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We often hear the term “yoga community” used by both teachers and students to describe any group of like-minded people who happen to come together in the same room to practice asana. We believe we’re like-minded because we share this space in which we move our bodies, but in a class of 50 yogis, there are 50 different reasons why each of us rolled out a mat that day. It’s rare that we ever share those reasons or the change we wish to evoke with our fellow yogis.
When I think back to so many classes that I’ve taken within my own yoga community, I truly can’t think of many times I’ve actually had the chance to commune with the people I practice near. I’ve often taken entire classes without ever speaking to another person in the room. And, to be fair, sometimes that’s the exact medicine that we need; it’s what we needed out of that class that day. But if that’s the way each of us practices every time we show up for class, it defeats the purpose of having a yoga community at all.
In order to build a true community of yogis, we must come together to practice more than asana. We must make an effort to know one another and grow from each other, not only to foster change in this tight-knit community, but also in the greater community that we live in, in our neighborhoods and cities. We must work to build a community that even people who have never taken a yoga class will notice. When a group of truly like-minded individuals, ones who know and care for each other, ones who can share the struggles and the joys of each other’s lives, come together for the purpose of change, something powerful happens. Something bigger and more profound than what happens when you practice alone. Just that little bit of effort to know and understand the person next to you marks the difference between merely practicing near each other and actually practicing together.
One of our favorite studio stops so far has been to the NOLA Yoga Loft in New Orleans. Not only did we get to take an amazing class in an incredible space, we were also invited to join a potluck-style dinner after class with the students and teachers. Together we took time to appreciate all of the effort and energy that went into creating the food that we ate. We took time to sit and connect and have a conversation with the people we were just on a mat next to. We shared a human experience together, and because of that simple opportunity, I know those students better than people I’ve practiced next to dozens of times at my home studio. Once you have a true yoga community, you can really start to explore the non-physical aspects of yoga as more than just an individual. In doing so, those 50 different reasons for making it to a yoga mat are each lifted by the rising tide of communal love, energy, respect, and passion.
Each time we make a studio stop, we brew Rishi Turmeric Ginger tea at the end of class. The engagement we get to have with the people with whom we have just practiced when we offer tea is incredible. With the simple but powerful act of offering a cup of tea to a stranger, a community is built. People don’t rush off. People linger, they meet us, they meet each other for the first time, they ask questions, they commune.
As teachers and studio owners, we have a responsibility to offer not just a safe, healthy place in which students can practice, but also an environment in which opportunities are created to practice yoga off the mat together, as a collective. In doing so we can help shift the idea of yoga from just a form of exercise to something bigger and better understood. It’s up to us to show the profound changes that yoga can bring to more than just our bodies.