July 29, 2014

Where’s the Community in Yoga? ~ Karina Guthrie

yoga class group on mountain

I once stumbled upon an idea and the idea was this:

Until every yoga studio becomes a soup kitchen there’ll be no real community in yoga.

This idea lay at the heart of an essay on contemporary yoga. What does it mean?

Many a yoga studio laments the high turnover of its students. Three years is the point at which itchy feet tend to walk students to greener pastures. A home practice maybe, or another studio. Why?

Because true connection, connection that counts, connection that cuts to the core of my being and yours, connection that ties me to you and ties students to their studios, exists off the mat.

What is the point of all this breathing and moving if not to take that hitherto dormant sense of real connection from our mats into our worlds?

Our mats are safe places to practice the complementary arts of truthfulness, openness and trust but this process is for naught if it never bleeds into our lives. As studios it is our responsibility to show people how, by creating and modeling community, by holding a space where people belong. And of course they do. But have we told them?

More importantly, have we showed them, really showed them?

Here’s the thing, for those of us in the ‘business of yoga’ boundaries are important…and also elusive. Although we love our students at some point we want to go home to our families, our couches and our own imperfect lives. For those of us who cannot master the art of boundary setting burnout waits around the corner.

It’s all well and good to be generous of time and open of ear but the invitation for students to come closer surely encroaches on our already precious time and personal space. Right? Wrong.

Teaching yoga is unlike any other job. Where else would we be expected to escort people through pain, through transformation and through growth so viscerally?

We crack ourselves open every day so we can hold space for the emotion of others as it bubbles and boils to the surface (let’s face it, sometimes it erupts) there is an expectation that we have the answers. We can encourage them to lead calm and purpose-driven lives, but there is the added pressure of expectation that, for us, that the sun is always shining, the corners of our mouths always upturned.

In providing more space for students what happens to our own sh*t?!

Well, what if these stories, yours and theirs, could be the stuff of collective sharing? What, if through this kind of social experiment students had opportunity to hold a space for you?

Could you’r willingness to expose yourself be the stuff of shared learning, of true communion and let’s be honest, good business?

By allowing students to opt in we give them a stake in our own journey.

After all, this is what community is; an extended family circle where everyone is a beneficiary and if that’s the space we can hold for our students in our studios. Then long after yoga’s trajectory as the latest shooting star in a galaxy of fitness fads is extinguished, ours will be the ones still standing.

Some people are trying to get fit. Everyone is searching for connection. In this frenetic and disconnected world let’s provide space for this. Allow students to invest in your space and in your journey too. Longevity to those who do.


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photos: Zach Dischner at Flickr 

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Karina Guthrie