If you come over for tea, you’ll probably notice my mat laid out on the living room floor. When I’m motivated to make my apartment particularly tidy (which is rare), I roll it up and place it in a nearby corner—but never do I banish it to a closet or under a bed. I figure this way, I’ll practice more (like how I read more because there are books lying around. Or clean the toilet more because the brush is right next to it, right?).
But in reality, the only purpose my strategically-placed mat really serves, is a false portrayal to company that I’m centered and disciplined. It’s not that I don’t plan to practice on my own. Often, I’ll go to bed with the intention of waking up early to repeat sun salutations, or I’ll be at work and commit myself to a pre-dinner routine. But, unsurprisingly, my mat stays vacant and the snooze button gets pressed.
So, I’ve learned that getting to the studio will not only ensure I practice, it means I’ll practice for more than 3 minutes before being distracted by the 63 other things my mind tells me I “should” or “want” to be doing during that time.
I imagine some of you can relate, and others don’t need the yoga room to commit to independent practice. But no matter how immune you are to early mornings or YouTube cat videos, there’s one benefit of practicing in the studio setting that you can’t get at home: A sense of community.
Research consistently shows that people who report a strong sense of community are more likely to possess good physical and mental health.
How connected do you feel to your community? How many of your neighbours do you know? You might share a wall with them, and yet you don’t interact with them beyond a nod in the laundry room. When you walk down Broadway, how many people do you make eye contact with as you pass by? When you’re on the bus, what’s your reaction if the person next to you strikes up conversation?
As much as we don’t like to admit it, Vancouver isn’t known as a “friendly” city. Population density is actually correlated with perceived loneliness, meaning despite fleeting interactions with cashiers, bus drivers, and colleagues, many people experience a sense of isolation. Additionally, face-to-face (or even ear-to-ear) interactions are being replaced by automated services and other technologies, and what were once commonly shared loneliness-protectors and community-builders such as attending church or temple have become rare.
And so this sense of community is the unique gift given to us by practicing yoga as part of a group. Although we might have different motivations for attending class, together we work toward a similar goal. We share a mutual experience and physical space. We breathe, sweat, vinyasa, and meditate together.
Interestingly, the word “compassion” means “co-suffering” or “to suffer together.” That is not to say that yoga is suffering (unless it’s Cam’s Turbo-Dog sequence); rather, most of us experience some degree of suffering and distress as a part of life. When we’re in the yoga room, we can share a compassionate experience, whereupon we can safely breathe through that pain—as Buddha said, “Compassion embraces and shelters the distressed.” And what’s more, we smile at familiar faces. Yoga Advisors and teachers know us by name. We are a part of something. We belong.
So, when you’re having trouble convincing yourself that getting to the studio is worth the effort, think of more than just being held accountable or avoiding distractions. Think of the unparalleled benefits of being a part of the Semperviva community, and remember the experience of compassion: We’re all in this together.
Megan Bruneau (M.A, R.C.C.) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, former Yoga Advisor, and avid yoga practitioner. She draws upon her personal and professional experience to inspire people towards healthy balanced living. See more posts by Megan at http://www.oneshrinksperspective.com/.
The other day I was on the bus, and I witnessed an interaction between a man and a woman who obviously did not know each other. He struck up conversation, and she was receptive and engaging in response. I commented on how heartwarming it was to see, and the man informed me that his New Years' Resolution was to speak to 3 "strangers" a day. You're right--it's often defeating when you're always the one instigating the smile or the chit-chat, and it's never reciprocated or encouraged. But please don't stop! We need people like you, here. Whether it be culture, intimidation, skepticism, or a desire to keep to one's self, there will always be those people who reinforce the "unfriendly" stereotype. But there's also a good chance there are many others like you who wish people chatted or made eye-contact more often. Keep smiling and chatting! I know I appreciate it when people do :).
I understand your points on community only out-shadowed by the pervading technology driven isolation and the "unfriendly" nature of Vancouver that I have experienced first hand living here for the past 6 years. You would think that Yoga class would bring people together but sadly I have smiled and tried chatting with many people I just finished a mind-blowing yoga class with and have been met with their blank stares and a why-are-you-speaking-with-me reaction. Funny how you can teach someone to bend their body but bending their mouth in form of a smile to a stranger is a stretch indeed. Toronto is, by far, a friendlier city.