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Yoga With Friends

Social scientists say that it's harder to make friends as adults. But Neal Pollack has found that yoga has filled his life with many true friendships.

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I gave up quite a bit when I left L.A. last year, but I really regret leaving behind my yoga community. My friends and I had been practicing together for years under the guidance of one teacher. Some of us became teachers ourselves during that time. We attended one another’s classes, supporting, assisting, and sometimes filling out the room when not a lot of other people were laying down their mats. There was occasional outside socializing, but mostly we saw one another at the studio. It wasn’t a party crowd, but we had a lot of laughs anyway. I sure missed them when I moved.


Now I’m back in Los Angeles for a bit to attend a family reunion, but I’ve been able to attend another, much more informal affair, a yoga reunion of sorts. As I write this, I’ve been back to see my teacher Patty twice in the last five days. It’s been great to study with her, of course. Her sequences and adjustments are as intricate and challenging as ever. After the first practice, I had trouble standing up out of chairs for two days because my hip flexors were so sore. But much more importantly, I got to see some of my yoga friends. We laughed at the usual jokes, helped one another out where we could, chatted for a few minutes, and then we went about our yoga lives, just like the old days.

The New York Times ran a sad piece a few weeks ago about how hard it is to make real friends as an adult, but that actually runs counter to my experience, largely thanks to yoga. I’ve made many permanent friends in the eight years I’ve been practicing, at teacher trainings, retreats, and just hanging out at the studio. These aren’t “situational friends,” either, but people with whom I can have deep discussions, if the need for such a thing actually ever manifests. Adulthood places limitations on your social life, but yoga can remove them.

Yoga culture contains a lot of phony elements, and a fair number of phony-seeming people. Just because a person practices doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to become your friend. But at its core, yoga is supposed to help you see reality as it truly is, joyous and impermanent. If you’re sharing that knowledge and feeling with other people, it makes friendship, if not inevitable, then at least a lot more possible. Even if I stopped doing asana or meditating tomorrow—which I won’t, because I’d go nuts shortly thereafter—yoga would have already paid me back a million times in fellowship.

As I type this, I finished a yoga class with my teacher (and friend) Patty an hour ago. After class, I was sitting in my car, noodling with my phone. Zoe, who’d been just in front of me in class, approached to say hello. She’d babysat my dog and my kid when we’d lived in L.A., and had been a reliable friend to both my wife and me. We’d known each other pretty well. But I was in the mood for more than just a two-minute chat.

“You wanna go get some pizza?” I said.

“Sure!” she said.

Some yoga people have busy schedules, but lots of them don’t, particularly in California, where half the people seem to not have a job. Besides, yoga friends are always up for anything, except for possibly excessive martini consumption. They also know that once you get off the mat, that’s when the real yoga starts. Zoe and I talked and laughed and ate pizza for almost an hour before I had to head off on my next mission.

It’s been a great yoga reunion. I look forward to more in the week to come, and beyond. Yoga friends, despite what The New York Times might say, are for life.