will the real yogis please shut up!?: on the gift of silence

559f62c66f5b45d0a2e7adc2b0d96589Every so often, I visit the Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House to escape the demanding distractions of American life and meet God in silence. I remember my first time there noticing that on all their publications, they had a slogan that went something like:

We give each other the gift of silence.

Such an expression both surprised me and touched me deeply; I’ve never thought of silence as a gift to others… a gift to myself.

But it is. And it is the gift I long to get and give every time I walk into a yoga studio to practice present breathing and mindful movement. I spend my entire day in noise–delightful and important noise, but noise nonetheless. I hear the chatter of my students discussing a text and how it moves them; I hear the collaboration of my colleagues; I hear (from my mouth as well) the complaining during unhappy moments; I hear myself trying to transmit information as eloquently as possible; I hear the bells signaling transitions and the halls loud with middle school chaos; I hear music motivating me on the commute. All day long, I hear…and it is exhausting.

On the blessed days when after all this noise I reach deep inside for the energy to walk through the doors of a yoga studio, I am humbled and eager. As I walk past the sign that reads, “Please practice silence in the studio,” I am grateful. And as a rule-follower, I am also expectant, assuming others will honor this guideline as I do.

Most do. But, some don’t. And when they don’t, there is a loud uproar (ugh, more noise) within me, a sense of injustice in regards to something precious, but unnamed, that has been stolen from me. In this post, I name it: the gift of silence. I do not, whilst bowing my head to the ground in child’s pose to heart-whisper my intention, want to feel the energy of a New York dancer’s studio, bustling with hello’s and how-ya-doin’s and other declarations of social obligations. I do not, whilst on my back in Savasana, coming into my breath, feeling the rise and fall of my belly, want to hear the girls’ latest gossip or health reports of their families or updates on romances or careers.

What I want, and what I gift you, and other yogis, is the sweet and sacred space of silence. So I kindly request, for and from all the yogis who treasure their practice as much as I do, both the quiet and the talkative, the following:

  1. Please designate your conversations with your friends for before or after at the bar next door, or the coffee shop next door, or at the very least the wooden bench near the changing rooms. Your catching up time should never be in the sacred space of a yoga studio, where so many come for silence and internal contemplation.
  2. As teachers I work with frequently tell their students, whispering is still talking. If your mouth is moving and any kind of sound is coming out, you are a disruption. Sometimes the I’m-trying-to-be-subtle-whisper-conversation is even more distracting than the all-out-volume-appropriate-for-a-bar.
  3. Yogis: be mindful in a space and practice ahimsa: non-harming of the sacred silence. Are other people around you quietly folded into an asana of quiet intent? Are some mats occupied by people who look hungry for the sacred space of silence? Are some people rolling their eyes at you or mean-mugging you? There are a lot of reminders from the Universe–or your neighbor–to kindly shut up if you just would pay attention.
  4. Teachers: please honor the responsibility of protecting the sign’s intention on those doors declaring a space of silence. When you come into to spray your essential oil, wipe the sweat left behind from last class’s quiet yogi, and format your intentional music, look around the room. Or take a quick break from checking-in students and peek into the studio. Are yogis talking? Politely ask them to protect the quiet space. Or remind them after class with private dignity that the studio is not a space for conversation.

I recognize in my honesty I may not sound much like a yogi, but more like a curmudgeon. But I guarantee, if I could just get a little peace and quiet, maybe, just maybe that might change.

Namaste.

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