I'm always amazed at how the practice of yoga erases the notion of separateness, as in: I am me, you are you, and while we may be breathing the same air, we exist in our own little worlds.
Yoga makes me forget all that. Or maybe it helps me remember something I know deep inside: that there really is a thread of connection between all of us.
I've practiced with people older than I, and with those who are much younger. I’ve laid my mat beside yogis who weightlessly float up into Handstand, and others who I’ve sorely wished had a block to assist them in Triangle. I've practiced in gyms, at resorts, in dingy rooms above highways with carpeting in dire need of washing, and in beautifully appointed eco-studios, all bamboo floors, skylights, and complimentary tulsi tea. I've chanted among throngs of white-turbaned Kundalini practitioners, created puddles of sweat in Bikram classes, hoofed my way through the Ashtanga Primary Series, and flowed through more Sun Salutations that I can count. And I'm always heartened and, ultimately, humbled by the realization that those chanting, sweating, hoofing, and flowing around me, no matter where we are or what path we traveled to get there, are really no different than me.
Yoga, it turns out, is the great unifier.
Recently I had a strong reminder of the boundary-erasing power of yoga while attending a practice for peace in Paris. There, at the much-heralded White Yoga event put on by clothing company Lolë, I watched as couples, friends, and entire families poured into the stunning Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées, where 4,000 yellow yoga mats waited. Gamely sporting white practice togs, everyone was clearly excited to be there. I was too, but I was self-conscious being alone. I smiled and nodded and tried to look friendly, all the while secretly terrified someone would try to talk to me and discover that “bon jour” was pretty much the extent of my French. I busied myself setting up my mat space and stretching my hamstrings, and tried to ignore the fact that I felt lonely; here at this amazing event in this stunning city, but isolated by a barrier I didn’t know how to overcome: language.
As Colleen Saidman Yee and Grace Dubery led us through a lovely, heart-felt practice, I periodically glanced around. Whether flowing from experience or listening closely to every translated instruction, I recognized that these people, my fellow yogis, had come with the most beautiful of intentions: to take part in something healing, for themselves and for the world. By the time we lay down in Savasana, I could feel how the energy of that space had changed, from anticipation and excitement to a tangible sense of lightness, community, and, yes, peace. I may not have been able to converse with anyone, but oh, how I basked in the warmth of that shared experience.
A little while later, as I slowly rolled up my mat and collected my belongings, two women approached me. “You are American, no?” asked one smiling. “It’s that obvious,” I replied, smiling back at them. They laughed. We bumbled through introductions, gesturing and nodding. “It was nice to practice with you,” the second woman offered in halting English. My heart melted. “You too,” I said, realizing how very grateful I was for this moment of contact. We stood then and looked at one another, having reached the end of our conversation skills. Laughing a bit, we hugged goodbye. But I wanted to say more, to thank them for reaching out to me, for seeing me. Taking a step back, I placed my palms together in anjali mudra and bowed my head. “Namaste,” I said, imbuing that word with every ounce of love and gratitude that I could. “Namaste,” they replied sweetly in unison, before turning and disappearing into the crowd headed for the doors.
And really, what more is there to say?
Kelle Walsh is Yoga Journal's Executive Online Editor.