The Yoga of Listening, Part 2 - How to Listen to Your BodyJul 06, 2022
If you’re reading this, then I bet you’ve heard - perhaps many times – that ubiquitous phrase of well-meaning yoga teachers (myself included!): Listen to your body.
But have you ever wondered how to do it?
What language does the body speak, anyway?
Many of us might be familiar with the everyday snap-crackle-pop sounds of stiff joints waking up. More often, though, the body speaks to us through sensation. Therefore, listening to the body in yoga is primarily about being attuned to what you’re feeling and getting more sensitive to perceiving the sensations that are arising in your body.
Being invited to listen to your body in a yoga class is often intended as a reminder to respect the capacity of your body and to give you permission to back off if a pose isn’t working for you in some way.
It’s also often meant to encourage you to stay present with your experience, to take responsibility for your safety, and to cultivate the principles of non-harming (ahimsa) and self-compassion (karuna) in practice.
Listening to your body in this respect is about learning to discern sensations that are potentially harmful, like a sharp or searing pain in a joint, from those that may be intense and uncomfortable but are actually beneficial, like the healthy stretching of a muscle.
There are also more subtle ways that the body speaks to us. Ayurveda describes 10 pairs of opposites, or 20 gunas. These are the characteristics or qualities that are inherent in all things, including us. These pairs represent two ends of a spectrum. For example, the gunas relating to weight are heavy and light, those relating to temperature are hot and cold, and those that describe intensity are slow or dull, and sharp or penetrating.
In her book Ayurvedic Yoga, Mona Warner says these pairs of opposites are really important because they give us a language with which to express our felt experience, and they also give us a way to bring balance into our systems.
Being aware of where you are on the continuum of these various qualities can help you to make choices that bring you into greater harmony by cultivating more of the opposite quality..
For example, if you're feeling hot, or light and ungrounded, you might do a slow-paced practice of seated poses and cooling forward folds with a lower body focus for grounding.
If you're feeling heavy, dull, and lethargic, you might do an upbeat practice of standing poses or backbends to get things moving with an upper body focus to generate some lightness.
Like listening to another person, truly listening to your body involves making yourself available and receptive to what’s being communicated before responding.
It invites us to develop our capacity to observe ourselves with honesty and compassion, and to let go of our agenda and our inner critic for the sake of pure perception.
What about when the body doesn’t seem to be saying anything? Surely, the silence of the body when it’s happy and at ease is something to be listened to and learned from as well.