You are ready to start yoga class. You sit tall. You quiet your face. You soften the space between your eyes. You listen. You wait. Your yoga teacher commences her dharma talk. At first it is interesting, but then, she pontificates on irrelevant topics and meanders about rambling. She refuses to shut her cake hole and just start class. You fidget. You scream inwardly as every joint hurts and your right leg tingles from lack of blood flow. Thoughts of amputation cross your mind. You open one eye and peep at the clock, those six minutes of a 60 minute class vanish like a yoga high during the commute home in rush hour traffic.
I cannot to be that teacher. Toastmasters educated me: stand up to be seen, speak out to be heard and sit down to be appreciated. I shall speak profound and interesting and sage words but sometimes that inner critic yells, “Really? Really? How can one strive over obstacles? That is yoga babble, Nicole. It makes no sense.”
Erudite is an adjective I’d love to earn. Pithy is a word I’d get tramp-stamped on my sacroiliac. Laconic ought to be my nickname. Yet growing up with an English teacher mom, acquiring a BA in Literature, completing the Radcliffe publishing course, writing for the New Orleans Tribune and learning the subtle art of vituperation in law school makes me a vulgar sesquipedalian. (sesquipedalian defined)
One student’s eyes grew wide, when she overhead me upbraid a student who surreptitiously, cloaked her phone with a strap and pirated my class. The next day, when the yoga pirate failed to show, my faithful student quipped: You are definitely a great yoga teacher, but first you will always be a lawyer. Mea culpa.
Words can be great vehicles of understanding and justify my logophilia. (10 Words Every Book Lover Should) Or words can obfuscate. I will bet my Light on Yoga that every Manduka toting yogi has at some point heard: Press into all four corners of the foot. I’ve always thought, yet dared not question a triangle shaped foot having the qualities of a square. Only when Leslie Kaminoff analzyed The Art of the Foot did I see that the foot doesn’t really have four corners. At best, one might say press big toe, pinky toe and inner/outer heel.
Even telling someone to breathe into her belly is an anatomically impossibility. We have no lung tissue in the stomach. However, the softening of the belly and expansive breathing into the entire lung conveys what most teachers mean by viloma-pranayama.
I die death by paper cuts when my teacher trainees pepper their scripts with crutch phrases and dilute their yoga potency. I pray they will expeditiously grow out of these fillers as they learn to control their nervousness, manage class energy and succinctly deliver alignment cues. Sadly, many seasoned teachers never cut the fat from their language.
Again, Toastmasters made me Ah Counter and I tallied ahs, ums, likes and we’re gonnas. During teacher training, as a gentle reminder to stop saying “ah”, I clink the meditation chimes as an alert them to every single offensive phrase that leaves their neophyte lips. The newbie teachers flinch under a shower of chimes. I do not care. These teachers must be ready to teach in the park to 150 people while a siren blares and a yoga heckler throws chestnuts in their yogic path. (Why anyone heckle a yoga class? But I digress.) I intend to groom yoga teachers with power and not puffery in their prose. Do we really need more mediocrity?
Although yoga cultivates its own navel-gazing habits, other industries and every day conversations are replete with filler language too. Years ago, in a Manhattan bar, I stood transfixed as a would-be-host for The View tried to sip her Martini and not say the word LIKE. Barbara Walters hired a coach to spend 24 hours with the woman to cut the word like from her vocabulary. She could not complete a sentence without her coach correcting her. She soon sipped her drink and opted for silence.
In a yoga class well-placed silence is good. Eventually, a yoga teacher must speak. The students come to hear you teach. Mantrika shakti instructs the power of words. Students often tell me why they are too weak, too old or too _____ (fill in the blank) to do a pose. They advocate on behalf of their weak habits. If they win, they get to keep their habits and stay stuck in their comfort zone of mediocrity.
I defend my student’s strengths, ability and diligence. I champion their cause. I insist they stretch and grow. I am yoga defense lawyer for my student’s best selves so that they do not suffer at hands of their own inner critics as I often have.
Language can empower the mind, the mind can empower the body and the body can work miracles in the world. If I don’t uphold this teaching of the Upanishads, I am guilty of yoga babble. I abjure.
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.” Upanishads