Teaching is talking

As I was subbing for a friend, I was asked to talk about the famous Gandhi quote: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
As I thought about I'd want change about myself, the answer came fast from within: I want to talk less. Which is funny, considering that I talk for a living. Teaching yoga is mostly talking.

This may well be what attracted me to it in the first place. Teaching yoga includes weaving a web of words to describe movement, sensation and thought patterns. I love finding the ideal image for a specific coordination, so that the body just falls into place.

The way we measure and intonate with our voice creates a rhythm for the practice. It is so much like writing poetry, or even like writing in general. Which obviously is another thing I am drawn to.

Different teachers have different qualities and use their skills differently. I like to make the most of my verbal cues. I feel that it carries the room, and it also carries me.

Words are my gift and also my curse. Sometimes I'm too enamored with words and I end up talking too much. Teaching becomes over-teaching and over-explaining.

It is not about information, it's about experience

If you are a teacher yourself – any kind of teacher – this will sound familiar: At the end of the day, it is less about the information or the knowledge you impart. It is more about the atmosphere you create for people. It is about the experience they are taking away.

If you keep talking at people, there's not a lot of space left for self-exploration. They never get the chance to just feel for themselves. Too much information takes away from direct personal experience.

One of my most influential teachers says very little. His classes are almost eerily quiet. And also always, always packed. It seems that most of us appreciate a little bit of silence. A short break from the constant overwhelm of information out there. We have so little time to just feel.

The world throws so much information at us: We are told what and what not to eat, how to be a good mother, which therapies for what ailment, what a fulfilled sex life looks like, which gemstone is going to balance our mood swings, we are told how to speak in the politically correct way, how to handle our finances, which shoes with which lipstick... We need a break.

Only in the gap does change occur

Very rarely do we take the time to sit quietly and take note of what we feel inside. We override our emotions with our intellect, editing them until they fit some lofty expectation. How are we supposed to know how we feel and how to react if we are always chewing on some information or other?

I think this is why a lot of people try yoga or meditation. It is simply a quiet space where we can feel whatever we are feeling right now. As the yogis like to say, we can just sit with whatever arises. Once we know what's going on, we also know what we need and how to answer.

Ayurvedic psychologists say that a skilful yoga practice should be one third about the body, one third about the information or the knowledge, and one third should be silence. For only in the silence can the soul unfold. Only in the stillness of a deep Savasana do true shifts in consciousness occur.

In my experience, moments of clarity that arise during silent reflection slowly add up to bigger changes. They draw circles. They affect not only us, but gradually also the way we behave with our family, our friends, our co-workers, people on the bus. And so we become a change in the world. Maybe the one we wanted to see.

But there's no point in me telling you, really. You have to experience it for yourself.