By Gopala Amir Yaffe
Anyone who has taken more then just a few yoga classes knows that yoga is more than just physical exercise. It's a way of seeing and experiencing the world around us. Yoga is a physical as well as mental exercise, which helps us realise that we and the world are interconnected.
We come to this world through our families. We are nourished by them as we grow and learn. Later, we create our own families and support the social circles that sustained our development. We receive and we give, we interact and we grow together. It's all yoga.
In a way, there are two kinds of yoga: Yoga Mat Yoga, which is your practice in class, and Living Yoga, which is the attitude, peace of mind, the balance and the excitement about life that accompany you through your day when the yoga class ends.
There is a new kind of yoga though, a yoga that combines the two yogas into one. It’s a more social yoga, a yoga that we do together and that gives us tools to enrich every aspect of our family life and our social existence. I call it Community Yoga.
Community Yoga is simply finding new ways to do yoga together. Not by yourself and not just for yourself, but together. Practicing together for the purpose of becoming closer, of binding and reconnecting with each other.
In a world where thriving communities are less and less common, and where people can feel isolated, it is more important than ever to focus on finding new ways of bringing us together.
We are all unique as individuals, but we cannot claim to be able to survive and thrive completely independently. A close look on our lives will reveal how interdependent we are and how a strong and healthy society can contribute to the growth of every individual.
Of course, society is made of individuals, and the healthier one individual is, the healthier the whole society is. If someone is unhappy, it affects everyone. And if one of us is joyful, it uplifts all of us. We affect each other constantly.
If we take yoga as a representation of our society, we will see that in the last 50 or 60 years, most yoga practice was based on the individual. Practitioners have been wholly focused on themselves, whether physically, mentally or spiritually, practicing on their own yoga mats.
The new paradigm of yoga – doing yoga together, whether it is with your baby, your child, your friend, your partner or people you never met before – has incredible benefits:
It deepens our connection to others
It builds trust and compassion
It enables us to stretch further than usual
And balance in ways we couldn’t by ourselves
It teaches us to move with more awareness, realising that our movements affect others
It provides constant feedback to our actions by communicating with our partner as well as by experiencing how it feels when they stretch us
It enhances communication skills using words, facial expressions, touch, eye gazing and breath
It helps us to explore safe and loving touch
And it’s so much more FUN!
Working in partners and groups is a major part of Community Yoga, whether it is done with kids or adults. By working with other people we learn a lot about ourselves and develop important social skills. We learn how to touch, how to be gentle and kind, we learn acceptance and compassion, how to be respectful and trusting, and how to connect, communicate, and cooperate. It’s a great opportunity to open the heart and overcome past conflicts as well as create new friendships.
In a Community Yoga class, we usually organise the yoga mats in a circle. In a circle, each person is able to see everyone and to be seen by all. The circle makes our practice communal. While in the old yoga each person practices by herself, Community Yoga is a shared experienced that is being constantly created by all participants. There is no first and second when we sit like that – it’s a circle. We are all equal participants that came to be together and to support each other.
If you take a Community Yoga class, you’ll feel the difference. People do not stay on their own yoga mat – they smile and laugh and communicate throughout the class. They don’t rush to leave for their next activity; they savor the new friendships they have created, the new community they have become part of in the last hour or two.
The secret of Community Yoga, its power to bring people together, lies in one simple and most ancient element: touch. In a Community Yoga class, we hug, support, lift, do poses together, hold hands, massage each other, mess each other’s hair, etc.
Touch is magic! Touch is the first and most ancient form of communication. We need touch like we need food and water. Babies that are deprived of touch will die as was proven by experiments done in orphanages (www.benbenjamin.com/pdfs/Issue2.pdf), and kids and adults who are not touched enough can develop many psychological and social problems. Touch connects people and brings them closer together more than anything else.
Life is just not as fun when you’re on your own… and it’s the same in yoga!
So let’s create more Community Yoga around us. You can get started on this path by joining one of our intensive community yoga training courses: Sun Moon Partner Yoga Teacher Training and Rainbow Kids Yoga Teacher Training are both taking place in September 2012.