Finding somewhere to practice yoga that feels safe and welcoming can be difficult. We often don’t even realize that what we are looking for is a practice community to belong to. When we do find that place, teacher or group of people that makes us smile, that keeps us coming back and leaves us feeling good, we’ve found something special to nurture and care for. But how do we find that?
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer us a set of guiding principles, the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which can help transform our interactions with those in our practice community into nurturing, loving exchanges, without needing to be fake or flowery. By understanding and allowing the Yamas to guide our actions and inform our relationships, we can authentically contribute to the well-being of our practice community.
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Social interaction is the arguably the best environment in which to ascertain how effective the fundamental practices of yoga are. Nicholai Bachman, in his book The Path of the Yoga Sutras, says that the way we treat other living creatures, including other humans, is a testament to our inner state. More than any of the other eight limbs, the Yamas (our social ethics) can be practiced seamlessly in our daily lives.
Ahimsa – The practice of non-violence is the most basic and fundamental principle to be observed within a practice community. Respect your fellow yogis; be compassionate and loving in thought, word and deed.
Satya – Truthfulness, honesty, integrity and authenticity are essential to a deep practice of yoga and to a strong practice community. You have to be able to trust those on whom you rely for support. This means you need to know who you are and what you can offer. Without the risk of overextending or overcommitting yourself, be honest in saying what you can and can’t do for those you love.
Asteya – A practice community is a common good, something that cannot exist without contributions from those within it. Make sure you are contributing to your practice community and not just taking what you need from the people around you. Giving something back to your practice community can be as simple as a warm, genuine smile. Be loving and respectful. Cultivate gratitude and humility.
Brahmacharya – Take responsibility for the energy you bring into the space you share with others and the way you use it. Pour the energy of frustration into your asana practice rather than flirting with the teacher; direct the energy of anger into your breath rather than being rude to those around you.
Aparigraha – Sometimes when we want to belong to a particular group we feel that we need to have a certain type of yoga mat for example, or a certain brand of clothing or even a particular style of practice. Ask yourself if this is what you really want to share with your practice community? Nurture your own freedom of expression and encourage it in those around you.
One of my favorite teachers, Leslie Kaminoff, said to me recently “There is something very powerful about being surrounded by people who will not judge you for whatever you are feeling or expressing in the moment.” Are you surrounded by people like that? Do you provide that kind of friendship for others?