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How to Communicate Clearly
April 26th, 2012

Since last June, I’ve taught yoga every Thursday night at the local YMCA, and this question is nearly always the number one thing on my mind!

Every week I have a fresh class of students. Some are new and some have attended class on and off for months. Some are very experienced yogis, while some have never stepped into a yoga studio before and remind me of my best friend’s mom or grandmother.

Every night I ask, “How do I share so that each student not only stays safe but has an uplifting experience?”

“How do I reach people of varying skill levels and needs/desires?”

“How do I help each student develop, when they each need to develop in a different way?”

In a world where every individual is unique, how do we share when it’s most important?

Sharing comes from an overflow of inner joy

I didn’t always want to share with people.

I’ve had moments of inexplicable joy throughout my life, but I didn’t always feel there was a way to convey that experience to others, even though it felt quite meaningful. Sometimes, in fact, I felt lonely, and wondered, “Is anyone else having moments of joy or insight?” “Are others also looking for a deeper meaning in things?”

Eventually I came to know that everyone seeks joy. But it wasn’t until I came to this path of meditation and found my heart opening and my mind developing clarity and stillness that I really felt I could experience and share that joy in a sustainable way.

Then I began teaching yoga.

Or rather, I first began learning to teach yoga.

Sharing is being willing to step back from our own experience

I took an amazing yoga teacher training at Ananda Village. If I had to describe it in words I would use “deep,” “transformative,” and “challenging.” It was truly a life-changing experience.

But there was one thing I hadn’t expected. During yoga teacher training, almost as soon as we learned a posture or technique, our instructors asked us to teach it to someone else — and several times, to the whole class and invited guests!

At first, this seemed really challenging. It is one thing to deeply feel it when you get a posture right on your own — your arms held in just the right position, the spine straight, your body balanced just so. It’s blissful!

But when I was “teaching” my partners, I couldn’t get over the differences between us. Each one of us had such different body shapes,  such a different history of injury, stiffness or sensitivity, and we each seemed to instinctively approach yoga from our own unique perspective.

So in my practice teaching, I first tried to convey the experience I was having — it did, after all, feel pretty wonderful!

But it didn’t work well. However deep or uplifting I tried to be, my “students” weren’t getting into the poses as correctly as they should.

My own experience was wonderful for my practice of yoga, but couldn’t guide anyone else into a deep experience.

Sharing begins with centered, clear understanding

Eventually, the kind words and guidance of my teachers began to sink in, and I noticed how they taught our classes.

It didn’t matter that they had been teaching for years, or had a very deep personal practice… when they led our morning and evening sadhanas, they kept coming back to basics.

“Bring your feet twice shoulder width apart on the mat. Turn your left foot so that it is parallel to your mat, and pivot on your right heel to bring your hips into alignment. Bend deeply in the left knee, until your thigh is parallel to the ground…”

Their instructions always came from a calm center and reflected the very essence of the pose… no more, no less. Often the deepest classes were those where the instructor spoke very little, her words evoking exactly what we must do to bring ourselves into perfect alignment… then leaving us the space to feel the results on our own.

I’ve often used this approach at work, and find it works very well.

“What is the essence of what I’m presenting?” I ask myself. “Not what I hope will happen because of it, not what I might like to draw attention to, because I worked so hard on it… but what are the most basic facts in simple language?”

Nearly always, when I share this way, the person I’m sharing with will understand.

Sharing is kindness and self-giving

Before I became a yoga teacher, I used to think yoga taught only one ideal way to perform each posture or asana. But it didn’t take too long in teacher training before I learned that simply wasn’t the case!

For every pose, there were as many variants as possible students… ways to take the pose deeper and more challenging, and ways to help beginners get the most out of a limited range of motion. There were adjustments for shoulder injury, cardiovascular problems, and injured spinal discs. We could even take challenging poses and, with the help of pillows and blankets, turn them into opportunities for deep relaxation.

There were even student assistants with each class  whose whole task was to kindly and carefully adjust us as we went through the postures, helping each one of us to bring our own body into its best alignment.

It was amazing.

But even when I first began teaching,  I didn’t fully understand why we had such an emphasis on adjustment. For the first few months of teaching classes, it was challenging enough simply to make sure that everyone was moving through the postures safely.

Recently, however, I looked around at the students one day, really looked. And I realized… almost no one was doing the postures in just the same way. Some were too stiff to come fully into the pose. Some were extremely athletic, and could go much deeper than others into the postures and hold them for longer. And some had had recent injuries or surgery that meant they practically couldn’t use different parts of their bodies — one woman’s right knee, another gentleman’s shoulder.

