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No words

I've always been fascinated by the relationship between language and thought. I wrote a 300 word essay in first year university English on it. It attempted to explore the interplay between thought and language, how one impacts the other and which came first, the chicken or the egg. My prof congratulated me on my ambitiousness but suggested that the topic was probably better suited to a graduate thesis paper than a first year writing course.

My interest in this area has not waned over the years.

When I was in my early 20's and starting to experiment with yoga, I practiced at home, from a book. I had gone to a couple of Kundalini yoga classes in Vancouver but other than that, it was books. Because of this solitary practice experience and an absence of yoga class or studio type environment, my foray into yoga was silent and self-directed. There was no language associated with neither the instructions (except the pictures and words in the books) nor the experiences I was unfolding.

During those times, there was no need to explain what I was doing, or speak about it in any way. It was a time and experience I held only for myself. There was no exchange of ideas outside myself. There was no discussion or dissemination of information. I didn't have any association of language with yoga. Yoga and my experience of it, was as pure as it could be, not having to describe it or talk about it. It just... was.

To this day, I still find it challenging to articulate some of the experiences or concepts of yoga using a seemingly limited choice of language. It is never my preference to talk about yoga, rather I strive to find ways to convey the experience without words, so that students can live the experience themselves. That is what my teacher Visva-ji in India was expert at. He didn't tell you "feel this" or "you should experience this". Instead, he found ways to give us that experience firsthand, without putting words to what we should be feeling.

This is what I try to do, every day in our yoga classes. Words have a poor way of trying to imitate reality. Though helpful in some cases, to direct and share instructions, they can sometimes be unhelpful in that they can get us stuck in our analytical brains, which can be a barrier to true understanding on many levels. As well, if we, as teachers, speak about experiences we once had, it can sometimes cause students to compare themselves, or to put too much emphasis on trying to create a specific effect or result to match the expectation of the teacher.

At the end of the day, yoga is a self-experiment, and we are the scientists. We go in with sharp eyes, inquisitive and curious minds, wondering what we might learn about ourselves every day. The more our thoughts and minds are not molded and directed by speech and language, I think the better off we are, just open, watching, mindful. This is the place from which we want to move into our practice each time.

Sometimes I think talking is a highly over-rated activity. We are always filling space with words. When we visit other cultures we may have noticed that it is not this way everywhere one goes. In Central America or India, for example, people speak and then they are comfortable with silence. You can notice there is not this need to fill every space with talking. Words can be said, and then simmered on. Space left. Silence. A moment to absorb. Here in the Americas, it seems much more that that space always needs to be filled, doesn't matter with what, but just filled. Is it because we are so uncomfortable with space? Ill at ease with silence? What could we be missing by not allowing space and silence to exist, unfilled, not just out in the world, but inside of ourselves?

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