If you’ve ever attended a kirtan, or simply taken a yoga class, you’ll know that there is nothing quite like the magic that occurs within a yogic community. Patanjali, considered to be the founding father of yoga, said that, “Yoga is firstly for individual growth, but through the individual, society and community develop.”
The practice of yoga brings together a community organically. While each individual is on a personal journey—and people come to yoga from all sorts of predispositions, beliefs, and backgrounds—at our core, we are all made of the same matter. When we come together seeking growth of the self, we find a mirror in others. There is an unspoken sense of encouragement, and from this grows community.
Inspiration in Numbers
Patanjali explains this phenomenon:
“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
When yogis practice together, we inspire one another to flourish and thrive. The ego falls away for a moment, and this, of course, is a relief. You may find that they can do things you never expected you would. Through experience, we find that yoga is a practice in the same way that life is a practice. When we practice yoga, we are not simply coming face to face with ourselves in the context of the studio—we are working with the way that we experience every moment, every interaction, every emotion.
The physical benefits don’t hurt either. When you take care of your body, social interactions become easier. We are more open to give and receive, and helps us to resist the urge to close off. Yoga gives us effective coping methods as simple as returning to our breath in trying times. Regular breathing exercises, or pranayama practice, calms the mind and help us to be more attentive, and thus have better relationships both with others and with ourselves.
Why We Come Back
Why is it that we continue to return to the mat? And furthermore, why do we continually return to our community to practice, when yoga is an individual journey? Practicing yoga and mindfulness with other people is encouraging and exciting. We find a sense of bliss in the company of other like-minded people. We push each other to reach new limits and to break the barriers that are who we think we are. Ideas flourish, and love exudes unconditionally.
The new year is a time to set new intentions. Some see it as a concrete divide between the old and the new. But the truth is, we are ever-evolving, and continually setting intentions. Each time we come to the mat, we set an intention together, and hold one another accountable to uphold it. Begin this year knowing that whatever your intentions are, the capability is innate inside of you.
Ali Cramer began a class recently with a Chinese proverb that has really resonated with me. It goes “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” It is never too late to begin to make a change, no matter how long it will take to see any tangible results. Yogis are on a journey together, coming together from all walks of life to take the time to continually set intentions and cultivate growth. And it does take time. But that, after all, is what community is for.
Jillian Billard is a poet, yoga teacher, cellist and avid wanderer. A native New Yorker, she is often caught daydreaming of sprawling green fields and mountains. She trained and received her ashtanga yoga teacher’s certification in Goa, India and works at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in Brooklyn. You can often find her with her head buried in a book, doused in lavender. Follow her on her (very newly developed) Instagram page for class schedules and updates at @jillboyoga.