Listening and silence

(published in Percorsi Yoga, YANI July 2015)

In the art of yoga teaching, silence has a very important role, at least as the clarity of words, which must not be too much, must be the right ones to let students enjoy the discovery and not anticipate their perception.
My yoga classes begin with silence and end with silence, like music.

Daniel Barenboim, in his book The Music Wake Up Time, says that “sound in itself is not an independent phenomenon but is in constant and indispensable relationship with silence.” We can say the same for practicing yoga. In life silence and sound are indivisible. In fact, it is the listening attitude that favors inner silence. Being able to listen means being able to be silent. Like sounds that emerge from silence and return to silence, attracted as bodies by gravity, even the movement of thought escapes silence and then returns. In conducting a yoga lesson we could have the same attention as the one that has an orchestra conductor, in silence, space between words, pauses, an active attention able to hear how much and what to say.
Teacher’s words are sounds that translate the perceived sensations in listening to their body / mind so as to suggest students an inner path that leads to the right practice for that moment. So that there could be clarity of perception, teaching must necessarily be welcomed in silence, to give to the students space and time to be listening both outside and inside themselves. The words of the teacher must stick to the right perception: they can also be very poetic and evocative but they should not distract, but rather lead the students to deep contact with themselves. My lesson starts with an invitation to listen to gravity, breath, and inner rhythms. Very simply we put our attention to the back of the body, the neck, the ears, and in a sense we all become ears. Our ears hide a great beauty, that of silence. Anatomically, the ear, which is the auditory organ, is also the seat of the vestibular apparatus, organ of equilibrium. It is connected with both sound vibrations and, at the same time, with the internal proprioceptive system as well as through the nervous system it signals to our brain our position in space. The words / sound of the teacher triggers those who actively listen to creative processes of deep perception and insight, in areas very close to those that govern our motor patterns. The words are very important and the art of teaching, which is also an intuitive art, is to seize the right time for the right word. Teacher’s words modify the body of the students deeply, if they are told at the right time.
Sometimes I heard my students to say: “I only discovered this thing today, you had never said it before!” I had already said it so many times but that person was not able to listen actively until that moment. So that the words could be really felt by the student, one has to wait when the body will know how to welcome them: everything comes with its time. If all this is true, it is also true that love does not need words, and then the silence full of love teaches and changes more than words. This is an art that it is impossible to learn and to teach, it is simply the essence of the yoga transmission from heart to heart; is the thread of true tradition, and lies in the profound relationship of trust between a teacher and a student. If you carry this love with you, as you have heard and received from the Masters in your yoga lessons, your students will bring this silence to their home when they leave the classroom, and they will not want anymore to chat of this and that after the lesson. It is like when a good concert ends and everyone stays silent for a few moments. In silence, the mind perceives a movement that is not of thought and extends to everything, and it is in direct connection with the heart. Silence is beyond, it is always further, it attracts us like gravity and connects us to the death of every moment.
That is why when I teach beginners, that is to people who are accustomed to anxiously fill every empty space, I know that silence makes them afraid. The lesson needs more moments of verbal communication: sometimes I let them interrupt the class with a question, or am I making a remark that makes them smile. When then, after some lessons, students can listen to their natural breathing for a long time without interruption, the approach to silence becomes spontaneous and with no longer fears. Constant listening of the breath, during practice, promotes the silence of thoughts and slowly students realize that there are spaces where they can be in direct contact with their perception of feelings at the present moment. When I started teaching thirty years ago, I wanted to say all I knew, and I hurried to lead the class, fearing that time was not enough. With the passing of years, in the art of teaching, we find that time changes size, that there is time to listen, to hear if what we are about to say is present in the sensation, in verifying the words, for listening and the observation of the students, to rest in the sensation. So the lesson resembles, as I said before, a musical performance. I do not want to give information that can not be assimilated and creatively transformed into clear perception during the practice. Yoga lesson is not a moment to show our knowledge, much less our ability in asanas’ performance, but the sharing of an experience of love, with an infinite time, where there are no goals to attain excluding being happy without reasons. Your total mental presence is truly indispensable for your students, so that teaching results from the clear perception of what it is. Silence is the origin, the beginning, the first and the last step. I conclude with a phrase by Vanda Scaravelli: “Invite silence, welcome silence, and slowly silence will become part of you. In that silence we will be able to receive hints of intuitions and sparks of perceptions from which creativity can arise. ”

Cited sources:
Daniel Barenboim, The Music Wake Up Time, Editions Feltrinelli, Milan 2007
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening the Spine. The Stress-Free New Yoga that Works with the Body to Restore Health, Vitality and Energy, Editions HarperSanFrancisco, 1991