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Yoga is the Art of Listening
Many Westerners think of yoga as doing postures either in a class or on their own. We know it’s hard, we know it’s good for us and we know we feel great afterwards. But oftentimes we leave the conscious practice of yoga right there.
In simple terms, the word yoga means union; union in every sense of the word. Not just union between the body, the mind and the spirit, but with all, both within ourselves and outside of ourselves. Union is coming together, connecting. It is being fully present in the moment, in every aspect of our lives, with everything we do. It is living and acting with intention.
When most Bikram students first come to practice, they come for the physical workout or to heal their body. That is their intention. Some experience right away the mental benefits, a quieter mind and overall sense of peace and calmness. As they keep coming back for more, their body begins to change quickly, their postures improve and their life begins to change.
Bikram tells us teachers to watch our students as they progress with their practice. He says that somewhere between 6 months and a year of practicing their practice will plateau and they are likely to get frustrated or bored. Why? They stop listening. They’ve heard the words so many times by then that they think they’ve heard it all and begin to tune out the teacher, no longer listening for the details that offer a new insight with each new day.
More often than not the details are the same, but with the changes in the body’s strength and flexibility and the student’s mental outlook due to circumstances in their life, the body’s ability to execute the detail and the response to the execution of the detail will be different. In short, the student’s perspective shifts and so does the body’s ability. As the posture changes, the body changes; as the body changes the posture changes.
As a student you may think that since a teacher’s correction was given specifically to someone else it doesn’t apply to you. But are you certain of that? Could it have applied equally to you?
Bikram speaks of learning to listen with your third ear which “is in the very center of everything you are… It is every little part of you, and the whole of you all at once.” He says, “To hear with it really, truly, you must be completely empty…to receive pure truth, real hearing with the third ear… then you will fill with truth and you will hear with clarity and understanding.”
This deeper level of listening that Bikram is referring to is a very different experience altogether. It is attained by turning inward and tuning in to the feeling that is present with every moment, every breath. This is not a space of analysis or thinking, it is a space of feeling, of pure being, of being fully present in the moment.
Occasionally with a regular practice of yoga you will sustain an injury, a pulled muscle or ligament perhaps. Oftentimes old injuries resurface and show themselves again as your practice begins to break through the scar tissue that has massed around it. We tend to view injuries as negative or setbacks that can discourage continued practice. But these injuries are really blessings in disguise. They force the student to change the focus of the practice from one set on achieving exterior goals to one of going within and tuning in to what the body needs—to listening to the body instead of forcing the body.
Healing injuries requires patience, persistence and diligence. Proper blood flow to the area is required to deliver nutrients and clear away the waste. Yoga is ideal for this but there is a fine line between what’s required to heal and what will further aggravate the injury. This is where your ability to truly listen, to feel and be fully connected is crucial. To heal you do the postures until you begin to feel the slightest bit of pain in the injured area at which point you must hold still and breathe. You will notice that with time you will gradually be able to go a little deeper and a little deeper before you find the edge of the pain. To attempt to force progress will perpetuate the injury. To back away completely will cause your body to mass scar tissue around the injury which in essence just leaves the true healing to take place at some other time, if ever.
Can you see the parallels between your yoga practice and your life? You might have heard one of us teachers speak of the yoga class being a microcosm with life as the macrocosm. The format of the Bikram Yoga class is an open-eyed meditation that trains you to be fully present with your yoga practice. We go about the activities in our daily life with our eyes open. The more we are able to bring the heightened presence we develop in our yoga practice to the everyday activities in our life, the better and more effortless our life will be.
Think of your yoga practice as the training ground for the rest of your life. Make a conscious effort to be fully present with everything you do, with every interaction you have. In the same way that you can train yourself to feel what your body needs in your yoga practice, you will be able to train yourself to know intuitively what your kids, spouse, boss, clients and even animals need. You do this by listening, by tuning in, by connecting with and feeling whatever is present.
When you are truly listening to someone else, you are not thinking, you are not analyzing, you are not judging, you are simply being 100% present and absorbing whatever they say. This level of connection is incredibly validating and healing for all involved. You do not need to agree or disagree, you just need to be fully present and listen. To be truly heard in this fashion is a tremendous gift regardless of the circumstances.
Prayer and meditation are very similar yet very different. It is said that when you pray you speak to God and when you meditate God speaks to you. In this sense they are opposites. One act is that of asking and the other is that of receiving. By learning to be fully present in the moment, we can allow ourselves to shift from asking mode to receiving mode with ease.
For every question there is an answer. For every problem there is a solution. When you listen with a quiet mind you are open to receiving the answer or the solution. Master the art of listening and you will transform every aspect of your life.