Living in Kathmandu, my neighbours are endlessly amused by my practice of Ashtanga.
There is nothing more effective in keeping my feet on the ground when they’re behind my head than the local community chuckling at how I’m missing the point.
Here, yoga is synonymous with meditation. When I tell people around here that I teach yoga, I’m never asked which asana I’m working on. I’m asked about stillness, about how I find quiet. There is something extremely valuable about living in a place where this is the norm.
This immersion into Nepal’s spiritual practices is something we share on our teacher training course, which we are blessed to run at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery where silence and contemplation are part of everyday life. It becomes part of life for our students too, with silence until brunch each day. But one day a week, we have a full day of silence outside of the teaching spaces. No conversation, no Facebook, not even elephant journal. We go all in.
It isn’t about hiding in our room. It’s about purposeful, mindful, contemplative silence, confronting what comes up, creating space for what really matters to be heard, and tuning in to our Self.
Sociable chat supports bonding and community, it’s seen as the friendly thing to do. Yet periodic communal silence can take you deeper into your relationships than almost any conversation:
1. We talk and fill quiet space to make others feel at ease—or do we? To what extent is it to put ourselves at ease, a selfish rather than generous act? Silence in a group setting is thunderously awkward. How to behave? What to do if we catch each other’s eyes? But then…it creates a starting point for enquiry. Why do we find it so awkward? What do we feel is missing? What is so urgent about our commentary?
2. As it turns out, not much. I found myself fixated on wanting to compliment a student on her yoga pants, tormented by repressing such a significant observation. Even as a teacher, silence remains my nemesis. Unable to share my enthusiasm, in the silence I become more sensitive to her energy. Not her pants, but her. This beautiful, complex, intelligent soul, radiating a gentle, caring, compassionate heart, taking this deeply challenging journey, confronting her demons and cultivating her graces. And I would have talked about pants?! Pants. The least exciting, inspiring, or impactful thing about her in that moment.
3. As we embrace the practice, a lot bubbles up. Allow it, and protect the space for it to happen in others. When someone forgets the silence, gushes about how tasty the food is, how sore their hamstrings are, how fabulous those pants are, it sabotages the attention and contemplation of others. It brings us back to the superficial—when the heart was just starting to speak. How much do we lose or take away from others because of well-intentioned but empty interjections?
4. Chatter is a way of sharing, but also a way of concealing. In silence, we hear our emotions more clearly, engage with them more honestly. We conceal a bad mood by chattering it away without addressing it: this matters, because the mood will underlie our behaviour, our tone, the decisions we make. In silence we can’t bury it under chatter. We have to sit with it, understand it.
5. Bad moods are on my mind because on our day of silence I woke up like a grouchy bear, and in teaching the morning session, my energy was scattered and cantankerous. In the students’ silence, their awareness was heightened, and there was no hiding my mood. At the end I so wanted to offer an olive branch. No, let’s keep it real—not to offer, to gain.
I wanted to make little jokes at my own expense to be likeable and win approval, to apologise and revalidate myself. But in the silence, I couldn’t. I couldn’t rely on the kindness of the students to make it go away. I had to acknowledge that I’d brought my own junk into the space, and it had impacted them. And it’s okay: today doesn’t have to be my best day, but it becomes problematic when we simply gloss over it and don’t grow from it. The silence holds up a mirror to what is really going on, and keeps it there until we do the work to become more self-aware.
And when did I last practice this beautiful, eye-opening, inspiring day of silence? Today. Today I am supposed to be silent, but I am typing this to you. I can’t stop myself finding ways around it. It comes from the same place as my love of teaching, but will limit me from creating the space inside myself to really hear what needs to be taught.
It’s time to cut myself off. Time to go within.
Author: Annie Seymour
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: courtesy of Eliska Vydrova