“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~Winston Churchill

Take the courage to sit down and listen to your body. Let the hustle and bustle rest for a while, and simply listen. Listen to the molecules within your body. Listen to the cells individually, on a microscopic level. Listen to the bones – the hips, the knees, the ankles, shoulders, wrists..even the knuckles of each individual finger and toe. Listen to the breath as it moves in and out of the body, through the nose. Listen to the lungs as they expand against the rib cage and massage the heart. Listen to the visceral organs as they digest or rest from digestion. Listen with courage. This internal listening, this internal focus is a practice in Pratyahara (sense withdraw, drawing inward and freeing yourself of external distraction) – one of the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga.

When you really listen to the body, you can hear the whispers of body’s requests. Even during an asana practice, listen. If you can’t hear your body (through internal focus) or your breath (both physically and mentally), then your thoughts are drowning out the calls. Listen as you move between the postures – listen to the knees as they bend into Virabhadrasana (warrior), listen to the ankles as they stablize in Vrksasana (tree pose), listen to the heart and back as you open in Ustrasana (camel), listen to your abdominal muscles as they carry you through Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff). This focus will improve your practice, both anatomically and psychologically. By becoming more in tune with the quiet whispers, you’ll be less likely to injure yourself and more likely to reduce the severity of the injury if one occurs. If we ignore the warnings our body tells us, that’s when injuries occur – through distraction.

Beyond the physical whispers, there is also an element of emotion. Listen to the emotions that arise when you take a deeper Ustrasana or Matsyendrasana (spinal twist). Listen to the emotions that arise at the beginning, during, and the end of a yoga class – note how they may change or resolve over the course of one class.

The body will tell you what it needs, if only you listen. The practice of listening will eventually extend beyond the four corners of your mat.

“Often I am still listening when the song is over.” ~M de Saint-Lambert

When the practice is over, the knowledge is still there.. we simply have to continue listening. As your practice develops and grows, you’ll eventually notice the length increasing in your post-Shavasana bliss as well as the brief moments of epiphany occurring more regularly. You’ll become more aware of your body, more in tune with the symphony of physical, psychological and emotional feelings and energies that reside within. More importantly, you’ll become more aware of how you move through the molecules of the world, and how these emotions and energies affect your day-to-day actions and thoughts. It is this greater state of awareness that we receive through dedicated yoga practice – including meditation, concentration, pranayama, asana…all of the 8 limbs.