Yoga at Work Part II: The Art of Listening
Yoga at Work Part II:
The Art of Listening
“Yoga teaches you how to listen to your body.” –Mariel Hemingway
I am not the Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand pose), 100°F, dance party kind of yogi. Hot, power, yang yoga is NOT my jam. I am the Balasana (Child’s pose), patchouli oil, and Sanskrit chants kind of yogi. Restorative, slow-flow, and yin yoga are my jam.
So when my yoga instructor asked the class what we needed that day in terms of flows and poses, she was a bit surprised when I responded with “I need to sweat today.” She eyed me curiously and I replied “I have some shit I need to work through on the mat today.” So we did.
Earlier that day, I dealt with my first “difficult” student whose behavior resulted in disciplinary action. It hadn’t started that day though. It had been going on for weeks, to the point that I was anxious and dreading walking into the classroom because I feared another confrontation. I will say that I was not in any actual physical danger; the student wasn’t going to hurt me.
But in all my years of teaching, I’d never had such a defiant student, and I was not emotionally or mentally prepared to handle it. They don’t exactly teach you that stuff in graduate school. This was truly a test of my classroom management skills, and I didn’t want to fail it.
That day in yoga, my fear and frustration had turned to anger, and I knew I needed to work that anger off somehow. I got a little more than I bargained for though because in that setting I was the student, and the universe had a lesson for me to learn.
As we moved through our sweaty sequence, my instructor’s voice drifted in and out: “Listen to your body. Take the option your body needs today. Know when to push yourself and when to let go. Listen.” I stopped flowing at that one word: listen.
I listened to my body when it said it needed to move. My yoga instructor listened when I asked for that kind of sequence for our practice that day. As an English instructor, I teach my students to listen to understand, not to respond.
Was I living my yoga off the mat? Was I practicing what I was preaching? Was I actually listening to that “difficult” student? The answer was “no.” And just like that, something clicked inside me and I knew what I needed to do. I rolled up my mat feeling exhausted but resolved.
The next day, I met with the student, but instead of lecturing him and reminding him about school policy, I gave him the opportunity to voice his side of the difficulties we had been having in class together.
When I listened to him, I began to understand the root of our problem: people had not been so kind to him before.
While that didn’t justify his actions, it helped me realize how to help him be more successful in the class. In fact, even just listening to him made a huge difference in his behavior from that point on because he felt heard and valued. That’s what mattered, and that’s how he passed the class.
Yoga has taught me how to listen to my body, but it’s also taught me how to listen to others. Yoga has taught me how to practice on my mat, but it’s also taught me how to live it off my mat. Yoga has taught me how to be a better human being, but it’s also taught me how to be a better teacher. They don’t teach you that stuff in graduate school.