Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Community of Yoga

I got my next My Yoga Mentor assignment: creating community in a yoga class. Most of the story ideas I've pitched to them, so it was nice to be offered a subject. But, what a subject. I agreed, of course, but thought--I'm not sure what there is to be said about this: post some flyers? put a book store in the studio? sell tee shirts?

However, the more I think about the subject, the more intrigued I am. How do we humans create communities around anything...similar tastes, experiences, backgrounds? And what is a community you have to be physically present? Wikipedia suggests community originally implied "a group of interacting people living in a common location," but the definition has now expanded to simply describe "individuals who share characteristics." Pretty broad. So it's interesting to think of yoga as something to build community around; partially because it's such an individual, internal practice, but also because it seems like something you should do rather than talk about.

And yet, create communities we do. Maybe because the classroom is automatically a group experience; or maybe the intensity of the internal experience is such that we want to externalize it to make it more understandable. Or maybe we just love yoga so much, we want to share. To me, that's what the online community is, certainly, since we aren't practicing in the same studio, or even the same country!

So, can you decide to "create" such a community, or does it just happen? I guess if you're off in an ashram somewhere, you're keeping your experience pretty private, but--judging by the online traffic and yoga classes all over the place--yogis want to keep in touch and discuss.

I'm collecting interview subjects and can't wait to hear what they say...I'll let you know. In the meantime, my dear online community, what do y'all think...


Linda-Sama said...

I will be honest and say that the phrase "yoga community" leaves me cold. frigid, in fact.

I was let down by all the teachers (except for one) at a studio where I taught where the owner was an alcoholic. she would walk into my workshops and classes drunk. I confronted her about it and quit. not one teacher supported me (except for one), in fact, they all enable her and continue to do so. my friend who supported me also quit, because neither one of us could teach at a studio where the owner talked the talk, but did not walk the walk.

the owner made a big deal about how we're a "yoga community", yet (come to find out) she would tell each teacher what they wanted to hear, which is a typical alcoholic talking. she lied and was totally disingenuous about everything.

so in my opinion, "yoga community" can not be "forced." frankly, when I hear the words "yoga community", I run the other way, as fast as I can.

Brenda P. said...

Good point. Just calling a practice yoga and calling a group a community does not a yoga community make. It's just naming. I'm sure this kind of thing happens all the time as would-be studio owners get a gleam in their eye about all the money to be made "enlightening" people (and their wallets)...

Self-realization takes a lot more than cute tee shirts and fancy yoga mats.

Linda-Sama said...


actually I'd like to see an article in Yoga Mentor about how to deal with problematic studio owners...1. alcoholics; 2. owners who do not pay their teachers to sub classes (yes, that happens!); 3. how to deal with an owner who is also a stripper? and yes, I did know of a yoga studio owner who was also a stripper -- hey, at least she was flexible on the pole....;)

Kristin said...

But even with Linda's unfortunate experiece, I think there is definately a "yoga community" in many studios.

You see the teacher and the students each week, some for years and you get to know them. You look forward to seeing those people each week, hear about thier most recent adventures and when people move away, it's like a little grieving process. New people come in and add to the community, some people drift away, new freindships are made and when you pass someone in the store you stop to say high. Your town community has just been made a little smaller, a little more intimate, for that.

I just got back from a weekend workshop in the Twin Cities. The studio I attended has it's own little community. Hugs are exchanged, people catching up on news, and while I am not an immediate part of this, I am still part of the group - community - that has gathered to share in the learning process we call yoga.

So whether the label has good connotation or bad, we are part of that yoga community. *I* am part of a group of "individuals who share {a common} characteristic."

(But I have to add, I don't feel that I am necessarily a part of the greater Duluth yogic community - as yoga can be found through the gyms, community ed, in several other studios, etc, and perhaps, because I do not know these other people, I may not be a part of thier "community".

So a community could be a broad definition, and a narrow definition...depending...)

Anonymous said...

This is such an interesting topic, indeed. I agree with all the above posts, but tend to feel disheartened and ostracized most of the time when I walk into studios in my area. I feel an immediate sense of contradiction to the practice when I have to weave my way through "boutiques" of ridiculously priced yoga "gear" followed by sitting in a class where everyone is wearing $80 yoga pants and tops. There is no doubt that wearing "pretty" clothes plays a big part in whether people feel a part of that community or just feel like an outsider.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above posts, but I often feel ostracized just by not wearing designer yoga outfits at certain studios. I feel that you search for a community that fits your values and yogic pricipals within the bigger yoga community. You have to find where you fit!

Anonymous said...

I really sat and thought about this after I read this post. If it’s alright I would like to speak about it in my blog as well. This is a powerful and complicated subject. There are many communities within the yoga world and many views toward community. I did my training at Kripalu at that was definitely a community. The “Krip” is often referred to as the Mothership and many of my fellow teachers have chosen to live at Kripalu for a time. Others are lifelong residents raising families dedicated to the original ideas brought forth by Swami Kripalu. Kripalu started as an Ashram in Pennsylvania before moving to the Berkshires. It’s story is not without scandal and its no longer an ashram but many of the founding members still live in the Kripalu community dedicated to health and well being though yoga. Paramashansa Yogananda, a hindu yogi quite influential in bringing yoga to the western world was dedicated to developing communities through the world called brotherhood colonies. Personally I have a deep sense of community within my practice. I do see many beautiful people have a wonderfully fashionable practice, but I also see others walking the walk. They donate classes to homeless shelters, charge very little for classes or as one teacher in my community did for a time charged what you felt you could pay for the class. A courageous move which ultimately did not work. They Swap ideas, CD’s, books, blog, drag you to a class when you want to put your head under the pillow and show up to applaud you when you least expect it. I also feel as yoga is new to the western world we are seeing the beginning “norming, forming” stages of a group as it evolves and takes its unique form in the western world. This is a fascinating subject and I can’t wait to read more about it!

Brenda P. said...

Wow, some great food for thought. I'm gonna post on this again, as it's really made me think.

Miss S (Yoga, Dogs and Choc), please post as well. Obviously this is something we all want to discuss...

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting topic and I'm kind of surprised by the comments.

Because of where I teach (a gym) and the nature of classes (always different students, varying levels of skill)I consider the community in my classes to be what we make it for the hour or so that we're practicing together.

Teaching at a gym - which many teachers and students wouldn't consider to be "real" yoga - doesn't have any of the issues of designer yoga wear or feeling ostracized that other commenters have mentioned. Maybe because the class members are always different so no cliques really form? It's not that attendees don't take their yoga seriously - some do and some don't which is fine.

I use different types of music in class, encourage students to talk to me and other students after class, and every so often will give them a handout with a playlist of the music or a short practice.

During practice I encourage them to focus inward, but I also think it's important to step outside and share your energy with others in the room so I teach some poses as being inwardly expressive and some as outward.

I've never thought of doing those things expressly to build a "community" but in hindsight it's kind of worked out that way.

Melissa said...

What about sangha or satsang?...sanskrit for a community of truth seekers. I'm not sure how to create one, but once you find one, it's lovely. Good luck on your assignment!