The Yoga of Listening: Lend an Ear, Open Your Heart

“We have lot of talking happening, but not enough listening,” says Micah Mortali, Director of Outdoor Education and Programming and founder of the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership. Micah’s R&R workshop The Yoga of Listening offers a powerful antidote to the oftentimes relentless cacophony of modern-day life, and looks at how listening deeply can foster greater connection and understanding in all our relationships, both personal or professional.

A skillful and sensitive facilitator who fosters a welcoming atmosphere of trust and respect, Micah exudes a natural warmth that can make a roomful of people feel at ease right away. In yoga, he says, there’s a concept known as buddhi, which is the witnessing, observing self. In the Kripalu tradition, buddhi is referred to as witness consciousness— or, simply, the Witness—and it can be honed through yoga and meditation.

Mindful listening, then, is a practice not unlike yoga and meditation—it makes us pay attention to the present moment, and it requires curiosity and openhearted awareness.

Cultivating the Witness is integral to mindful listening. As Micah points out, accessing the Witness can prevent us from reacting to triggering situations with anger and/or fear. The Witness allows us to pause and take a breath before we respond; it also lets us listen to others with less judgment and more compassion.

To foster mindful listening and access the Witness, Micah offers a group-facilitation practice known as Council, which has been used in various cultures throughout the ages. In Council, participants sit in a circle and pass around an object, such as a stone; whoever holds the object is given a chance to speak while the other participants simply listen.

These are the four pillars of Council, as taught by Micah:

  1. Speak from the heart. The heart has its own intelligence. Pay attention to what it longs to say. Speaking from the heart means expressing ourselves with honesty and sincerity, from a place of authenticity.
  2. Listen from the heart. When listening, listen from a place beyond the rational mind. Don’t try to “fix” anything or offer advice; listen with your full attention and openness. Simply holding space for someone to be heard can be powerful and nurturing.
  3. Be spontaneous. Rather than mentally preparing what you’re going to say when it’s your turn to speak, let the words come forth spontaneously, in the present moment, allowing whatever is emerging to shine through.
  4. Be of “lean expression.” Get to the heart of the point you’re conveying; choose what you’re saying carefully. Hone in to the essence of what’s in your heart.

Mindful listening gives us a chance to share our stories and our commonalities; we can open our hearts as we lend an ear and find comfort in the fact that we’re all in this journey together. Practices such as Council offer us the possibility of not only deepening our relationships with those around us, but also fortifying our sense of connection with our human family as a whole. As Swami Kripalu said, “The key to your heart lies hidden in the heart of another.”

Find out about upcoming programs with Micah Mortali at Kripalu.