Gently I went around the room and helped each person to find the most comfortable, correctly aligned way of doing the asana for their own body… even if it meant that my injured female student held quite a different-looking pose in order to get the same benefits.

Communicating means acting with selfless love

At the end of that class, walking outside into the bright sunshine that was just beginning to melt winter’s snow, I felt the beginnings of joy.  

I felt I was experiencing the meaning of something the founder of Ananda yoga, Swami Kriyananda, once wrote,

You can only understand another human being if you approach him with deep compassion and love. […] Both that love which unites and the intellect which separates are necessary. But until you can feel your kinship with all life, and understand others from within, you won’t know their true reality.

I felt that somehow in that class, something had given way to a glimpse of this true reality.

Not merely by stepping outside my own experience, or by coming with clarity to the real essence of things.

But by caring so deeply that I began to see my only task as helping another… to have their own experience.

 

 

 

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10 Responses

  1. Dambara says:

    Wow, Mirabai, that’s beautifully expressed. And it applies to so many other areas too. Thanks!

  2. CH says:

    Thank you for sharing your insight about this particular teaching: understanding others from within as a way to understand their true reality.
    I have often grappled with the direction to love other’s impersonally and through Divine Mother. Your explanation really of how you did this for and through your yoga class really helps me get it another way.

  3. Jessica says:

    That was a very well written and amazing article, I’ve never really thought of yoga as anything more than stretching until I read this.

  4. Eugenio says:

    Thanks for sharing your teaching experiences, they are very inspiring!

  5. Janice Freebern says:

    Blessings to you, Mirabai.

    What a beautiful lesson, in so many ways. Thank you for sharing this story so eloquently.

    With Joy,

    Janice

  6. Eric says:

    Thank you Mirabai.
    Inspiring message,
    lovingly and clearly communicated!

  7. Italo Giardina says:

    “Communicating means actiing with selfless love” as stated above suggests the various modes of self. The notion to act implies a form of self that moves, however the notion of ‘communication’ suggest a intersubjective sense of self which seems to lessen the concept of idividuality. The point being that in profound meditation there is just self, though this is not the case once there is interaction, which for a yogi is a problematic since the aim is to be a unified self. What then to do?

    • Well, that’s a good point, Italo.

      What most people seem to find is that as they practice meditation, the sense of being connected to that universal self increases.

      It’s as though our sharp personal edges get worn away. We become calmer and more centered. Communication with others usually gets easier, too.

  8. Pranav says:

    thank you for sharing. I decided to read this post as it had word “to communicate”. i take this very with very enthusiasm because my life is fasinated by concept of “true communication to happen!”
    So, thank you for sharing. And with all due respect i would like to share that i feel you had something like a sudden understanding or epiphany that communication – to happen – is so very important. (well, in this case, reason was your teaching experience, in my case i call it a epiphany and i firmly believe that humanbeings are stuck up with inability of communication!)
    To try to tell, ma’am, you have corelated or have happened to corelate this verb – communication – to another verb – sharing. I would like to say(not in way as Swamiji described in funny way – AS(!) I(!) always sayyyyyyyyyssssss… haha) sharing or sincere desire or feeling of openness of love in action of sharing is not going to make it happen. THE communication is not going to take place! Reason i feel so, is that when you see all the world, full of langauge communication, gesture posture oriented communication, books, videos, articles, oriented communication & so on……..everybody had to take effort to (though there might be real good feeling in those efforts) TO COMMUNICATE.
    My understanding of true communication is that communication is not matter of desire or purity of desire of person who is willing to share(though that only helps in understanding realitites of next person in our own mind)…but communication is related to next person’s own understandings. (Eg. i would like to ask you if you are sure………say whether i myself am understanding what exactly u want to say? you might be knowing me in very very real way but does that helps You to communicate to ME- as i’m on other side! i’m saperate from you in worldly way!)
    Fortunately i just happened to go through following page where it becomes clear that human beings are stuck up with their own way of communication process.

    http://lotusguide.com/directory/article/4fbd86c3b671c.html

    In this webpage, it seems becoming clear that Swamiji answers in a question clearly that “we can’t go further than that”……………….

    I feel we humanbeings are stuck up with this delusion of “our way or communication”

    and reason i felt to speak so openly in comment is that i feel your understanding and my understanding matches in which i describes that we’re “stuck up” , i.e., same as what you felt………how other’s will actually understand it!?

    I will be greatfully happy to be able to channel for such REAL Communication to happen among human beings, though Swamiji have said that in some higher Yugas, the delusion of communication will be vanishing after the vanishment of delusion of space and time, and people will only be understanding/sharing via thoughts.

    That is real solution.

    :) thank you for your patience.
    many blessings and peace.