The one thing yoga has taught us time and time again is to listen to our bodies. It teaches us about the muscle fibers in our knees, the tightness in our hips, and the balance we gain from engaging our perineum (who knew?). However, when applying the ‘listen to your body’ principal outside of the studio, it feels like all is lost. How many times has your brain talked your gut out of an answer, discounted an instinct as irrational, or forced you to wait until you could no longer stomach the feeling of a difficult conversation you knew about several moons ago?
A few years back, I started practicing a method of conversation where I tune into what my body is telling me versus what my brain wants me to say. Most of the time, my brain knows the point of my sentence before I say it. I would go so far as to say that my brain actually knows what the reaction of my listener is going to be before I open my mouth. As someone who has neurotic tendencies, I most certainly know the exact words that I am comfortable using and it is not uncommon for me to auto-complete sentences. It feels almost natural to jump ahead of the current dialogue and think about a response so I generate the type of reaction that I want from the person that I am engaged with. Subconsciously it’s a defense mechanism (and a deflection) and, both sadly and unintentionally, it becomes a way of manipulating someone else’s feelings.
Ironically, the feedback I’ve gotten over the years from developing such neurotic verbal communication habits is “polished, well spoken, and professional.” It makes sense because it’s what people are comfortable hearing and, more importantly, it’s what they are comfortable feeling. The idea and trend of “like-minded” people and communities is founded on such a premise. We feel comfortable when we are around people that agree with our thoughts, say things that are predictable, and we find security in spaces where we know we won’t feel something that we are not accustomed to feeling. I’ve long found that when my sentence, cadence, and selection is well rehearsed; it becomes easy to insert the words. The subject matter is basically irrelevant because the line of question, response, and common ground that we reach becomes natural in almost every conversation.
So why in the world would I ever trade in a polished form of communication for a quivering, loss of eye contact, question of conviction, free form method of emotional speaking?
If I am going to do the physical work of asana in yoga, then I want to do the internal work as well. This is a way for me to do the internal work and become truly honest to witness not just the thoughts that come into my brain but the feelings that come into my gut. The energy that runs through me that is so effeminately named “feeling” can teach me much more than I give it credit for. I’ve long communicated with my brain as stated in the above paragraphs and it has gotten me very far in life but has taught me very little about myself. As an introverted person, I’ve always preferred to learn from listening rather than from speaking and I have never had a problem with such adages as “we have two ears and one mouth to use proportionally.”
The problem is that I feel like the ‘listen and respond cerebrally based on social cues approach’ has taught me much more about other people than it has myself. We acquire social cues from various influences such as family, television, and casual interactions that teach us to predict what the correct response to the interaction will be through positive reinforcement. A couple of regular examples in my life would be; my day was good, I’m sorry to hear about your loss, or (in today’s parlance) I can’t believe the President is doing that. On the other hand, I feel like those who converse more freely based on their emotions are often painted in a negative light as socially unpredictable, sensitive, and overly-dramatic. We grow up and bear witness to the idea that conversations from the heart are difficult, uncomfortable, and are only a last resort. Sentences that begin with the line “this is hard for me to say,” “I’m not happy working here,” or “we have to talk,” all imply a sense of finality around break-ups, job quitting, and addressing serious issues. They also carry a sense of desperation that the speaker can no longer stomach the feeling and message that their body is sending them to force the conversation. Out of desperation comes change, but why do we have to wait?
My body can actually make big decisions for me if I pay attention to it. How often did your gut tell you the answer well in advance of your brain talking yourself out of it? If you are anything like me you are constantly trying to rationalize your feelings to give them validation, both positive and negative. I haven’t found a better way of doing it than by “talking it out.” In order to do so, I just need someone to listen. They might provide a bit of nonjudgmental feedback and share the feeling it evokes in them, but ultimately they give credence to what my gut is telling me. I have been practicing this for several years in one on one conversations as well as small group settings but most recently I stood in front of a crowd of very nice strangers in a Mindfulness Workshop at a Yoga Festival.
As the featured speaker, I certainly had an outline of where I wanted the dialogue to go (and the parts that needed rehearsed were iron-clad) but for the most part my speaking was mindfully expressed and communicated from exactly what I was feeling. As a result, the audience was able to engage and experience a real life version of what it looks like to transcend anxiety, excitement, and stress; and exit the other side to comfort, calmness, and connection. Since the content of my workshop was, “What is your brain talking your body out of,” it only made sense to narrate it from a real time perspective. Surely the amount of people that witnessed the event intensified the feelings for me, but the progression of energy was still the same. It almost always is as long as I don’t try to impede the emotive process.
If you would like to bring more yoga into your conversations like this, find a comfortable setting where you can feel safe making yourself uncomfortable. Of course, we all feel most comfortable practicing yoga at the same studio, with the same people, in the same spot; but eventually our circle grows wider and expands as we continue to slowly step out of our comfort zone. This mindful and meticulous method of communicating the energy and emotion that runs through our body is a way of expanding our circle of comfort. In the beginning, it will probably feel a lot like the first time you stepped onto your mat; vulnerable, self-conscious, and exposed. However, just like yoga, you will start to gain a better understanding of yourself and build deeper connections with those around you. Eventually you will reach a point of peace and contentment where your mind and body are in accord. And isn’t that the reason we practice?