Yoga: the Art of Listening

Tias Little often says that yoga is the art of listening. Inward listening to your body during the practice of asana, listening to the rythm of your own breath, and the process of listening or watching your thoughts as they arise and pass during the practice of vipassana or insight meditation. 5,000 years ago yogis sought to answer the question “Who am I?” and today the question remains the core of yogic exploration. Self-study or svadhaya is the compliment to tapas- rigorous practice and truly they are inseparable, one and the same. Through self observation in practice we seek to gain perspective, a glimpse of reality beyond our constant internal conversation and viewpoint.

The process of self observation brings awareness and ideally the ability to relate to others with an open mind. At times inter-personal situations require direct and clear communication. In  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind there is a chapter titled Communication:

“When you listen to someone, you should give up all your preconceived ideas and your subjective opinions; you should just listen to him, just observe what his way is… put very little emphasis on right or wrong good or bad… just see how things are with him and accept them. Usually when you listen to some statement, you hear it as a kind of echo of yourself. You are actually listening to your own opinion. If it agrees with your opinion you may accept it, but if it does not, you will reject it or you may not even hear it .” (Suzuki pg. 86-7).

This directly applies to yoga practice- in asana each pose is a tool of observation. Trikonasana is a tool to observe the movement of your pelvis and how that effects the stretch in your legs or the balance of your spine. You may also become aware of incongruencies between the left and right sides of your body, possibly due to your work or habitual holding patterns. If you make assumptions about the pose, for example that it is a basic pose for beginners, you miss the treasures of insight in Trikonasana.

Meditation practice  is a constant process of dropping theories, opinions, or hopes about what the practice holds and returning to the bare reality of the sound of breath, posture, and what is happening in the external world- the birds outside or the flickering of my candle. To listen without comment, without the need to know, grasp, or understand… a glimpse of reality beyond internal conversation. This quieter place is where insight arises.