Loneliness is an epidemic.
Human beings are tribal creatures. We are meant to live, work, and play in communal environments. For millions of years, we have thrived in integrated and cooperative atmospheres. There are seven billion of us on the face of the planet; each individualistic in our own right, but also dependent on one another. We need human contact and touch. We need the comfort of friendly faces and the sweetness that comes with hearing a familiar voice.
Our desire for human contact is not just preference, is a biological requirement. Through yoga, we can enrich the quality and quantity of human interaction, and research shows there’s more value in fellowship than meets the eye.
Researcher and Ted Talks speaker, Susan Pinker, reveals that the secret to living longer may be in our social lives. Studies show that above diet, exercise, heart health, and even exposure to infectious disease, social interaction supersedes all other factors. Our social interactions are the keys to our longevity.
Studies reveal that we need at least three close interpersonal relationships. That means we need three or more people who will pick us up from the side of the road when we run out of gas, three or more people who will loan us money if we need it, advice if we want it, and honesty (even when we’d rather not hear it). Three is the magic number here.
But, when it comes to community, humans need quantity. To bolster mental and physical health, we need copious amounts of engagement. Small interactions such as saying “hello” to the store attendant and mailman, holding the door for a stranger as we enter a building, running next to someone on a treadmill at the gym, and praying together in church have astounding cumulative effects. When we engage with other people, our neurotransmitters light up and a chemical cocktail of happy hormones floods our system. Through healthy social interaction, we can boost our energy, moods, immune system, and ability to heal.
As it turns out, being social might be one of the best ways preventative medicines.
So what does this all have to do with yoga?
Yoga takes place on a two by six-foot mat. Participants don’t talk, wave, hug, or offer high fives during practice. The practice requests that we turn inside—that we pay attention to our breath, our movements, and our thoughts. It seems like the practice of yoga is a solitary activity in which we connect deeply to ourselves rather than to each other. What gives?
While the practice of yoga can be introspective, practicing with other yogis offers us its own host of benefits:
1. When we breathe together and hear one another’s breaths, we release oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone of connection; often called the, “love hormone.” Oxytocin is a hormone known to induce happiness and states of bliss. A room filled with breath is no longer just a room, it is an incubator of joy.
2. When we move and sweat together, we illuminate the limbic system in our brain. The limbic system is the emotional center of our brain. This area is responsible for emotions, behavior, motivation, learning, and memory. While exercising or practicing yoga alone is healthy, doing it in a group gives us the added benefit of heighten brain functions we wouldn’t access if not for one another.
3. The energetic architecture of a yoga studio provides us with ample opportunity to connect. Yogis tend to press pause on the hustle and bustle of the outside world when we walk into a studio; the very tone within the environment encourages us to slow down and connect. We may offer a warm greeting to person next to us, receive a gentle adjustment in a pose, or share a round of om. The sound of om is described as the primordial sound of the universe. When we om together, we join collectively on the level of a shared vibration.
While I’ve attributed my happiness and health to yoga for many years now, it wasn’t until recently that I realized it was not just a series of breathing exercises, movements, and meditations that sparked joy within me. The general sense of ease and well-being I gained from my practice wasn’t entirely from “my practice” at all. It was from the aggregate effects of the people around me.
While we can all practice at home in accordance to our own guidance or an instruction video, the real beauty of the practice blossoms when it it shared.
Author: Kristen Schneider
Image: Wikipedia Commons
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton