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Body Language: Speak Volumes Without Saying a Word

"I don't know what it is about your voice—it just makes me feel so totally relaxed in Savasana I could fall asleep!" When a student said this to me recently, I took it as a slightly backhanded compliment. As a teacher, I know that Savasana (Corpse Pose) is not, technically, supposed to be nap time; but if I can help a student achieve a more relaxed frame of mind and body, I've done part of my job right. The "yoga voice," as Boston-based teacher Bo Forbes calls it, is easy to identify. But what about the voice of a yoga teacher's body? We all know that body language sends signals in everyday situations—crossed arms signify closed-off or defensive feelings; hunched shoulders might indicate anxiety or cold or sickness. A teacher's body also communicates in the classroom by the way she stands, moves, and assists students. So if your body talks, what are your students hearing? A few experts sound off on the importance of body-language consciousness.
Opening Lines

Everybody has a characteristic way they carry their body, says Tom Myers, author of the wholebody patterning Anatomy Trains series and director of the Kinesis mind-body training center in Maine. "You could probably recognize your husband or friends from a block away just by how they carry themselves," he says. In the classroom setting, this means that, to a certain degree, your body language is just how you are. Some of that language can be changed, Myers says; but consider the posture and physical styles of Richard Freeman, John Friend, and Patricia Walden—all very different, though all are considered expert teachers. Knowing that our bodies bear the stamp of our own physical habits, teachers have to realize that students will, unconsciously or consciously, mimic their teacher's posture. Forbes notes, "This is wired into our brains, to mirror others' emotions and patterns of movement. And our physical bodies mirror our emotions." This issue of authenticity comes up again and again in the body-language discussion. Kim Valeri, director of YOGAspirit Studios, which train teachers across New England, notes that the "unspoken communication" of the body has a lot to do with how comfortable and secure a teacher feels in the role. "It's about feeling confident," she says. "In any good class, when you as the teacher are not overly concerned with your own self-critical evaluation but more concerned with service given to students, that unspoken message is communicated: I am doing my best to support my students."
Forbes draws on the Yoga Sutra to further illustrate this point. "By standing tall as a teacher and cultivating the seeds of good posture, we convey what Yoga Sutra II.46 says: sthira sukham asanam— comfort (in our bodies) as well as a sense of stability and grounding."

He also notes that a teacher's overall body alignment— relaxed lower back. which indicates he is "stuck on the exhalation. and chest conveys aggression. a teacher who tries too hard to stand up straight might actually hold more tension her body. and eyes dropping back into the head rather than peering out. with the shoulders back and down and eyes lifted to make contact with students so we communicate we're ready to move forward together. neck. Teachers who are aware of both physical and energetic body language offer students "an outpouring of energy that is palpable. make it harder to breathe and take in prana or energy." explains Myers. Halfpapp calls this unforced authoritativeness a "standing Savasana. a teacher's entire posture and stride should convey a sensitivity to the student's needs. "There's an openness." Both Forbes and Myers point to the breath as an essential part of a teacher's posture. slumping can lower a teacher's energy. calm but focused.Standing Savasana According to Elisabeth Halfpapp. He observes that avoiding this can be especially challenging for newer teachers. points the sternum down. they open a direct line of dialogue where actions really can speak louder than words." Forbes explains further. for example. . "There's a thin line between openness and aggressiveness [in one's stance]. is a form of body language that can set the tone for the one-to-one conversations you will have when you assist an individual student. then assisting is speaking through the body of fluency. and this also can transmit to the students. who may not feel confident in their abilities and can convey that unease through their breathing and stance. Valeri considers body language not just in a physical context but also in the context of interacting with a student's subtle energy bodies." where the teacher is relaxed but ready. adds. pelvis over the ankles rather than the toes. the mind/body class coordinator for Exhale in Boston. which will transmit itself to students." she says." says Myers. while standing tall with broad shoulders and collarbones conveys a comfortable centeredness." she says. The simple act of walking around the classroom. For example. Assists: The Conversation of Touch If posture and stance are the vocabulary of body language. Thrusting forward through the face. and especially when students have their heads on the floor—as in Savasana or Sirsasana (Headstand)—you want to be really careful about how hard you are walking. "It's about being relaxed and not forcing things." "You're usually in bare feet when you're teaching. vice president of movement programming and workshops for the Exhale mind/body spas and a master teacher of that spa chain's Core Fusion classes. observing and preparing to assist students during a class. When teachers initiate contact with a student through an assist. "This is not a New Yorker's walk. A teacher who slouches. As Halfpapp observes. And at the same time. all help to make students feel more secure. Denise Crowe.

