Wednesday, June 9, 2010

sangha

Flashback 7 years to my first journey up the steep steps to Back Bay Yoga studio in Boston. I had been practicing yoga for two years, mostly at the gym, and was petrified to step into this unknown territory. Would these people all know each other? I would surely be an outsider. My heart raced and I was sweating profusely. This was one giant leap for me. (I later came to realize that I probably suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder - which has been greatly reduced since my regular yoga practice).

Overcoming my fear led to one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The next 7 years, I would practice at BBY regularly (first weekly, then daily, and then teaching). I loved rolling my mat out next to familiar faces. Even when we didn't know each other's names, we knew each other's struggles on the mat and often off the mat. This was my original sangha. Sangha is the sanskrit word for community.

The anxiety disappeared and I began to take yoga classes at studios wherever I traveled. The faces at those studios were different, but the feeling was the same. Here we were sharing in something special, for many of us, the most important part of our day.

Sangha had become as important to me as the practice itself. Yes, I could do my practice in a hotel room or on my kitchen floor. But nothing compares to the soothing rythm of everyone breathing ujiya breath with the occasional whisper of instruction from the teacher or burst of laughter at someone's triumphs or blunders.

Hence one of my only hesitations to leaving Boston for a city, Lexington, KY, that had virtually no yoga scene and certainly didn't offer a daily Mysore practice. First, I would miss all of those yogis from Boston. I knew I could continue my daily practice on my own. My spacious living room with its hardwood floors lends itself easily to yoga.

I do practice there every day. But it's not the same. It's not better or worse, it's just different. When I am saddened by my lonely practice, I think of my friends in Boston who are practicing at the same time that I am. I'm reminded that only distance separates me from them and from all the Ashtangis throughout the country and the world. My teacher's reminders flow back to me when I struggle with certain poses. And my cats wonder across my mat and narrowly dodge my feet when I take a vinyassa.

Since arriving here, I have found a few (maybe the only) other Ashtangis in Lexington. They invited me to practice on Sundays with them. This Sunday was the first. There were four of us in a small front room. We opened with the opening invocation as is the tradition in Ashantaga. It felt so wonderful to hear other voices intermingling with my own chanting. We practiced at a common pace. For me, that was much faster than my usual practice. But I enjoyed the unity of movement and the syncing of our breath.

We will practice again next Sunday. The days in between, I am comforted to know that I don't have to go 900 miles away to be a part of the Sangha.

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