Bali Silent Retreat diaries: What silence has taken away and what it has given to my Yoga teaching

So… I had been talking about my going here loads and loads before I actually arrived. In the month before my flight I probably said the words “Bali Silent Retreat” at least thrice or four times every week – and even before then, I said it to myself as part of my work of manifestation.

So it’s a bit funny for me to share that, the reality of the silence only really dawned on me once I stepped foot onto the grounds. And damn, it was an overwhelming dawning.

I’m sitting here in our little teachers’ living space which is a talk-safe, device-safe zone. In a bit, I’ll be walking to the retreat grounds to prepare for my class and practice beforehand. It’s less than 3 minutes walk but the spaces feel like different countries – and in the smallest ways.

On the retreat grounds of Bali Silent Retreat (BSR), there is absolutely no talking. 

There are no devices, no games, and no extra activities outside of daily yoga and meditation, and weekly chanting circles, silent bonfires, and talks on food & Indonesian culture. In a day, activities are spaced hours apart. Basically, you’ve got hours and hours with which you can fill by writing, reading, staring out into nature, and their recommendation, doing nothing. 

As teachers, we can’t talk with guests outside of class unless they have genuine concerns about their yoga and meditation practice. When we’re at the retreat, we’re in silence but our home is talk-safe. The silence of the place is so strong though that even here, we don’t really get together too much and the conversations are always very small pockets of time within a long day. My 24 hours are 90% silent.

If you’re reading this and thinking, that sounds awesome – I was you. It did sound awesome and I’m growing to realize that it truly is. But my first encounters with it… not so awesome. I’m a doer and I like action. The sudden abrupt halt in activity + the thick silence that wraps the grounds + the knowledge that this would be my life for a month = CRISIS. 

Add to that the fact that all the things I do revolve around speech (yoga, writing, life coaching) = my co-teacher getting worried I was gonna lose it.

Slowly, slowly I’m getting more comfortable with the silence. But before that, it felt absolutely menacing. Like it hated me and wanted me to suffer. For a day or two the place, no matter how absolutely beautiful it is, felt like a suffocating cage. And I felt absolutely alone. It’s a week in and I still have some periods where I feel this way about BSR. Immediately and in no time at all, serious issues sprung up and they continue to do so. But the daily meditation is helping. It’s teaching me to sit with things. And so far, that’s all I can actually do.

I’m beginning to see it as a golden opportunity to be silent and unravel, to see things clearly and absorb knowledge from without and from within. But the change in perspective doesn’t magically make unraveling easier.

That being said, my title is not meant to mislead 🙂 Now that I’ve gotten to express in at least a little way the gravity of silence and how powerful it is for me… I’m finally going to talk about teaching. 

What silence is taking away from my yoga teaching practice

  • The feeling of “teaching”: One of the things that helped me during the time of mini-crisis was knowing that everyone who comes here most probably goes through the same thing as they settle in too. We’re all in it alone, but we’re alone together.  Here it becomes crystal clear that no one else can do your inner work but you. Wrestling with silence and knowing that you put yourself in it wilfully, brings you into the mode of being your own hero. In my yoga class it translates as a very strong feeling of teaching to teachers – and good teachers. The silence that surrounds each person is like a sign saying “TEACHER IS IN.” And since we’re all leading ourselves through our own processes, it takes away the feeling that I am teaching. Instead, it feels like I’m sharing – worlds of difference. They’re already doing the work on their own, just like I am, and my place is just to share what works for me.
  • EGO: Ideally, all yoga teaching should simply be that, sharing. But honestly, it’s sooo easy to let ego creep in. It’s easy to get used to people coming up to you after class, asking you questions or saying how much they liked the sequence. I know I was used to it. But here, since they can’t talk, there’s none of that. Appreciation is shown through smiles and an occasional hug after, but no words to feed the need for glory or affirmation. And, I actually find this.. so humbling.

What silence is giving to my yoga teaching practice

  • Conscious speaking: If you’ve ever attended my class, you know that I’m a talker – and that I’m proud of it. I do my best to make my cues 50% asana and 50% energetic/reflection. But there isn’t usually a whole lot of silence… Technically, I can teach my class in any way that I like here but, without anyone even telling me to, having students who are in silence prompted me to talk much less, to give silences, to give them the space to be in their own body and their own mind. Often I’ve found myself stopping from saying something – not because I thought it would be unwelcome, but more because it felt like I didn’t need to. I’m still me meaning I’m still expressive, but since I’m only talking at 60% my usual and this is the only time I do  get to talk to them, what I say becomes much more important. Conscious speech = less but more.
  • Big mountains to climb: In a usual class I teach, since people are in a city and people can talk, their attention is always outward and the biggest job for me is to lead them inward. But thanks to their silence, the guests at BSR are already turned in. If they’re already in introspection, as a teacher, what else can you give? You can think of many of these students as “advanced” in the sense that they’re twice-a-day meditation is already bringing them straight to thinking of themselves as energy, straight to knowing to be kind to themselves. How do you teach an “advanced” class with only the simplest of poses? How do you hold space for people who are in huge emotional and mental shifts? I am figuring this out.

So far, that’s it. That’s a lot of words for someone who’s in silence for most part of the day 🙂 I’m surviving and that’s what’s important. Deciding to take this thing one day at a time. I’m going to make it. I hope.

Namaste.

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