say Halfpapp and Crowe. then who didn't get the instruction and needs to be helped. Learning the Language Learning how to read students' bodies takes time and practice. waiting to see how a pose unfolds before you decide to offer an assist. "When I observe teachers in training. Here are some key ways you can bring yogic fluency to your own body language: . or showing a pose at a particular angle. but it's far from impossible. You have to be sensitive to how you create that space. "When we learn to see. But once you've made the commitment to provide an assist." As all teachers know." and she says that many teacher training programs overlook the amount of practice it takes to become confident in assisting." Valeri continues.Once you've begun observing a class. When they assist. body positioning can communicate messages that teachers should generally avoid—a pelvic tilt performed very close to a student of the opposite sex. for example. she says." In her training programs. body language is about being awake and present in each moment. the palm is cupped to contain energy and the fingertips have backed off slightly from the student so that when the hands leave. says Valeri. these teachers all agree. "an assist is something we'll be able to formulate from across the room. "You've got to see who needs to be assisted for safety first. they are not just touching and leaving." Valeri explains. 50 percent of what they are looking for will be for what you know as a teacher. A lack of confidence translates into body language that can seem tentative or unsettling to a student. Teaching the body to speak with equal parts strength and support may take practice. Ultimately. the experts agree. and take in. I'm going to hold you tight but back off. the other half is the energy you create in the room. might cause students to feel uncomfortable. it's generally not a good idea to stop near a student and just watch." Forbes continues. Similarly. Forbes calls this the "art of assisting. According to Forbes. as though something is 'wrong' with their pose and they're about to find out what.'" Assists should be delivered mostly from the palms. more information about a pose. "Stopping and watching a student can make them feel selfconscious. because we've 'read' the language of a student's pose. which give a more sensual touch and can imply inappropriate intimacy. or from a few mats over. I can see [their body language] in their hands. "When students come into the classroom. "There are teachers who are sensitive and tuned into a student's subtle bodies. they send a double message: 'I'm going to contain you and guide you. deciding which students to assist requires fast thinking. and then decide who can be taken further in pose. how should your body speak to a student's? The hands speak volumes about an assist. rather than the fingers.

In that split second between seeing a student's pose and reaching out to help. "Sometimes the best assist is none at all—when you speak rather than physically adjust a student. is blind. Myers suggests videotaping yourself so you can observe your physical habits. you've already earned your students' permission to teach them. However. It is.„Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye‟. says Forbes. says Valeri. A simple and lovely quote from a simple and lovely lady. Practice. „Beauty is in the eye of the beholder‟. Body language & misunderstanding blindness Posted on September 10. ask yourself whether a verbal cue. another aspect of this may not so readily occur to most people. is it true? We could answer it with another quote. he says.‟ Mother Teresa. so let that confidence speak through your voice and your posture. "awful to watch. get feedback." Meghan Searles Gardner is a freelance writer and yoga teacher in Boston. what about those who have visual impairments who cannot ‗judge‘ with their eyes? I have been looking at research on body language and blind people as my husband. "Trailing fingers" along the body. Here is a quote I found (not sure which government report it was): . might be more effective. a gift to that person." says Crowe. In general. Shakespeare expressed a similar sentiment in Love‘s Labours Lost . "Authority is inherent" in yoga teaching. it is an action of love. a beautiful thing. Let your palms—not your fingers—do the talking.com. using the palms of the hands rather than the fingertips establishes a more professional and less intimate kind of body language from teacher to student. In other words. Rob. and practice some more. shake your head. 2010 by Kate „Every time you smile at someone. But. is an inappropriately sensual touch. rather than a hands-on adjustment.Trust yourself. You can email her at meghansearles@yahoo. Know when to let the body be silent. and go back to see what you can change. but it will be the greatest learning tool you'll ever get—watch yourself from outside. The meaning of both these last two quotes is that different people have different opinions about what is good/beautiful/valuable.

