by Liza Bertini, Co-Founder of The Thread
People are drawn to the practice of yoga for a wide variety of reasons – all of which are related to feeling “better” in some way. Most are most familiar with the physical practice, unaware that the postures are just one door into a deeper practice with many layers. When someone develops a consistent practice, it is hard to just roll up your mat and put yoga away. Yoga becomes a way of living and being in the world.
Yoga involves being in the inquiry of life and asking the big questions. It’s not easy, and I’m not referring to the physical practice. Yoga helps one to participate in life more fully by becoming present with what is and how they are showing up in the world. In my 20 years of teaching, I have seen a common theme that most are drawn to the practice when they have had an experience that has awakened them from the trance of their everyday life, whether it be an illness, a heartbreaking loss, a disappointment, or a significant change.
My yoga teacher training was filled with people just like this, including myself. We were all on the edge of a new chapter in life or were dealing with a difficult situation. It was only seven months after September 11, 2001, and many people were still grieving devastating losses of family and friends. Others were going through a divorce, taking care of a sick child, or embarking on a new career. Many, like me, were desperately seeking a way to make sense of life. Yoga gave us tools and the community lifted us all up and gave us the support we needed to navigate that challenging time.
The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’.
Yoga is connection and unity. The term yoga sangha refers to a community of yoga practitioners. In Buddhism, sangha is considered one of the three forms of refuge for a spiritual seeker, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. A sangha helps to deepen the learning process, inspires people to stay on the path, and provides support for the practice. I think of community as, more simply, a group of people who are interested in being in the same conversation and have similar interests, values, or goals. And a powerful community is one where people come with a curiosity about other perspectives and allow everyone to show up authentically. This is what I love about the community of yoga, I feel comfortable showing up exactly who I am and am welcomed with compassion.
Yoga and community cannot be separated. Even though yoga may be considered a personal practice, whether you are practicing alone or at a conference with hundreds, you are part of an international network of like-minded beings, whose connection is rooted in ancient wisdom which transcends imagined boundaries of any discrimination. This is one of the many incredible things about yoga; that something so personal can unite so many people.
Community is needed now more than ever.
In the wake of a global pandemic, increased isolation, national discourse, and worldly unrest, supportive communities are needed more than ever. The desire to connect with others is a fundamental part of the human experience. Research shows that humans have an instinctual need to belong and developing strong social relationships improve the quality of our lives, both physically and emotionally. Relationships provide a sense of identity and security.
A 2020 study of college students found a positive link between a sense of belonging and greater happiness and overall well-being, as well as an overall reduction in mental health issues including anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness, and social anxiety. Separate research related to groups at work found when people felt a great level of interconnection with their colleagues, they performed better and the desire for acceptance from the group was a greater motivator than money. People have a clear need to identify with a group and be accepted as vital members of a community.
Community is clearly as nourishing for body and mind as yoga is itself. Just think about how powerful a yoga community can be! My friend and fellow teacher, Danny Arguetty writes that “by opening to our own inner light in tandem with others who are doing the same, we generate a potent wake that can have a tremendous influence on the world around us.” Through yoga, we learn tools to be more conscious, present, and compassionate with ourselves as well as more mindful in our interactions with others.
As yoga teachers, our impact can–one student at a time, change the world.
Community is the key to growing a yoga business.
When you create a sense of belonging with your students, they will keep coming back. They will develop a connection not only with you, but with other students and with the larger experience of being part of your vibrant yoga community, or sangha.
Here are 5 Ways to Build a Powerful Community:
1. Meet Students Where They Are At
Your ability to hold space for others and make sure they feel seen, heard, and valued is the key to growing a powerful community. Creating a container for your classes where everyone feels welcome and attended to is important for people to feel a sense of belonging and safety. Learning the names, goals, and challenges of your students is essential. In each class make a point to introduce yourself to each new student in your class. Ask them about their practice and if there is anything you should know. Give them individual attention as much as possible—refer to them by name, be encouraging, and learn more about them. This personal attention goes a long way.
2. Create Opportunities for Engagement
To build vibrant community members need to be engaged. Create opportunities for sharing and connection among your students. Remember that each person brings their own wisdom and experience to the group, and it is a space where everyone can learn and grow together. In class take the first few moments to ask students to turn to a neighbor and say hi, introduce themselves, and share for a few minutes. Source class ideas from students by inquiring about what types of themes or postures they would like to learn more about. Plan community events or get-togethers for the group outside the classroom. Start a book club where each member gets to choose a book to read or anything that you feel would be of interest to your group.
In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt calls this “vital engagement,” a web of relationships and a sense of community in which one feels connected with the activity and tradition of the group.
3. Teach Beyond the Mat
Stay connected with your students outside the classroom. Digital mediums are a great way to do this! Think about social media, your website, blogs, and newsletters as avenues to build connection with your community as well as an opportunity to inspire and share your teachings. Don’t just think of these as ways to promote yourself but perfect opportunities to strengthen your relationship with your sangha.
4. Show Gratitude to your Community
Always let your students know how thankful you are that they have shown up, and when your classes are small, focus on those that did come, not those who didn’t. Be truly grateful for each student that shows up to each of your classes and they will sense that from you. Celebrate birthdays, learn about their wins, and show each one you care.
5. Be Consistent
To grow your community, it is important to be consistent in your efforts. Each week you should make conscious action to connect with your students in a way that will make them know that you care and are there for them. Delight and surprise them!
Yoga is being in community, fostering community, sharing with community, educating community, supporting community, and most of all – lifting each other up in community. As a yoga teacher you are in a unique position to help your students have what we, as humans, all need, community. And as a result, you can have a huge impact on the world.