November 18, 2011

A Glimpse Of The Power of Community In Yoga – A Most Individual Practice.

When We Step Into A Group, We Immediately See How Much More We Can Achieve By Working In Tandem With Others.

All three of my children play strings in their school orchestras. Because their lessons and rehearsals happen during the school day, I rarely get to hear them play these instruments, but when I do happen to catch a few strains of one of them practicing up in their rooms, I’m always blown away. And I always stop to listen. You see, I never learned to play an instrument other than the piano and I have always been fascinated by the impossibly complicated act of moving a bow across strings to make music. It amazes me even more that it’s my children doing this wonderful thing that I just do not know how to do.

But the goose-bumps I get when listening to my children practice pale in comparison to the thrill of hearing their entire orchestra play. The swell of music from 70 or so instruments is breathtaking. While I admit to watching my children focus intently on their playing, I am so caught up in the music that I don’t even try to pick out the viola or cello or standing bass lines that I’ve heard at home. While those lines were lovely and moving coming from their rooms, they seem like shadows now. Simply put, the whole of the orchestra is profoundly greater than the sum of its individual parts.

In our society, we are taught from very young ages to see ourselves as individuals. We’re taught that we’re responsible for our own destinies. We’re encouraged to find and walk our own paths through life. Being part of a group like an orchestra is an important life lesson in the power of community for our young (and, even, our not so young) individualists. When we step into a group like an orchestra, we immediately see how very much more we can achieve when working in tandem with others. We see firsthand the power of participating in community.

Recognizing the power of community and seeking groups which could benefit from our gifts and talents does not need to take away at all from our vision of ourselves as special, capable, talented individuals. Nor does it, in any way, minimize the need to work with all our hearts to be the best individuals we can be. For it is when we bring our very best abilities to a group, and when the rest of the group does the same, that we see truly amazing results. (Amazing like the magic of a group of adolescent musicians causing goose-bumps on their parents’ arms in a middle school auditorium.)

Yoga can feel like a very individual activity. And, in most ways, it is. We work on our mats to strengthen and shape our bodies as we figure out how to get in and out of crazy positions. We work to regulate our breathing in our effort to begin to control the wanderings of our minds. We carefully study ourselves – outside and in – to learn more about how we handle life. While we may practice in a class, surrounded by other people, we are encouraged over and over again to keep our awareness on our own mat and on our own experience. Even in a group, yoga is, indeed, a very individual and inward-directed practice.

That said, I experience the power of community over and over again on my mat when I am receiving adjustments from my teachers. An adjustment, by the way, is when you are in a yoga posture and your teacher guides you deeper into it by touching you. No matter whether the physical adjustment is gentle or strong, if it is done well, the understanding of the posture that it yields is always powerful.

We do not have to be working in especially complicated or challenging postures to benefit from adjustments. In fact, adjustments are easier to receive when we’re comfortable and well-grounded in the stretch. For instance, my experience in the most basic of yoga postures, Child’s Pose (Balasana), shifts dramatically when my teacher assists me. It always feels good to sit back on my heels and fold over my bent legs, allowing my arms to rest at my sides and my shoulders to drop softly toward the floor. But it always feels fabulous when my teacher presses gently on my pelvis, rooting me more securely into the forward bend, while subtly lengthening my spine with the motion of her other hand. Given the choice, I would always choose to take Child’s Pose with my teacher’s help over being on my own. There is simply no comparison between the two experiences.

Together we achieve more. There is no doubt of that. But, I could not fully appreciate the adjustments that my teachers give me without the hard work of my individual practice. Without the work I do on my own to understand the postures, to find stability in them, to experience them over and over again, the gifts of the adjustments would be lost on me. I need to bring the experience, strength, flexibility and even talent that I’ve gained from the individual act of practicing to the classes I take with my teachers in order to fully receive the gifts of the work we do together. Our little community of two depends on both of us showing up with the best of our abilities. When we do, the most powerful teaching and learning happens.

So, whatever you do, work hard to do it well. Study, practice, reflect and then practice some more. Then, find a community where your gifts fit and share them. You will be nothing short of amazed at the results. Better yet, so will the rest of us lucky souls who have the chance to watch the magic happen. 

Become a fan of “Yoga Thoughts” on Facebook!

Read 2 Comments and Reply

Read 2 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Amy Nobles Dolan  |  Contribution: 9,100