possibly the most famous enigmatic smile ever? This whole subject of body language. with a smile. was I to say to a sighted friend. Many people have hearing as well as sight loss. From a personal point of view. We are taught not to touch people unless we are really familiar with them and these gestures help us not to offend people by touching them unnecessarily. ―You are a nuisance!‖ and smiled at them they would . through facial expressions and body language. Rob would miss the smile and maybe think I was being rather negative. you find yourself waving to a blind man across a room to attract his attention! We have many friends with varying degrees of sight loss. we could each convey our emotions. without uttering a word. even after 8 years of marriage to him. but are a natural way of communicating with others. But even though we have instinctively found ways to at least restore some of the balance in our communications together. Rob. of which a smile is an obvious one. If I make a remark that sounds serious or condemning but is not meant that way I would show my intention by adding a smile. has a different slant when viewed in respect to a person for whom visual hints are unreadable. I would make eye contact. my husband has gradually lost all his sight and does miss not being able to read body language any more.“It has been accepted by many experts that 93% of communication is nonverbal. like me. blindness. from the relatively slight to total. this was brought to my attention through meeting and marrying a man who is blind. posture and gesture and 38% through tone of voice. The most obvious example of this is where I began this post. which means in the most profoundly affected cases. For example. it can still lead to misunderstanding. Mona Lisa . attitudes and quite complicated messages.” The 55% section of these figures refers to what are grouped together as ―body language‖ ―. These are seldom used consciously. The difference between visual and non-visual forms of communication are brought sharply into focus (no pun intended) when. 55% through facial expression. they may only receive 7% of the full meaning of a conversation. With other friends. lifelong.

just that it can be dented when folk don‘t include them in what is going on in a way that they can appreciate. nodded. blind people do have the usual portion of humour. he roared with laughter and everyone else now felt free to join in! As I said. party. If you know their name use it.know the message was not unkind. To further attract their attention. This is particularly important if there are other people about. He turned in the wrong direction and the man whose lap he was about to sit on waved him away in embarrassment. I can tell you from a sighted persons point of view it is really hard to remember that Rob can‘t see when folk nod. gently touch their upper arm with your hand. people don‘t lose their sense of humour along with their sight) once it is explained to you. not so easy as talking face to face. When. These ‗Myths‘ have since been ―borrowed‖ by other organisations online. can be the cause of much hilarity or much hurt. several people have smiled. church. We can simply avoid these misunderstandings by a trick I learnt when training long ago as a telephonist by putting an audible smile in your voice! This sounds obvious. go up to them. When you are leaving. or waved to them! When you meet a visually impaired person. after 8 years of marriage! One sad aspect of this whole body language problem for blind people is when they are at a gathering for a meeting. They can come away feeling hurt that their presence has been ignored by others there. but try speaking to someone on the phone and understanding every nuance of their conversation. in reality. club etc. This is why we wrote the 12 Myths of Blindness for the Echurch website. But if I said that to Rob he may think I was rather unhappy with him. say you are going away. is it? When I met Rob 9 years ago. smile. (We no longer have the website but I have added our (updated) Twelve Myths to this blog. I had never known anyone with sight problems before. or wave to him. . I still do it. introduce yourself by name. We used them as the base for the talks we have given on ―Living with Blindness‖ to many groups. I did not know how to help him feel part of whatever was happening around us in company. at the last second he realised Rob‘s problem and shot out of his chair. ran out of the doctors surgery and missed his own appointment – everyone else tried to stifle their laughter till I explained to Rob what had just happened. An example of the former was when I was trying to talk to the receptionist at the doctors and guide Rob to his seat in the waiting room at the same time. then they will know that you are speaking to them and not someone else. Nobody likes to find that they have been speaking to an empty space! It all sounds very simple but what is blindingly obvious (pun intended.

and enjoy a few laughs along the way! P. especially in the Northumbrian Hills near us. What works for both visually and mobility impaired people are solutions that are well thought out and sensible. when I pointed out Rob‘s problem they said they would change them. So now you have a little bit more information – by the way. then we can all enjoy life on more equal terms. though many people seem bemused as they meet us on craggy moors. a simple lock would serve everyone. many. though he has now fought a battle over that and won! Our favourite occupation is walking.―Rob is fully fit.S. In fact a friend who is looking for work has been told he can‘t go to the upper floor of the Job Centre. In fact our local branch of a supermarket giant has so-called ‗disabled‘ toilets with a coloured light door-lock system. miles from anywhere. I reply to friendy comments with . I did tell them that only 8% of folk registered disabled in the UK use a wheelchair. but forget that most visually impaired people are reasonably fit apart from their sight. many people and businesses seem to assume that Rob can‘t use stairs. .Rob and Catherine enjoy walking wherever we go. He does not need or have a dog now. most people understand the difficulties faced by people with mobility problems. whatever their issues. a year later and they are still inaccessible to visually impaired people. only his eyes don‘t work!. Is Rob the only blind person who has gone home from the pub on a mate‘s arm and only remembered part-way home that he had gone there with his guide-dog? She was still curled up asleep under his table at the pub when they rushed back! This was before I knew him.

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