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Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

Yoga As Community

November 24, 2015
It’s 8:55 on Wednesday morning and students are filing into the studio. Coats are hung, shoes are kicked under the bench, and mats are dropped onto the floor. Hellos and hugs are offered, and the lovely chatter of friends begins.

I listen carefully to snippets of conversation, catching up on news of the day from my perch at the front of the classroom. I take in tales of travels, illnesses, community happenings and family delights. I notice who is here and who we’re missing. And all the while I gauge the mood of the group, rejiggering my plan for our morning according to the energy my friends have carried with them into class.

At 9:05 each week the last student predictably breezes in, reminding us to begin. And for the next hour and a half we stretch and move and breathe and relax. We explore the limits and possibilities of our bodies and our minds. We shed our stress, restore our energy, and reclaim our lives.

We’ve come together like this for nearly 20 years. The cast of characters shifts from week to week. The location changes occasionally. But two things never change: First, we practice yoga. And second, we cultivate community. We foster a sense of friendship and camaraderie that reminds us that we are part of something greater than our small bodies and individual breaths.

WHOLENESS AND EASE
The word yoga means “to yoke,” and in the beginning the practice teaches us to reconnect the scattered parts of ourselves back into one complete whole. With each ounce of stress we shed, with each tight muscle we relax, we are brought back to a sense of wholeness and ease. We are returned to our truest selves.

With continued practice, though, a deeper understanding of yoga evolves. We begin to see how the practice not only yokes the body, mind and spirit together, but also yokes us to everyone and everything around us. Through yoga, our sense of self expands farther and farther beyond our skin until we take on all of life as our own.

It’s our Wednesday morning yoga class that has taught me this deeper understanding of yoga. I didn’t set out to build a community, just to teach a few friends some healing yoga stretches and relaxing ways to breathe. But yoga works its magic – creating community it its wake – whether you ask it to or not. Thanks to my yoga students, I now understand that in some beautiful way, yoga is community. Yoga is seeing clearly and experiencing deeply the strong bond we share, the shared experience we live, the extent to which I am you and you are me.

You get to know someone pretty well once you’ve done enough downward dogs together. You learn how people move and breathe and think. You learn who runs hot and who runs cold, who runs fast and who runs slow. You learn who can be counted on to add a little humor to the morning, who always has the perfect book recommendation, and who is always ready with a hug and a supportive word.

And in the beautiful container of yoga, you also learn to take on everyone around you as family, in the best sense of the word. You begin to love people not just in spite of their curiosities and foibles but because of them. You take an interest, as a matter of course, in the ups and downs of the lives of others. You embrace each soul around you as a vital and important light in the great constellation of life.

BREATH BY BREATH
I think about this every Wednesday morning, as I watch this mystery unfold in our yoga class. Each of us enters with our own frustrations and fears, wishes and needs. And yet each of us, just by virtue of showing up, is knit into the greater whole of all of us. Breath by breath and moment by moment, we are banded together into a beautiful circle of care and support.

Every week I remind my students about how this works. When we’re feeling energized and balanced, we share that sense of vitality and support with those around us. We reach out to those who are struggling. We offer our support and energy. And when it’s our turn to feel dispirited or empty, we let ourselves be held and carried by that beautiful network of helping hands that surrounds us.

After 90 minutes of stretching and breathing, we settle into a few blissful moments of deep relaxation. I smile as I survey the room, which has settled into a soft and lovely glow. I sigh as my eyes survey my friends resting quietly, restored to some deeper peace and softness. I thank yoga, yet again, for working its magic, for guiding us back to ourselves, and for knitting us all together into one.

I pick up my Tibetan bowl, ready to chime us out of relaxation and off into our days. But then I inevitably pause, reluctant to disturb the collective peace and reverie that has descended upon us. Bowl still in hand, I sweep my gaze across the room, silently wishing each lovely member of our yoga community well. “May you be happy,” I think, looking at one beautiful being. “May you be well,” I offer another, and then another. On and on, until I have wrapped the whole room in a blanket of goodwill.

I offer up my silent thanksgivings to these beautiful souls, to this Wednesday morning tribe that embodies all yoga can offer, a living expression of yoga’s ability to connect us to one another, to create community, to share the joys and sorrows of life with the world around us. And then finally, I chime my bowl and bodies stir. Slowly, happily, each of us gathers our belongings and slips out into the day. And even though we head our separate ways, we remain yoked together by the practice of yoga, and by the invisible strands of love and support that carry us all.

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