Each of us is on a spiritual journey that is unique and personal.
As yogis and yoginis, we know that each time we practice, we need to go within and make the practice our own. To support this, our teachers often remind us that it’s our practice—that we shouldn’t be concerned with what’s going on around us or whether we’re doing poses “correctly” (unless we’re in an Iyengar-style class, that is).
But while yoga is a personal practice, one of the greatest joys and sweetest fruits of the yoga life is community. We don’t always connect with the first students or teachers we encounter, but most of us who fall in love with yoga also fall in love with our yoga community.
If you haven’t found a yoga community that resonates with you yet, the first step is to decide what it is that you want from your practice and what it is that you don’t want. Then find a yoga studio, teacher, and classes that fit you best. Some of the questions to consider while you’re searching include:
1. Do you want a physically challenging class, or are you more interested in relaxation and stress relief?
2. Do you prefer a style like Iyengar or Anusara that focuses on alignment in which teachers are very precise in the way they guide you and how they want you to look in your poses. Or is a “go with the flow, it’s all good” approach that allows you to modify and go at your own pace more your style?
3. Do you want a teacher who talks a lot, perhaps one who is known for sharing teachings at the beginning of class, or would you rather jump right in and move?
4. Do you want to chant, do breathing exercises or meditate as part of your class experience?
5. Do you want to explore yoga’s roots, spirituality and philosophy? Would you like the opportunity to attend workshops and go on retreats in addition to your weekly classes?
6. What type of atmosphere would you like? Do you like low lights, candles, and incense? Do altars with statues of Hindu deities and yoga gurus enhance your practice, or do these things make you feel out of place? Is there a certain type of music you like, or would you prefer to practice with no music at all?
7. Do you want to attend classes at a studio that encourages interaction among students, or do you want to attend classes that structure the environment around silence and provide the opportunity for you to go within?
Ideally, of course, our yoga community extends beyond the hour or so we spend in class each week. One of the authors I’ve had the privilege to work with, Doron Hanoch, author of The Flexitarian Method, talks about the importance of collaborating with like-minded others as we travel the path of yoga and spiritual well-being. Doron tells us in his book, “Zen monasteries live on the concept of sangha—a group of like-minded people that become like a family in sharing their practices.”
This is an important concept. Our personal journeys are richer when shared with others.
In my own life and practice, I’ve noticed that the people whose company I enjoy the most are often those I meet at yoga classes. I welcome the opportunity to learn as much as I can about yoga philosophy and spirituality, and while I do like to move and flow, I also like a balanced class that helps me be present and manage stress. I like candles, but not (always) incense, and I’m fine with a variety of decor. My favorite teachers give short dharma talks and offer minimal adjustments, but they also know when to let students find their own way into and out of poses.
There are plenty of other opportunities to grow your “yoga network.” For example:
Join a yoga book club. If you like to read and talk about books, joining a yoga book club is a great way to meet new yogis or spend time with those you already know. Many studios have book clubs; if yours doesn’t, start one!
Go on a yoga retreat. Almost all of the studios I’ve been to offer retreats for students once or twice a year. These events are usually hosted by one of the studio’s teachers and held at a retreat center in another location. There are also retreat centers and ashrams that offer opportunities for outside groups to attend events together.
Become a yoga teacher. Remember the friends you made in school? Yoga teacher trainings are great opportunities to make lasting connections with other yogis and yoginis.
Don’t forget online communities. With social networking, live streaming, and online learning, opportunities to connect with like-minded yoga enthusiasts are unlimited. Check out LinkedIn or Facebook for groups that have a yoga theme, or attend a workshop through Kripalu Online, for example.
What about you? Where have you found opportunities to create community, and how does your yoga community make your personal practice richer?
Author: Maria Kuzmiak
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Tucker Sherman/Flickr