I love yoga. I’ve been practicing since 1996 and teaching since 2001. Over this time, I’ve come across every type of yogi. Every time I meet someone new, we seem to ask each other: What type of yoga do you do? Where do you do it? Where were you trained? With whom? Funny, since yoga is a tradition that constantly speaks to us about inclusion.
Finding a yoga sangha — or tribe, or kula, or community, whichever word you prefer — can help to combat the exclusive vibe some yogis can emit. Our sangha can support our practice, hold us accountable, and create a space for shared dedication on the mat and beyond. It can be the mirror that helps us see when we stray from our intention. The sangha helps us stay on the path, find the center of it, and find our way back when we drift off course.
Though the individuals within a sangha may come from very different life experiences, coming together despite those difference helps break down the divisions that separate us. Finding such a crew isn’t always easy. But if we show up, let down the boundaries that hold us apart, and go beyond our tendency to classify and divide one another, we might find our crew was there all along.
So, how do you find your tribe? Here are a few things you can try.
1. Talk to people.
From early on, our culture teaches us to make quick judgments about who someone is, based on how they look. We automatically categorize people into “like me” or “not like me” based on appearance. But when we start talking to people who are “not like me,” we often find out that we share hopes and fears with them, or that for each of us, an intense life event was the catalyst for stepping into yoga. These deeper similarities aren’t visible on the outside, but they indicate a kindred spirit.
2. Connect with your classmates on a deeper level.
Since life events — breakups, career changes, relocation — are often behind that first step into a yoga class or a commitment to all the dimensions of yoga, practice spaces can be great places to find your sangha. So don't stop with a casual hello; actually take the time to get to know the people in your yoga community. Learn what brought them to the practice and what they're passionate about. Sharing experiences with your sangha will enrich your life.
3. Cultivate curiosity.
Rather than a penetrating need to know, have openness to hearing people's stories, their experiences of the practice, and what brought them there.
So often, we listen for when it is our turn to speak — the whole time someone is sharing, we’re thinking about what we’ll say when our turn comes. Instead, let your entire self be present when you’re listening. If someone is sharing with you, they’re entrusting you with their story. It’s amazing what unfolds when we honor that trust with true presence.
5. Find your own willingness to share.
Many of us keep our deepest fears and self-judgments well hidden. What would it be like to soften our guard a bit? Sharing such secrets may not always require words — just a tender openness and vulnerability.
6. Use discernment.
While judgments about superficial differences can separate us, there is still a place for discernment when we share our stories. Share with people who feel trustworthy, authentic, and genuinely interested.
7. Be trustworthy.
If someone shares a story with you, remember that it doesn’t become yours to share with another friend. Likewise, when you start to build a community, conflicts will arise at some point. Encourage directness among friends. It’s OK to sort out feelings about someone by talking them through with someone else, but eventually, the principals in a conflict need to talk to each other.
8. Look inward.
Yoga gives us the chance to look at our own habits and patterns, to notice the ways we can react — how we connect to others, or limit our connections to protect ourselves. Do whatever it is that lets you connect with your own self, your feelings, and your thoughts. Explore the yamas (ethical rules within Hinduism and yoga) and niyamas (positive duties); meditate or journal.
9. Go places.
Ninety-minute classes are all well and good, but retreats, immersions, and trainings offer far greater depth. The community cultivated in a five- or ten-day immersion is often strong enough to override the walls we’ve built up and the assumptions we unconsciously project. The bonds built on such trips sustain a community and give it strength.
10. Maintain connections.
Technology can divide us if we get absorbed in our devices. But it also offers unparalleled opportunities to stay connected with the folks we meet from around the world. Drop them notes and hellos; tell them what your time together meant to you. These little things enrich all of us.
Photo Credit: BrakeThrough Media for mindbodygreen