Speech and the Practice of Yoga

Human beings are talkative creatures. The power of speech, the power of language is one of the most highly developed areas of difference from most other species on the planet (there are other beings that have speech, but to date we have not found them to have the complexity and breadth of capacity for conceptual speech that we find in humanity). We talk about everything, from our daily activities and needs, to subtle concepts of science or philosophy. We have developed numerous languages, and many of these languages have tens of thousands of words. Every aspect of life is encompassed and accompanied by speech. When we have nothing better to speak about, we simply talk for the sake of hearing our voices make sounds, and many people have no idea what the experience of silence is, as they surround themselves with human speech at all times. We have gone so far as to tie knowledge to ‘speech’ that takes place internally in our minds. Speech is so pervasive in our lives that we barely consider the implications of speech and the cost to us in terms of energy and focus, of the constant use of speech. Most people feel distinctly uncomfortable in a setting with others that does not include conversation.

In the practice of yoga, one of the steps is to bring about a quieting of the ‘mind stuff’ (chitta) which moves in waves internally through receiving impressions of the objects of our senses, of which speech is a major contributor. Bringing this mind-stuff to a state of quiescence implies the stilling of speech. As one undertakes that process, one begins to recognise both the energy drain involved in speech, and the vast arena of conscious experience and knowledge that opens up when speech dries up and the mind becomes silent.

If we live in a society it is virtually impossible to avoid speech entirely, but the practitioner can develop a habit of reducing the action of speech, and monitoring its use to areas and to the extent actually required, in carrying out any activities in the outer world. Continence of speech is a great power of yoga! Silence can also convey tremendous power when practiced in a community, even if just for limited periods of time, particularly if it is a warm and embracing, not a frigid or forbidding form of silence.

Sri Aurobindo writes: “In talking one has the tendency to come down into a lower and more external consciousness because talking comes from the external mind. But it is impossible to avoid it altogether. What you must do is to learn to get back at once to the inner consciousness — this so long as you are not able to speak always from the inner being or at least with the inner being supporting the action.”

“Talking of an unnecessary character tires the inner being because the talk comes from the outer nature while the inner has to supply the energy which it feels squandered away. Even those who have a strong inner life, take a long time before they can connect it with the outer speech and action. Outer speech belongs to the externalising mind — that is why it is so difficult to connect it with the inner life.”

“Chat of that kind has indeed a very tiring effect when one is at all in the stream of true experience, because it dissipates the energy uselessly and makes the mind movement a thing of valueless shreds and patches instead of gathered and poised in itself so as to receive.”

Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp 335-338

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.