In yoga ‘dialogue’ refers to the words the teacher uses to deliver practitioners through a sequence of postures that compose a class (although it’s really more of a monologue: as a practitioners are mostly focused on breathing and twisting or untwisting yourself from one asana to another) Think of it like an esoteric game of Simon Says or Twister. Not to make light: in my experience, dialogue is the key element that “makes” a teacher and one that I have really worked on in the last few weeks of teacher training.
At the basic level you need to be able to give physical instructions in the right order so that students don’t wind up face down on the mat (at least unintentionally). All good yoga teachers can guide students in and out of postures. What distinguishes the great teachers is the ability to use the words so that they provide not only specific physical instruction but guidance to the more subtle layers of understanding as well. My favorite teachers are the ones who combine physical instruction, metaphor for understanding what the posture should look or feel like, and some explanation of the benefits of the posture or the practice. Of course, in a vinyasa, there is sometimes no more than a breath or two between postures. Nobody wants to sit on their mat for 20 minutes while a teacher gives a discourse Tadasana (Mountain Pose) even though I fully believe it’s possible to fill up that amount of time with all the facts, alignment tips and metaphors that can be applied.
The best teachers make it look effortless. Trust me: having now stood sticky-mouthed and fumbling in front of a room full of people all waiting expectantly in downward dog for the next set of instructions – it’s anything but.
The trick is timing and judicious use of words at just the right moment, while avoiding unnecessary repetition. For example, one could just recite the posture names going through Sun Salutation A and B, but given most vinyasa classes repeat each sun salutation anywhere between 3-10 times, which would get real old, real quick. There is some magical formula that the greats find, seasoning each set of postures like courses in a gourmet meal – so that with each pass through forward fold, upward facing dog and down dog the practitioner gets a different flavor experience. Maybe the first time through there’s alignment focus, then another a taste of energy flow, or a sensory descriptor that helps echo the physical alignment (Leading with the chest and rolling he shoulders back in upward dog also helps maintain the alignment of shoulders over wrists).
The other trick is knowing when to say nothing. The final pose, Savasana (or Corpse Pose) is the penultimate example of this. Although I have had several wonderful teachers include apropos readings or chanting, the precious moments of silence are never neglected. It is in the silence that the practitioner gets to experience the moment without interference and become her own teacher. There are lots of opportunities to have similar moments in other parts of the class – and the good teacher also knows when, as they say “less is more” in the dialogue department.
I could go on. The joy of being at the tail end of a nine week yoga teacher training program which has pretty much consumed my life (or what’s left over after working 8+hours a day) is discovering all of these interesting intersections the things that I am most passionate about. In this case, writing and yoga have lot in common. See, “giving good dialogue” in a yoga class is very similar to how good writers use words.
Much like physical alignment, visual descriptors or metaphor and comprehensive posture knowledge work to give praticitioners access to a complete and satisfying class experience, setting, metaphor and background are all used to give the reader a complete and satisfying experience with a book or story. A novel has a limited amount of space to tell a complete story (I would argue even in a multi book series, this is true). Getting the reader engaged with the writing equivalent of that 20 minute lecture on Tadasana is not going to fly. But get them up in Tadasana a couple of times over the course of the hour as part of a flow of postures, each time mentioning something different but related (four points of balance, alignment of the joints, muscle engagement, the sense of being ‘rooted’ like a mountain) and you’ve got something. Even better you build resonance through indirect repetition that I believes gives more power to the overall lesson. Finally, key the literary equivalent of the moment of ‘silence’ where instead of hammering the reader over the head with the Point, the writer lets the theme or the message speak for itself through that resonance.
Which brings me back (again) to the writing. I haven’t been doing a lot of work on the novel during the past few weeks. I knew going into the experience of becoming a yoga teacher I wanted to devote as much energy as possible to that pursuit (hence the break from my four stringed companion as well). The irony is that what I’m learning about yoga dialogue has been teaching me how to better use my words to do justice to the story that my novel is begging to tell.
When I look at a scene I look at it with the eye of a teacher guiding a praticitioner into, through and out of a posture. Have I given the right cues on ‘physical alignment’ (setting)? Are there enough visual descriptors or metaphors – or too many? How about background; have I wasted the precious momentum stopping to explain too much? Where is there repetition instead of resonance? When do I allow for the resonance to sink in through silence?
Although I haven’t done much revising, I feel the work I have done has been stronger than ever. One of the writing goals I set for myself this year was improving my revision skills. Little did I know that by pursuing training as a yoga teacher, I would be doing just that.