What I Learned About Communication From Teaching Yoga In Europe
Words signify our meanings and intentions, but what passes unspoken is often more important. In yoga, we talk about energy — an opening of the chakras, or channeling and moving the energy in and around us.
But when you're in another country and you don't have a full vocabulary at your disposal, you can't always articulate exactly what it is you want to communicate to your students.
This can be incredibly frustrating at first — but you'll start to realize you don't need as many words as you thought, to express what you're trying to say.
Oftentimes we use extra words as fillers for greater meaning. When I find myself trying to say something, but I'm not sure what — I'll just talk. But when I don't speak at all I become profoundly uncomfortable and a sense of anxiety sets in.
I've been living and teaching in Germany and am nowhere near fluent in the language, so the way I communicate with my students has been completely turned upside-down! I see what's going on around me and I know what's happening, but I can't say anything.
But it's in those moments of great linguistic unease that I've discovered the joys and blessings of not speaking at all.
Here are five things I've learned about language and human communication from teaching yoga in a foreign country:
1. Language is so much more than words.
Our bodies actually do most of the talking! The way we feel inside affects all beings around us, and it is our intention and attitude that is relayed through speaking words. Language can be a barrier, yes.
But if you are open and are not afraid to make mistakes, you can experience the joy that comes from learning a new culture. Our sprache (speech) after all, is limited too. In studying German I've found a way to express things I feel by gesticulating, when I can't quite find the words.
2. We talk too much.
Most of the time our verbal blather reflects everything that's going on in our heads. In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that we practice yoga on the mat so that we may sit in mediation. Yoga is a way of living, and part of that way of living is learning how to regulate our impulse control.
Refraining from speaking has taught me that I can reabsorb the energy I waste on unnecessary talking and offer it in other and more productive places, like listening and writing.
3. Body language is an art form.
You don't always reach your students through your words. Whether you're teaching a yoga class, or just out and about in your day-to-day life, it's sometimes hard to remember that each person is a unique and divine soul. When we offer feelings of love without interest or agenda, we offer our students a way to connect to the divine. OM is a transcendental sound vibration, and just like Lord Krishna says "I am OM" in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the power to offer transcendental love vibrations to each student who walks into our classroom.
4. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Always.
Something I've come to love about Germans is they always seem to say exactly what they mean. As an American, this seemed oddly frank or abrasive to me at first, but I came to realize that Americans tend to say everything except what they really mean, constantly beating around the bush.
We are masters at reading between the lines. Being in Germany has made me more aware of how often Americans rely on accent, nuance, and vague references instead of getting straight to the point. Saying what you mean and meaning what you say, is actually quite hard! It's a form of speaking one's truth, and in order to do that you have to be highly attuned to your mind/body state and also to those around you.
5. Yoga is a universal language.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
If only we remember we're not really these material bodies, and remember the divine, we can see the essential everywhere, in everyone.
Samantha Rose Hill is Vinyasa Flow Instructor and visiting Post-Doctoral scholar in Philosophy at the Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt am Main. She earned her 200-Hour RYS certification in 2012 from Buddha B Yoga in Washington DC. A life-long sufferer of anxiety, she turned to yoga in 2007 in place of traditional western medicine. When she's not teaching political theory or finishing her dissertation she's studying yoga philosophy, and sharing her love of devotional yoga on the mat.