Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sangha: Creating a Yoga Community

"Vasudeva Khatumbhakam" translated as The Whole World is One Family.  Swami Kripalu

In the place you live, there is a yoga studio close by. This studio is filled with yoga teachers who hold a space with love, patience, and persistence. They show up to their class ready to teach, to breathe, to feel, to share, to watch, and allow you an opportunity to let go of whatever is not serving you. As a woman, I perceive my work and life experience as stepping stones to a path that led me here. I chose yoga.

If you choose yoga and stay with it, the practice has the potential to uplift, strengthen, and transform your body and mind. Finding the right teacher to lead and guide you in a neutral, safe, calm, and supportive environment is important. Recognize that each teacher has different gifts that are waiting to be received. When you find yourself practicing yoga led by a teacher who can gently shine a light into the darkness, you become a precious gem with a translucent quality, radiating from the inside out.

Every teacher is a student. Every student is a teacher. Every person has a story, an inspiration that led them to the point at which they are. The path you choose will ultimately unfold your way of thinking.

Being a part of a yoga community filled with diverse, knowledgeable teachers that offer various classes in different schools of thought is a strong resource. As a teacher and a student there is constant learning. Open yourself to an experience in a gentle, non-judgmental, honest space, and meet yourself where you are. Today is not yesterday or the day before, what is happening now will not be what happens tomorrow. Most of us are going through similar motions to get through our day with a smile and keep our heads above water. Share your life with others, and you will find a friend, a kindred spirit, a family.

My yoga practice offers more than just 90 minutes of exercise, it is a way of life. It allows for an opportunity to be in the present moment and take a conscious effort to stay there, even after the mat is rolled up and put away. To share freedom of movement, a calm silence and peace of mind with others creates a universal connection that transforms. This quality of interconnectedness reminds us that we can learn from those around us, drawing from their experiences and knowledge. We are all one, living, breathing being reaching toward a common goal.  Rise up, reach for your happiness. Connect with others in similar situations, and know you are not alone.

As I climb the stairs to the yoga studio where I teach and practice, I am filled with gratitude. This small studio has opened her arms to me, created a place of refuge, wrapped me in love and support, and handed me a plate full of gifts in the form of a family. My Sangha, is a community of people who practice mindfulness, respect, and approachability. I have shared the essential elements of life with these people; conversation, meals, support, child care, tears of sadness, tears of joy, births, and grievances. These interactions assist me along my journey in a life of integrity, truth, and dignity.

Laying out my yoga mat, I remember all the people who support me in my efforts to find inner calm. The benefits of my practice extend outward, in my actions and reactions to family and friends.  My mind is able to focus, and I feel I have been given time and space to just be.  This is my life in balance.

While I sit and connect to breath, I notice individual thoughts arise, scatter, and melt away.  The gentle offerings and guidance conveyed by the soothing voice of my teacher, remind me that I am not alone in the struggles of life. There is inspiration in the beauty of a pose, strength, balance and focus to achieve and strive towards. There is a receptive quality in yoga, a quiet grace in shared moments of stillness, to feel and see all that is around us. Beside me, others are stretching out their worries and responsibilities, easing their way into coordinating movement and breath.  I know they have the pressures and stress of life, as well as family and friends that require attention and care, just like me.

We all need food, water, warmth, love and support around us to survive.  When there is an abnormal level of imbalance, then life spins out of control. Yoga is a conscious effort of mindful prevention, resistance to reaction, and purposeful intention. The practice of yoga can be challenging. You must have no expectations, anything you are holding onto, will hold you back.

Most look outward to find happiness, rather than inward. Relying on an external source to give us freedom from stress, worry, grief, loneliness, or sadness is only temporary.  Sooner or later, the issues arise and need to be dealt with.  Yoga gives you the power to open a door to the unknown, lifting up a window to breathe in the cool, fresh air. If you have found yoga in a studio that you keep coming back to, you have found a home.

"We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness." 
Thich Nhat Hanh

Lying on my back, with the weight of my body sinking down into the earth, I relax my muscles and awaken my mind to the breath.  The first jewel of yoga is inner wakefulness and insight, an awakened mind is known as the Buddha.  Inhale followed by exhale, thoughts move in and thoughts move out. Softly and slowly, the awakened mind arouses the physical body to move, transition and pause.  The second jewel of yoga, known as the Dharma, is reflecting and receiving the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of your practice. With eyes closed, hands press together toward an open heart, a humble bow is exchanged to the self and to others. A light has brightened and awareness of darkness has lifted. The lightness and the darkness exist in equal parts, shifting and flowing through life. The third jewel of yoga, known as the Sangha, is a sacred space that holds a sense of belonging, growth, and discovery. It is the universal connection of life, sharing, supporting, and trusting ourselves and one another.  Knowing we are all finding our path under the great big sky.

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