The Role of Community in Yoga: A Personal Journey

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September 12, 2013

Guest Post (woo-hoo) from Dominique Chatterjee

Yoga means a lot of things to a lot of different people, both traditionally and personally. But there’s one very powerful aspect that has helped yoga spread throughout first India and now the world: community. Every practitioner is a student of yoga, and for that, we all need teachers. Sure, we’re our own teachers, the experience itself is a teacher, and our injuries are our teachers, too. But we also learn from each other and, more importantly, inspire one another in our practice.

There is no better place for me to explore the idea of community in yoga than Daily Downward Dog because I consider Maria to be my very first yoga teacher. Maria and I first met online about two years ago when I was a brand new freelance editor and she needed a wordsmith. The universe was definitely looking out for me with that match-up because getting the chance to edit this amazing blog inarguably changed my life.

Before DDD, I was an at-home yoga practitioner, letting my anxiety keep me out of classes. I thought I could get as much as I needed out of yoga by practicing solo. From the time I was introduced to hatha yoga in physical therapy in 2008, I fell in and out of doing it at home, but I did not understand the sequencing of flows, let alone the different styles of yoga. I knew maybe 10 or 15 asanas! But that was enough for a while; it was all I was ready for. In spring of 2011, I started practicing yoga almost every day with iPod apps, got addicted to fast-moving vinyasa flows, and started to phase out my inflatable exercise ball routine. I saw that yoga was making me both stronger and more flexible than any other fitness method I’d tried. But by trying to teach myself difficult poses like chaturanga, I was doing myself a major disservice (hello, rotator cuff injury). By the time I joined the DDD team, I was on my way to becoming a practiced yogi – but all alone.

Reading about Maria’s personal journey as a yoga teacher helped me gain awareness of everything I was missing out on by not having a yoga community. Her blog posts and yogalicious stories started to fill the community role for me, inspiring me, teaching me to explore myself in practice, and helping me learn more about different asanas. Then the best thing ever happened: Maria came to visit Phoenix, where I was living at the time, and invited me to my first ever aerial yoga class. I was so nervous! But as my yoga teacher in spirit, Maria with her easygoing nature and friendly smile helped me learn to let go in a yoga class for the first time. My life has never been the same.

Maria is still a big part of my yoga family, and she continuously shows me through her writing how yoga is not just something you practice on the mat but that positively affects all aspects of life. By letting go of my anxiety and opening my heart and mind to the community of yoga, my practice grew, I gained lifelong friendships with a diverse bunch of individuals, and I even got to better know people who were already in my social circle. I was instantly addicted to aerial yoga, which continued to push my at-home practice, and when I moved to Brooklyn last December, it helped me immediately find a studio to call home.

omfactoryfun

OM Factory teachers showing off how much fun they have in the studio

Now I’m an active part of the OM Factory community, volunteering at the desk and helping with the studio blog, and I couldn’t be happier. OM Factory offers unique opportunities by inviting in cool hybrids like aerial yoga, AcroYoga, yoga fight club, and hoop vinyasa, but what makes it so special is the community. The teachers are endlessly supportive and able to express their personalities and perspectives, something I truly value, and the students are enthusiastic and open-minded, a joy to practice with side-by-side.

Early this summer when I went one month without going to OM Factory, I was surprised that it had a negative impact on my at-home yoga practice. Without my yoga community around to inspire me to try new things, reach new milestones, and love even the most difficult parts of yoga (like pigeon – thanks, Kevin!), I lost motivation to keep up a daily practice. And that’s when it hit me: community is a crucial ingredient in yoga. It fosters development, but beyond that, having an amazing class to go to with a one-of-a-kind teacher and smiling students gives us one more reason to show up on the mat.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a Daily Downward Dog post and immediately rolled out my mat for some sun salutations. And I can’t count how many classes I had to drag myself to but then, once there, began to dread savasana because it means class is over. Thanks to Maria and OM Factory, I am no longer just an aerial yogi but an aerial acrobat, stronger and more flexible than I ever imagined possible. And, besides that, I have the coolest teachers and friends.

Community offers a means of sharing lessons learned and broadening one another’s perspectives. So, now it’s your turn! How has your yoga community impacted your life on and off the mat? How did you find your most motivational teachers (including, of course, Maria!), and how do they help you to push your practice?

dominiqueDominique Chatterjee is The Logical Editor, a freelance wordsmith and writing coach. When she’s not at the computer obsessing for one reason of another about language, you can find her hanging out with other acrobats (quite literally) or practicing aerial yoga at OM Factory.

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