My 3 Step Recipe For Easy Listening

By  Vanessa Webb | 


Over the years, I have regularly been asked by clients and students how it is, that I can zone in on the real nuts and bolts of what they’re communicating to me, when even they feel lost in what they’re saying. The more I read about the increasing popularity of Compassionate Based Yoga, and Ethical Yoga, I decided to tell you my secret, because understanding another is founded on a level of compassion. Aside from the fact that I genuinely care about people, I recognize that I am a human being who is connecting with another human being, and at the heart of it, there is nothing more real than that. This shared human experience means, all that is left to do, is for me to open my level of willingness to learn about their perspective.  This position of being “the learner” is of course, the basics to comprehension. And this is done in three easy steps. Of course I’m not perfect at this, it’s an ongoing active practice, but here’s my secret:

image credit: dennis thern on flickr


Listen without judgement: 
This is an active listening process, and it includes removal of judgement not only from the mind, but from wherever you might be holding it in your body.  Our judgements are held not only in our facial expressions, but in our body language.  We’ll hold tension wherever we hold that judgement (an aversion really) and the other person will read this tension. But remember that shared human to human experience mentioned earlier? Why should we have an aversion to another’s experience if it’s not harming our own or anyone elses? An open mind includes a relaxed body. Having an open mind doesn’t mean that our own thoughts won’t drift through, it means that when they do, we don’t listen to them or give them any credit or significance, because what is more important in that moment is what the other person is saying.  So if my thoughts are not important, they move to the backseat so to speak. This allows my perception to be more inquisitive, and it’s being genuinely inquisitive that frees-up the space between two people. In this space is the freedom for the person to be understood, by another, and more importantly, by his own self.
Don’t make them fit the yoga that you want them to fit: 
This includes step one, so if you haven’t practiced step one, this step will be a bit more challenging. Too often when we’re uncomfortable with our own selves as an instructor, or feel a lack of confidence in what we know, we’ll impose that insecurity on our students, by trying to make them do the yoga we want them to be doing. Everyone’s body and experience in life is different, and there is too much propaganda telling us all to fit into “hip openers” and “inversions”, and the list goes on. There is a time and a place for everything, for every body, and for stages in life. It’s the instructor’s knowledge that can read what is appropriate and what is not. What works well for a pregnant woman who has been a lifetime athlete will be different for a pregnant woman who has never been interested in physical movement before; which is different for a man in his 40’s and a woman in her 80’s. We would never have such a mix in one class, but we will most likely have the opportunity to work with each student at some point in time. This applies to all Yogic practices.

Admit that you don’t know everything: 
Respect that you have limits, and grow to love that there is still so much more to learn. Know what you know, and have the self-confidence to be honest about what you don’t yet know (and that what you already know might change over time). When students hear you admit this, they will never judge you. In fact, it increases their trust in you. You’re showing them that Yoga continues to be a practice for you too, which is the path. It demonstrates that what you’re sharing is what you’ve learned from the path so far, and this is authenticity. In admitting this, you’re giving them the freedom and the understanding, that what they learn from the Path might be different from your own, but it will be theirs, and it will be valuable. Acknowledging that we don’t know things is what makes us good at everything, because we’re willing to learn ourselves.

image credit: caleb woods

So you see, listening to a student isn’t only about what they say or what I think, it’s a multi-layered experience. And it’s this that brings innate compassion and ethical behaviour. So it seems a bit funny that studios are hoping to profit from workshops on Ethical or Compassionate based Yoga, because isn’t that what Yoga already is?  Empathy and compassion can’t be bought and paid for in a workshop. These qualities can only be cultivated through understanding our own humanity, through our own practice and desire to know them.  These workshops are just further monetizing yoga. And though we may dive deeply into our practice through participating in meditation groups, and other Yogic practices, these unfold through time and experience; we don’t walk in to a workshop on a Friday and walk out on a Sunday, certificate in hand, filled with Compassion, ethics and empathy.