Can yoga make you a better listener?
Seeking to understand...from your mat.
I grew up in a very small town called Frenchtown, Montana. It’s the kind of community where your entire grade in school has fewer than 60 students, and there’s enough open space that going for a horseback ride with your friends is not at all strange. Our home was literally in the woods with no visible neighbors in any direction. And it was wonderfully quiet. The only sleep disturbance was from animals – like the woodpecker who decided he needed to build a home in our house, just outside my window.
But for much of my adult life, I’ve lived in busy cities, including some wonderfully exotic ones: Istanbul, Budapest, Seoul, New York (not exotic, but wonderful.) In those cities I learned to sleep through the beeping of reversing garbage trucks at 5am, sirens of all kinds, and the “Hey, I’m walking here!” yells of the pedestrians. And I loved my time in each one.
It wasn’t until my husband and I moved here to Park City, Utah, that I remembered the joy of quiet.
I recently came across a TED talk by sound expert Julian Treasure called 5 Ways to Listen Better. He argues that in our modern world we’re losing our listening. Because we can now so easily record sound, precise and accurate listening is simply not required. And because the world is now so full of noise, it’s actually quite tiring to listen. We now very often choose to tune out the noise with headphones, leaving us each inside our own bubbles and not listening to one another at all. All of which means we are no longer doing the type of listening to one another that is required for understanding: conscious listening.
Without conscious listening, we lose our understanding of one another – and that leads to problems that aren’t trivial. One might argue, and Julian does, that the absence of conscious listening is at the heart of the major political, social and interpersonal strife that plagues our world today.
It’s easy to find the problem in your own life. On a regular basis in my house, my husband is tuned into the TV while I’ve got Alexa keeping me company, and my sons are on headphones in front of their computers. 4 bubbles… all of it unconscious listening – and certainly not to one another.
Julian offers 5 exercise to help improve your conscious listening:
- Silence. 3 minutes a day. Recalibrating your hearing to recognize silence.
- Sound Identification. When in a noisy space, try to pick out different sounds.
- Savoring. Taking the time to enjoy mundane sounds – like your dryer.
- Changing your listening ‘position’. Adjusting your listening from passive to active, or critical to empathetic, to make it appropriate to what you’re listening to.
- RASA. An acronym, but also the Sanscrit word for “juice” or “essence”. Receive (pay attention). Appreciate (hm? oh!). Summarize (so, you mean…). Ask (ask questions afterward.)
Maybe you had the same reaction to this list that I did: this is yoga! In addition to meditation (silence), we spend all kinds of time in yoga classes thinking and working on savoring the moment (or the mundane), changing your approach to life, paying attention. Isn’t it interesting that what we need to do to improve our understanding of one another is exactly what we try to do every time we step on our mats in the studio?
It’s no wonder that people find that yoga changes their lives. It’s so much more than a physical practice. It’s one that can help you become a better listener – on and off your mat.