The Art of Holding Silence & Space in the Classroom.
As published on Elephant Journal, April 6, 2016
The rate at which the annunciations spewed from her mouth left an unspoken promise that a break was not in our future. I wondered how many of the seventy-five minutes would be filled with her voice. Wall-to-wall words served up without request and received as an unwanted assault on the silence and space I ached for, the very reason I removed my shoes and rolled out my mat that particular morning.
Like balls of mud thrown against a clean wall, something would stick for sure, I thought, but instead, the multi-directional babble left a mess in the room of my mind. The subject matter shifted around the globe from Chinese medicine to Hinduism, Buddhists and what may have happened to me as a child.
In the few moments of word cessation, the sound of rustling papers served as a signal that yet another quote from the Buddha would soon be read.
Like a thick shag carpet purposefully laid over pristine pine floors, the question I pose is, why?
Why is there so much talking going on in yoga classes? Why do we need 12 different instructions to move into a pose? Why are we talking about spirituality instead of fostering an environment for spiritual experience to occur?
One of the most transformative moments I had in a yoga class was delivered in a sandwich of silence bread during a long and uncomfortable hold in Warrior II. The teacher stepped in, skillfully deposited a verbal life bomb and got out clean. No lingering explanation or nervous laughter riding on its heels. The words were not fancy, they were the kind I could understand and they were relevant to what was happening right then and there.
Through the simplistic weight of the message, I was left deeply affected and virtually undisturbed to continue my practice.
By no means am I anti-words. I am anti wall-to-wall words. I am anti irrelevant alignment cues, long, drawn out stories and quote after quote after quote kind of words. I certainly do not stand in front of my class and say nothing. There are times when I speak less than others, especially since writing this article, but every time I open my mouth, I try to be damn sure of who and what the words are for. Just as students receive impulses to indulge a thinking pattern or fidget in a pose, so do teachers receive impulses to talk or act while instructing a class.
Our skill as teachers is found in our ability to hold the space while we sift through our impulses in search of what is real and enriching to the moment.
There are two points from which communication to our students originates.
The first is presence. This is when we are in the in the slipstream and the message flows through us effortlessly. These words and actions are authentic to our vibe, uber-relevant to the moment and meant to be shared.
The second is ego, where I find an endless source of chatter. These impulses usually show up in the form of neediness or an obligatory responsibility to say or do something. It is my experience that in these moments, it’s best to leave the class in silence. Shift focus away from ourselves and onto the art of lovingly and powerfully holding the space. This creates a fertile ground for great transformation and deep practice. An important piece to holding silence is seeing our students as capable.
The soul of every individual knows exactly what to do in every moment. It is our nature to practice yoga. Quiet is essential to bringing volume to that inner voice. Every time we talk in class, we risk distracting our students from their chance to listen deeply to themselves. We must remind ourselves that we are not entertainers; we are teachers, and modification of the mind stuff is our jam.
If we are instructing, reading and playing music the entire class, then what is the difference between our yoga class and a group workout at the gym?
For most, climbing the shark fin of Meru may seem easier than sitting in silence to watch the tendencies of the mind. My guess is that many folks enjoy the excess words I so often experience as a student. I figure they serve as a welcomed distraction, a black hole to the promised land of not having to fully feel.
In a world where the veil is thick and distraction is a societal malignancy, it is our job to cultivate an environment where clarity has a chance to come into view. We are the keepers of space, a modern day jewel of the Nile.
Every time we walk in front of our students, we get to decide what to do with that space.
We can fill it with words, selected readings and music, or we can shut the f*ck up and practice what it is we are teaching.