Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Musings on community

I am sitting on the front porch of the lovely Daily Grind Cafe in Santa Barbara enjoying some breakfast before we head back home to Austin, TX. I had a short teaching gig in Santa Barbara followed by a few days of camping on the beach in Carpenteria. Kelly and I have been trying to make some time for some fun and play- thus the camping trip in the Rockies and now along the beach in California.  Now that he is out of school he has a bit more time for these kind of adventures! We had an amazing few days of rest, hiking and sleeping to the sound of the ocean. It was really great.

The Master Class in Santa Barbara was fun. We had a nice turnout with a very mixed level group. I enjoyed a chance to teach the group, get to know some new folks and plant some seeds for Anusara Yoga there. The theme my host asked me to work with was community and so I did. I talked a lot about "coming into union" (coming into union- communion- community) with oneself and then from that coming into union with one another. I also talked a lot about how I am much more interested these days in facilitating yoga community in general  more than I am interested in working for "Anusara Community" specifically.

Now don't get me wrong, I love being with a bunch of people who love Anusara Yoga so I am not saying I am against "Anusara Yoga community." anyone who knows me knows that is not the case at all. However, I have seen a very unfortunate trend amongst our people over the last few years. Obviously, this is not in all cases and if what I am going to say doesn't apply to you, let it roll on by like water off a ducks back. I have noticed that people, in an attempt to create "Anusara community" are creating unnecessary division within the larger yoga community of which they are a part. For me, its not so much about whether or not we all like Anusara Yoga as much as it is coming together in the love we each have for yoga. My aim around community is to grow yoga community period. Within that overall aim, I know that Anusara community will fall into it's natural  place.

See the thing is that over the years I have talked to thousands of people about yoga and whether you like to practice  loops and spirals with a heart theme, 26 postures in the same order in a heated room, 5 surya A and 5 surya B, heated vinyasa, with music, without music, with or without props and so on, I have observed that what keeps people on the mat for over 5 years is more similar than it is different, more unifying than it is dividing. Without fail, long time practitioners  of all methods report a greater clarity, a greater compassion, a greater sense of self-love, a deeper desire to help others, etc. as a result of practicing yoga. And all this happens regardless of the method!

So years ago I signed up to teach Anusara Yoga and it is my primary practice but in so doing, I never felt like Anusara Yoga was the ONLY way to do yoga. I simply felt likely was  a very good way that I felt happy to represent, teach and be part of.  I still feel that way, in fact. I have never stopped learning (or wanting to learn) from great teachers in all methods and I have always enjoyed intelligent conversation and comparison about what each approach has to offer.

So the thing about  community is that it happens and it has many faces and each community is a little different in how it expresses itself. There is no one way to be in community that is "The Anusara Way" or anything like that. And as far as a little free teacher training goes I have some advice: When  I am cultivating community in my classes, or in  my studio,  I am not talking a lot about it. In fact, I never talk about it at all until I feel that it has already gelled in some way. I wait until I feel it happening to give voice to it, to point it out, to bring it to conscious awareness. A big mistake new Anusara teachers make is that they come home from a big Anusara community love fest- like a workshop with John, wanderlust, etc- where they were deep in the throes of community- and start talking about this great community with a group of  people who are not yet bonded with each other and it lands sounding false because the group doesn't have it yet and therefore the teacher is referring to their own experience, not the group experience. And without realizing it, an emperor's new clothes situation follows.

And also, community, is not about potlucks or about performances or anything like that. Community comes from the decision (and the ongoing follow-through) to genuinely care and invest in each other. You can have great potlucks and no community. You can have great community with no potlucks, etc. In my experience, community happens in an organic way that cannot be forced or hurried but must be tended to and is specific to each group. And I  think the biggest thing to help create community it is having projects and shared interests and endeavors. Community is not just me making a nice event for you to come to. Community is all of us making a nice event for all of us. It takes a village to have a village, it seems.

For instance, whenever I go home to Arizona  to visit the ashram, the first thing I do is make sure I am on the dish crew for the group meal. I know that if I roll up my sleeves with my sangha mates I am going to bond with them in a few moments and in a way that just sharing a cup of tea is never going to measure up to. I am closest to the people with whom  I have served on cook crews, work projects and so on, not just people with whom I  have conversations.

Anyway, I talked a lot about these things in my class and we had some nice learning, some great sharing and some wonderful openings in a short time.

The week before, as most of you know was a week of Immersion 3 with Noah and it gave me lots of food for thought as well, largely on the topic of expectations, but that is a story for another time as this post is long enough.

Have a good day!


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for coming to Santa Barbara! It was such a pleasure to have you!

Jennelah said...

Coming into union....I love it! Thanks for your musings, Christina. :)

Mado said...

Thank you for this post Christina. I am very much in agreement with your sentiment that we need to be inclusive in our community building.

Here in Asheville, we are blessed with a very vibrant yoga scene. I say "scene" rather than community because for many many years the yoga practitioners here have been less than unified. I'm not sure what the dynamic is, but several attempts to bring the larger yoga community together here have sputtered and so far have not fulfilled on the intention for unity and cohesiveness.

In the last several years our Anusara community on the other hand has grown and bonded. I believe this is due to strong leadership, intention, and effort by our local certified teachers. They have done a good job of being inclusive while still holding boundary when necessary. We are lucky enough to have people who teach various styles of yoga participate in our events. Yet there have also been times when a decision had to be made of who to invite to teach at specific events due to space and time constraints.

Perhaps in the future we will move away from naming our yoga styles and we will all just teach yoga again... Either way, community seems to coalesce around strong leadership. May those who lead do so with humility and sensitivity.

LisaE said...

loves "Hello Kitty" and is profoundly wise....I love you Christina. Thanks for taking me deeper and deeper.

Anonymous said...

Because every embodied individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the Science of Life organized their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; Yoga, which deals mainly with spirit; and yoga Therapy

TigerChild said...

Thank you for sharing this sensei! lol, I have been also thinking of this a lot, and have been really focussing on trying to bridge the gaps in our local community, sharing our joy and wisdom beyond the borders of my chosen method. It warms me to hear similair thoughts being reflected so eloquently by you! I look forward to chatting more in detail with you on such subjects when I see you next. Thank you for being so open with your journey. SO. MUCH. LOVE! Josie :)

Emily Whitecotton said...

Thank you for posting this. I practice at an Anusara studio and have attended one of your workshops there. I so appreciate your willingness to critically analyze the idea of community, especially Anusara's. I have noticed this as well. As an elementary school teacher, community is one of those words that has been abused and overused. Learning happens within community, so educators everywhere are trying to "build community" with games, songs, and external things that could be indicators of community (similar to potlucks...). These things often happen within community, but do not necessitate it.

Community does not happen without people engaging with one another. I love how you used the word "investment" for this. Naming it when you feel it makes so much sense. Thank you for being thoughtful and aware. Those two traits used with others may foster community more than any potluck, cup of tea, or simple conversation.