Importance of Silence in Yoga Class
In today’s over-stimulating world, it is rare for a person to truly experience silence. In fact, many people have not experienced any silence from waking to falling asleep.
There are always things that can stimulate your hearing: alarm clocks, morning news, music, traffic, conversations at work, television, and countless gadgets designed to make life easier and less stressful.
It also enters most yoga classes, which traditionally are places of inner reflection and contemplation. Many people are attracted to yoga because they are told that it can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system and get them out of combat or flight mode.
Silence Gives You The Most Needed “Relax”
In fact, silence has become so foreign to some people that it makes them feel uncomfortable and anxious. What does it feel like when you are in the elevator, no one is talking, and no background music?
How do you feel when you arrive at the yoga class early and there is no music or people chatting before the teacher arrives? Most professors or studio directors will soon play some background music to avoid some students may feel uncomfortable when sitting quietly.
Although yoga class may be the best time to remain silent, it becomes abnormal even there. In addition to the constant guidance of the teacher, it has become common to have a playlist or at least some kind of music in the classroom.
Since this has become the norm for most students, they may feel comfortable knowing that the teacher will “find where they are”, but unfortunately, this will also prevent them from deepening their practice.
Silence is an Integral Part of Yoga
One of the central teachings of traditional yoga and the fifth branch of Raja Yoga in Patanjali, Pratyahara, has clearly become the “forgotten branch” of yoga. Pratyahara is an exercise that draws the senses inward. It is the link between the external and internal exercises of yoga.
One of the oldest texts in the yoga tradition, Katha Upanishad, even defines yoga as a strict restriction of the senses: when the five senses are kept still with the mind and mentally inactive, this is called the highest state.
They believe that yoga is a strict restriction on the senses. You may have experienced some of the benefits of pratyahara in your daily life.
Think about the last time you were overwhelmed by too many responsibilities competing for your attention at work. You will most likely want to find a quiet place (the bathroom usually solves the problem), close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths to be able to regroup.
Sometimes, it only takes a minute to stay away from outside interference to create space and clarity. You will find that most traditional yoga texts emphasize the importance of pratyahara. So, why has the teaching in yoga classes largely disappeared?
Of course, in group yoga classes (and online classes), students should at least use their senses. You must be able to see the teacher’s demonstration, hear the verbal instructions, and feel the actual adjustments. So, where and how does Pratyahara fit into today’s yoga? How do we begin to incorporate silence into our curriculum or practice?
The answer is, little by little. Let’s take another yoga paradox as an example to illustrate how we can do this. Patanjali’s definition of yoga has a lot to do with stillness, but in most popular yoga classes, there is quite a lot of exercise.
Although this may seem counterintuitive, exercise is actually very helpful. Most people spend hours sitting on desks, cars, and sofas with poor posture, which can cause physical stress and discomfort.
The combination of conscious exercise, such as making the joints perform a series of exercises or passing a series of “flow yoga” poses and properly sprinkling quiet moments, has been shown to be beneficial for those quiet moments (in good posture).
It’s easy and enjoyable. The same is true of interspersed moments of silence at the right moment. Of course, once the students pose, the teacher usually has to give some verbal instructions (I try to stop at three short, concise prompts), but after setting up, there is a moment of silence so that they can really interact with their breathing and body.
What happens in the middle of the world allows students to experience the form while meditation. Those quiet moments may be the best place for yoga to happen.
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