The Art of Listening – Enhancing the Benefits of Yoga Practice by Neela Masani
The spiritual leader and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh believes that the greatest act of love involves truly listening to another. He recognises that there often occurs a breakdown in communication within families, communities and nations. In early 2017, we are probably witnessing the deepest global divisions we have seen for over half a century. But how can we truly listen to another if we rarely feel heard ourselves? If our minds are so full of inner chatter that we cannot hear the wisdom of our own voice, let alone that of our neighbour, colleague or friend?
Many of us go to Yoga to stretch, relax or have some ‘me’ time, all of which is beneficial. In my experience however the mind inevitably wanders during Yoga practice just as it does in life. For instance, have you ever been practicing Sun Salutations and forgotten which leg you need to take back? Or found yourself lying in Savasana replaying a recent conversation in your head or pondering what to cook for dinner when you get home? As is stated in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the key Yogic texts, taming the mind is like trying to catch the wind.
Mindfulness practice encourages present moment attention without judgement or reaction. The benefits are multiple - gaining insight into thought patterns, developing gratitude, or reducing stress levels. However, at certain times, for example following a bereavement or during heightened states of anxiety, bringing attention to the narrative in our minds runs the risk of increasing our despair and deepening our suffering.
It is then that listening to our bodies and our breath becomes invaluable because they hold so much wisdom if we would only listen. Learning this skill on our Yoga mats allows us to be a gentle and compassionate witness to our inner sensations and observe these with equanimity and strength. It helps us see where we hold tension in our bodies and shows us how our breathing patterns and posture alter our mood.
Through a Yoga practice that is mindful, we learn to pay attention to our wandering mind and guide it back to the present moment, to our body, to our breath and this allows for deep listening.
Mindful Yoga is such a potent combination because through the practice we can acquire a skill that can serve us off the mat when faced with life’s challenges, big or small. Through listening to the cues in our bodies and breath, we can learn to make decisions that are responsive not reactive, consider our words more carefully before we speak and know when silence is best. In this way, Yoga helps us feel better in ourselves and enhances our relationships with our families, friends and the world at large.
This is perhaps the greatest gift Yoga offers, the opportunity to slow down, to acquire a profound awareness of the self, creating the still quiet space for us to listen to the wisdom of our own inner voice.
For further details on Neela and her work, please visit www.yogashanta.com