LISTEN & SILENT Have the Same Letters

I love to listen to my wind chimes

Seth S. Horowitz, an auditory neuroscientist at Brown University wrote an article for the NY Times titled “The Science and Art of Listening (11/11/12), which caught my eye (and ear).

He says, “’You never listen’ is not just the complaint of a problematic relationship.”

In fact:

“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload. And yet we dare not lose it.”


“Listening tunes our brain to the patterns of our environment faster than any other sense… ”

And, listening, he points out helpfully, can benefit our relationships:

“Listen to your significant other’s voice – not only to the words, which after a few years may repeat, but to the sounds under them, the emotions carried in the harmonics. You may save yourself a couple of fights.” 🙂 (Pamela’s smile)

Recently, I had a difficult time listening, when I really wanted to listen, and decided to say something about it.  One of my favorite yoga teachers has a wonderful voice.  I’ve even told her on a number of occasions that it makes listening to her words a pleasure. Sometimes she plays soft music during class.  In a recent class, however, she played louder music with a strong beat that not only made it difficult to hear what she was saying, but also made it challenging to focus on my breathing.  After thinking about it, I decided to send her an email and let her know, and I hoped she wouldn’t mind my forthrightness.

Here is what I wrote:

I don’t think I can do yoga to music with a really strong beat, like the music in last night’s class.  It makes it hard for me to focus on my breath and to find my body’s own rhythm.  I suppose it makes me feel more like I am in a zumba or aerobics class.  The songstress the other night also was singing rap-like music, which made it hard to hear your words, which are as interesting as they are sonorous.

Here is her thoughtful reply, which I think Seth Horowitz would find both interesting and satisfying, and made me feel very “listened to” (which is one of the best feelings):

She wrote, “My first instinct when I started teaching was to not give the music much thought, just have it as background and definitely not put a spotlight on it. But I’m new to teaching yoga and am still fine-tuning (no pun intended) my teaching style so I try new things and pick up influences here and there.  So your feedback is really important.

I was recently asked to teach at another studio a class that had been taught by a singer/songwriter who played lots of music and even brought out her guitar and sang. The studio owner made note of that when she hired me and said, “We are known for our playlists.” I mention this because that’s where I got this idea in my head that I need to put more time and effort into the music.  There are yoga teachers that plan the playlist in sync with the poses and there’s even karaoke yoga out there. I think I was worried that in comparison I wasn’t doing enough with the music.

In addition, for students not accustomed to listening to their bodies and their thoughts, for those not used to being aware and present, music is something their brain can latch on to.  It makes the intensity of presence less intimidating, less scary.  On the flip side, for students like you that have the ability to drop into quietude and stillness, other noise becomes a distraction.  Yes, when the music is prominent it does feel more like an aerobic class.  However, all that said, and interestingly enough, my yoga mentor does not play music at all in her classes. It’s really good to hear your feedback and it reminds me that I need to follow my instinct and do what feels organic.  I will return to my roots, steer clear of strong musical beats and stick to more instrumental, soft sounds and my voice.”













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