Where do we go from here? If, as beautifully articulated by Donna Farhi, the purpose of the practice is to “bring together rather than pull apart”, then how do we ensure that our yoga spaces augment a community, encourage support for one another, and foster relationships with others and ourselves which are meaningful and nurturing as opposed to judgemental and demeaning?
Are our classes accessible for everyone? Are they welcoming? In the essence of practising satya, too often I have entered a class and not been greeted or acknowledged. I have experienced a time, huddled over my belongings, trying to quickly undress whilst discussions about wearing XS clothing sizes go on around me. Do these spaces allow time for stillness and self-reflection? Countless times after laying my mat down preceding a class have I then had to listen to loud voices shouting from one side of the room to another in the kind of room that I used to recognise as one of the only places I could find quiet and time out from my very busy mind.
And are we really, truly expressing compassion towards each other and practising ahimsa? Whilst a lot of content shown on social media suggests that we are, it is these false ideals and claims which often suggest that an unrealistic lifestyle must accompany the fact that you like to move your body. I am still unsure as to whether pushing ourselves to our plank limit in forty degree heat whilst gazing into a mirror to see who else in the room is doing/not doing the same is really an embodiment of self-care and respect towards ourselves.
This is by no means a criticism of various forms of yoga. After all, whatever brings a person to the mat is the yoga and there are some wonderfully transformative things happening in these spaces too. Any discipline which allows us, even for five minutes, to connect more to our body and our breath will be so much more valuable for our health and our well-being as well as to our world than if we were to not do so. However, perhaps it is difficult once immersed and adept in the “yoga world” to remember or imagine how it feels to be otherwise. To know what it is like when your body shape or skin colour is not the same as everyone else in the room, when your doctor recommended yoga to help with your back pain but you have no prior experience of exercise or movement, or when you are anxious and lonely and seeking some form of connection.
It is impossible for yoga to be everything for everyone and if teachers and studios placed themselves on some kind of pedestal for having all of the answers and solutions, then we would be in a very problematic situation. Ultimately, all of these aspects should not even have to be linked to the practice of yoga, but if we are supposedly knowledgeable about all the facets of this philosophy, then we should be a reasonably good role-model. If we made more eye-contact, if we created and held space for people to communicate, and if we really listened instead of thinking ahead to our own story or our own example, then the world would be a better place already. It is only when we quiet the mind that we can begin to listen and our yoga spaces are an influential place to encourage this.
Let’s stop trying to profit from only a certain class of people or suggest that yoga is a solution to weight loss or will heal us from all of our troubles indefinitely. Instead, let’s create spaces where there is true community, real connection and whereby people can use their yoga to come together in something which we all share in common – our breath.
Yoga brings us back to something so much more than our ego, our sense of ‘I’, our attachment to objects, negative emotions and the feeling that we must look a certain way in order to have succeeded, but we can only get there if we are still, supported and strengthened by others.
Namaste – I honour what is in you that is also in me 💜
© Hannah Laura Lee