months I was enrolled in my first yoga teacher-training program. Once I started teaching I knew I had made the right choice. I am most happy and at peace when I able to share or experience yoga. When I’m not teaching or practicing, I’m a nanny and new mother, more jobs that bring great joy and satisfaction to my life. I also love the outdoors, and whenever the weather permits I’m in the woods with my dog and husband.

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