One of the most magical things about a consistent and dedicated yoga practice is that, at some point, it leads us to making changes in our social lives. We start to make subtle changes in where we go to eat or shop, who we spend time with and what we talk about. We become drawn to people and businesses who hold similar beliefs or, in some way, support our commitment to the yogic lifestyle. As a result of these shifts in my own life, I started to become aware of how my new choices were creating the world I now live in. But this is a process I struggled with at first.
A few years ago my husband pointed out to me that there are people who will come into my life who are not truly my friends. I resisted this idea for a long time. I wanted to see the best in people, to believe that all people had the capacity to be good and kind. I refused to believe that there were people in my life that would turn on me, leave me stranded, or not care about my needs or desires. Then I started to reflect on times I’d been hurt, let down or disappointed. I started looking for people who were genuine and true friends, those who were loving and supportive but who could also be honest and direct when the situation calls for it. This was the beginning of my practice community.
I began to allow my interests and instincts to lead me toward people with a similar worldview, and I began to teach my yoga classes with the view of being a good friend to my students. I aspire to be a teacher who is there for my students with honest, supportive feedback and love. At the same time, I want to teach my students how to be there for each other, not reliant on me as the teacher, but to contribute to the creation of a safe and supportive place, a place of liberation, for each person to come and experience each week.
You will recognize a true practice community within a yoga class or studio when you see it. The students will be regulars, the teacher will know people by name and welcome new people into the group, perhaps even introducing them. Students will know each other, and there will be a casual, lightness in their interactions. There will be a sense that they are there to share in something, like good friends around at table sharing a good meal. It will feel like there is something there to be a part of, and there will be a sense that the teacher can hold a space for all of this to grow and be nurtured.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses viveka, wise or keen discernment, saying that this is the sole means of overcoming ignorance and becoming aware of our true nature. Using viveka in our interactions with others will ensure you find, or build, a strong practice community to belong to and grow with.
How do you use viveka to support your practice? Is your teacher nurturing this kind of community?
This is a three-part series on the importance of a practice community. Read Part One here.