I have been thinking a lot about language lately. During teacher training, we talk not just about cuing asana but about the way that we communicate with the world in general. In my mind, intention comes first and the words come second. The eight-limb path of Patanjali gives eight precepts or ethical guidelines for living consciously. The first limb is the Yamas, five ways to interact with others or, more specifically, with the world around you. The Yamas are:
- Ahimsa: Non-harming
- Satya: Truth
- Asteya: Non-stealing
- Bramacharya: Moderation
- Aparigraha: Non-grasping or non-greed
When determining the words to use in a situation, these five principles can come into play. I try to think about what my goal is. Am I just saying something to hurt someone else or prove them wrong? Am I confirming my own beliefs in the face of conflict? Am I taking someone else’s thoughts or ideas and calling them my own? Am I talking too much and not giving the other person time to say something? Am I just trying to be the center of attention? I am not suggesting that I ask myself these questions every single time I open my mouth; however, the old “count to ten before you speak” rule is really not such a bad idea.
In cuing asana, I think about framing in the positive rather than the negative. This is not just to make people feel good. The idea is to empower students with knowledge rather than just telling them what not to do. For example, rather than saying, “Don’t bend your back leg in lunge pose,” you could say, “Really extend the back leg in your lunge. This creates more stability and strength around the knee and the hip, and carries the energy of the pose up through the spine. Engage your locks and you can get more stretch in your hip flexor, which over time will improve posture and core strength.”
These concepts can also be applied to how we view injuries/limitations. It is easy to get mad at your injured knee or hamstring. “I have a bad knee. I have a bad back. I can’t do forward bends because my hamstring hurts.” You can view parts of your body as separate and therefore disconnected from the whole. Many times the injury is actually happening on the stronger side of the body, meaning that a joint may compensate for instability of the opposing joint and therefore become stressed, overworked, and injured. Students ask me all the time how they can focus specifically on an area that is tight or sore. I say: do practice. An injury often has nothing to do with that region of the body but may be coming from imbalances in the spine, hips, or shoulders. Treating the body as a whole is a healthier approach. A balanced practice helps to balance the entire body both energetically and physically. The idea here is to treat your body with compassion. Your body allows you to do wonderful things. Injuries, tightnesses, and weaknesses are indicators that your body needs more TLC, not less.
Back to teachers-in-training: I try to explain that they are ultimately responsible for what they say and should be able to explain it if someone asks. It is not good enough to say “because Mimi said so.” Satya isn’t just about truthfulness, it is about being responsible for what you say and owning your words. Satya also applies to honesty about what you don’t know. Being good at teaching yoga is a discipline like anything else. Patience, experience, non-grasping, focus, and a real and thorough interest in the practice makes for a good teacher and a life-long student. Continuing to learn and be a student is imperative to this pursuit—you always have something to learn from others. Being open to other people’s thoughts and ideas creates better more productive communication.
I believe we are all empowered with a better understanding of what and why we do and say the things we do. Ultimately, I am responsible for my own actions and my own words. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Will I hurt someone with my words or actions? Yes. Will I continue to pay attention to what I say and what I do? Yes. Does yoga practice make me a better teacher, mother, friend, citizen, wife, living being? I hope so. Yoga is about paying attention. Yoga is about taking one breath at a time. Yoga is a practice for life.