It’s really fascinating to watch body language expressed through the yoga practice.
We can tell a whole lot more about someone by watching their yoga practice once than we’d ever learn from even ten conversations with them. I don’t have stats on that y’all; I just know it’s true. It’s a demonstration of non-verbal communication at it’s extreme. Yoga is translated as ‘yoke’ or ‘union.’ And the word ‘awkward’ should be in there somewhere for sure. Add in adjusting someone and witnessing their reactions to being touched and encouraged to arrange their bodies differently, and you’re provided an even thicker layer of understanding.
Research studies discussing body language, facial expression, tone of voice, and verbal communication are available in abundance. There are, of course, dissenting opinions, but the overall prevailing belief is 55% of communication comes from body language, 38% is tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. For a more in-depth look at these ratios, see Jeff Thompson’s article posted on Psychology Today.
It’s damn vital to weave in the importance of not taking any student’s practice personally, and not assuming anything. Every yoga instructor I know has had the experience of someone packing up his/her mat in the middle of class and leaving. Countless explanations exist for why this happens. The only thing you can know for sure when this occurs is that individual had to leave. It could be they were having a deeply emotional reaction and needed to get away. Or maybe they remembered smack dab in the middle of their practice they were supposed to meet someone for lunch and had to race out. Keeping all of this in mind, read below the four things you actually can identify about a person simply by watching their yoga practice.
(Image by Kimberly Potterf Photography)
- They’re a good listener. It’s so damn cool to witness students taking in every cue, even the suggestions to adjust subtly. From Downward Facing Dog, when you cue external rotation of the shoulders and observe someone perform that action, it’s a thrill. When you instruct stepping your right foot forward, and they actually step with their right, you know they’re present. If you encourage backing off if the hamstrings feel tight, they bend their knees or lift their torsos up and away from their legs if in a seated or standing fold. Listening is a vast skill and one that yoga supports developing. Noticing regular students who listen intently each class is inspiring. And seeing students who may initially have trouble being present, and therefore being capable of listening, shift and improve in this area is incredibly motivating. Conversely, if a person is having a difficult day, they’re going to be distracted, so perhaps listening is elusive just in this given practice. Compassion is clutch, and none of us can be present every second. But overall, it’s pretty easy to spot the exceptional listeners.
- They have a sense of humor. What do you do when you fall out of a posture? Do you get pissed at the pose for even existing? Do you overreact, and let frustration take you completely out of the experience? Or perhaps you laugh, and try again, this time with a slightly different approach. New students are typically not going to find balance postures as easy as long-time practitioners. I mean, duh. But people with a sense of humor won’t expect to execute a pose perfectly and will have an open mind about how to approach it differently. They won’t feel badly if they fall. Depending on our mood and what’s going on in our lives, there will always be days when our sense of humor takes a mini holiday. Overall, if we can be light about the practice and let it develop over time, we can progress faster.
- Their self-awareness is above average. Not only does the self-aware student listen well, and adjusts their practice in the direction it needs to go, but they’re cognizant of those around them. They adjust their mat to accommodate a student who comes into a full room and is looking for a space. They possess an awareness of the effect they have on the room as a whole. And these students know we’re in it together for our brief time practicing as a team, and contribute with their attitudes and actions.
- They possess humility. A student who possesses a healthy ego understands there are, and will always be, postures beyond their grasp. They use their strengths without over-efforting, and accept what may be temporary or even long-term issues that make it so a pose requires modifications. These students try, but accept what reality has to offer them. Perhaps they have an injury they don’t want to make worse. They either adjust a pose to accommodate their needs or skip it all together.
It’s remarkable what we can learn by observation alone. Seeing the beauty and light coming from another individual without them having to utter a single word is a whole other level of inspiration. We pay homage by acknowledging and emulating the positive habits we perceive.
By Lara Falberg
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