Shut Up and PracticeJan 26, 2024
“Yoga begins with listening. When we listen we are giving space to what is”: Richard Freeman's, The Mirror of Yoga.
While I don't consider myself an unduly strict Ashtangi, one rule I firmly support is maintaining silence during yoga practice. Through personal experience, I can affirm that my yoga practice becomes significantly more profound when I keep my mouth shut while I am on my mat.
There are several reasons not to talk during yoga practice, the most obvious being that it’s bad etiquette and disruptive for those around you.
The Yoga Sutras provide some insight, particularly Yoga Sutra 1.2: Yogaḥ citta vṛitti nirodhaḥ, or yoga is the suspension of the fluctuations of the mind; guide us here. This sutra gives us a preliminary definition of yoga, highlighting the importance of stilling the mind. Talking during practice hinders this stillness, forcing the mind to wander and distracting from the essence of yoga.
Nirodhah requires effort and restraint. Silence creates a space for self-reflection, delving into the depths of consciousness. When we are quiet, we are better able to restrain thought. When we restrain thought, we invite stillness. And it is in this stillness that we can begin to experience yoga.
Asana practice is a way of meditating. Yoga Sutra 2.46 states “Sthira sukham āsanam”. A posture is that which is steady and comfortable. To achieve steadiness, both body and mind must find ease in the posture. Asana practice is essentially a dynamic meditation; just as you wouldn't engage in conversation during meditation and still call it meditation, the same holds true for asana practice.
Pratyahara, the limb of Yoga associated with the withdrawal of the senses, encourages us to direct our focus inward. This drawing in of the senses creates an environment where external distractions fade. Silence becomes a natural companion to this limb, opening a pathway to explore the internal landscapes of the mind and body. Speaking during yoga disrupts breathing, mental concentration, and energy flow.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika also gives reason to shut up and practice. Chapter 1, verse 15, is extremely explicit: talking is one of the critical things that destroy yoga. Simply put, practice is inwardly focused. Talking is always outwardly focused, drawing the mind away from its purpose of inward awareness. Of course, a certain amount of talking is necessary to learn yoga. But this instruction reminds us to limit our talking, as it directs the mind in ways that are damaging to a yoga practice.
Talking during practice obstructs the capacity for true listening. In the quietude of asana practice, the opportunity arises to observe your senses. This observation allows you to draw in your senses, facilitating the experience of pratyahara. This, in turn, brings you into the present moment, a temporary surrender of mental activity.
Conversations during yoga practice induce distraction, allowing the mind to wander. However, in the moments of silence, a space emerges for self-reflection, providing an opportunity to delve into the depths of consciousness. Embracing the quietude of yoga practice enables a genuine experience of yoga to unfold.
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