Listening When Nothing Is Said

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Renée Dumouchel is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy professional who has completed Phoenix Rising trainings as an individual practitioner, yoga teacher, and group facilitator. She is currently building her professional practice and sees clients and students on evenings and weekends. She rents studio space at a variety of locations in New York City, but is also working to build relationships with corporations, businesses, and wellness groups in order to start to bring Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy into those settings.

Renée sees private Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy clients individually and also teaches Phoenix Rising 8-week yoga classes. Her yoga classes use silence, space, movement, and non-directive language to create an environment where students can step back from the “shoulds” and learn to listen to the wisdom that is already present in their bodies and their life experiences.

On the horizon for Renée is partnering with other practitioners to develop avenues to bring Phoenix Rising work to professional dancers and performers – a population known for their body awareness but who often don’t practice body listening and response.

IJPRYT: In our everyday vernacular understanding (and practice) of listening, we tend to think that something needs to be said verbally in order for listening to take place. However, as we all know, in most yoga classes there is nothing said by the students. In particular, in your Phoenix Rising yoga classes, there is no interactive verbal dialogue: There is no verbal communication from students to teacher. Yet there is not a class that goes by during which deep listening hasn’t taken place for both student and teacher alike.

How do you engage the type of deep listening (that is the heart of Phoenix Rising) when there is nothing said?

RD: Let’s first clarify that there is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing denotes an auditory function that may or may not engage the brain in some form of thought that may or may not lead to an action. Listening involves an intention to be receptive to what is “heard,” without necessarily having any kind of agenda for outcome. It’s like the difference between baking a cake for a social function, and baking a cake because you want to experience the process – whether or not the cake gets eaten, or even tastes delicious is irrelevant, because you have learned something about yourself as a baker. In Phoenix Rising, we all get to be bakers, learning more in each class and with each experience about what ingredients went into creating us, which ingredients blend and which react, how a comforting mixture might actually be a recipe for disaster, and how, over time, we can learn to weed out stale ingredients and invite in fresh, new combinations.

In a Phoenix Rising yoga class or group, deep listening is whole-body listening with the intention to receive information without judgment or expectation of outcome. Students are given the tools to learn to listen not only with their ears, but also with their breath, their body, their patterns, thoughts, sensations, and their hearts.

So, how do I as a Phoenix Rising yoga teacher support students to learn to listen deeply? In most yoga classes, postures are king. In a Phoenix Rising yoga class, I would say silence is king. And since I’ve started practicing Phoenix Rising yoga, I’ve never heard silence so deafening. Space and silence are probably the most powerful “poses” we as Phoenix Rising yoga teachers have. They are also two of the most valuable tools we can model for our students, because they allow us to learn the practice of deep listening. When we create “space” and “silence” in a Phoenix Rising yoga class – holding a posture, taking falling out breaths, drawing attention to transitions, asking what’s happening now – we are setting the stage to allow more doors of awareness to open so we can engage in a deeper experience of hearing what our bodies have to teach us, and integrating that experience into our present moment awareness.

IJPRYT: How does this deep listening inform you as a Phoenix Rising yoga teacher facilitating a class? In other words, how does the information you listen to (in a Phoenix Rising way) affect the class?

RD: As a Phoenix Rising yoga teacher, I receive information (I listen deeply) before anyone shows up for class. I like to start class with my own centering. That way I have taken some time to listen deeply to myself in order to be aware of any triggers or needs that I can address before my students arrive.

But how can I listen to the students in a class if no one is talking? We have to remember that there are many ways to listen. Through Phoenix Rising, I have learned to use my entire body as a giant “ear.” Listening then becomes noticing the way my students enter the room. Is one giddy and excited, while another is withdrawn? Listening becomes hearing the different breath patterns during a posture sequence – one student may be breathing easily, while another wheezes or is laboring. Listening becomes watching body movements; noticing arcs of emotion, restlessness, frustration, elation, laughter, tears, and whatever else may show up; as well as noticing the way in which all of these awarenesses meld together to create a more holistic class experience.  Paying attention to these cues, and others, helps me determine when to leave more space and silence, when to cue a falling out breath or call attention to a transition, when to increase the pacing, when to add a posture or modification, or layer a cue.

The key, for me, while I’m practicing deep listening, is to stay present without expectation. To be a witness without a need to understand the stories or fix or change anything about what I see and hear. For example, my noticing that a student enters the room giddy and then is sluggish by the middle of class does not mean that I need to check on her or help her or change class for her. However, if over the course of the class, her sluggishness turns to resistance around the same time another student is struggling with a pose while another student changes her breathing pattern, these events might signal to me that “something is up” for each of these students. In other words, they are practicing a deep listening to information they are receiving from their bodies. And I need to honor that. If I do not listen to that non-verbal information, I may move onto the next posture, or draw less attention to a transition. This could create less opportunity for each student to stay in her own experience and notice less about her present moment awarenesses. Practicing deep listening, at it’s core, allows me to create a safer container for my students to go deeper into what’s happening now and unearth potentially powerful information.

I’m a doer. In my experience, when I want to do more, it is usually an indication that I need to slow down and listen. Doing more allows me to ignore my silence. And why would I or anyone else want to do that? Quite simply, it’s linked to the fact that silence speaks volumes. When I slow down enough to stop doing and pushing and moving and, and, and, ad infinitum, then I am poised to receive. And sometimes, the awarenesses that come to the surface, regardless of how helpful they may be, may not be very pleasant. They may be edgy – uncomfortable, scary, and even painful.

That understanding has helped me much in my classes. Whenever I notice myself wanting to speed up, or add a pose, or cue a more advanced version of a pose, or ask another “What’s Happening Now,” it’s an indication to me that I may not be listening (either to myself or the students). As such, it may be that I am trying to actively avoid something (possibly one of my own edges) by plowing through or creating distraction in the class or in my experience. When that happens, I take a breath, and then another, and I wait. Creating room for the silence and space gives me an opportunity to reconnect to my students, to survey any triggers that I need to recognize and put “on my bleachers” to look at later, and reground in my own body. Nine times out of ten, I find that I am then better poised to “hear” and listen to what the class is asking for and to respond accordingly.

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