In this week's installment of Yoga Living Project, Austin Richman returns to wrap up this month's theme of Community. The role of sangha (community) has the potential to be a powerful teacher and Austin explores some of the deeper forms of stewardship within that. Read below to gain insight into how your community can strengthen and find opportunities to serve those around you. As always, email
Sangha as a Form of Stewardship
In Yoga Teacher Training we often talk about the importance of the concept of sangha, sangha means community but the implications of this term are very important and nowadays more so than ever. Sangha is a special type of community, one where the members of that fellowship are devoted to the betterment of themselves or a communal spiritual goal. The idea is that all ships rise with the tide: as one member of the sangha reaps the benefit of their practice and develops whether it be mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and or physically this impacts the sangha in a way that provides others with support, inspiration, and potential for their own development. One way all ships rise with the tide is when a blueprint has been laid out that leads to success in areas that were once unattainable. For example, Roger Bannister was the first athlete to break the 4 minute mile in 1954 yet since then over 1,400 other athletes have accomplished that same feat. When the seemingly impossible is accomplished others become emboldened to follow and repeat with courage and confidence.
This similar type of groundbreaking to gangbusters pattern emerges in every single teacher training I have had the privilege to be a part of: when one person has the courage within a safe space to risk failure and be vulnerable, the lessons they learn become a windfall of inspiration for the others in the group to be brave in their own ways, even if in a completely different way. This radical intimacy is the new guru. Guru is a word signifying a type of energy that removes the darkness. In modern context we have associated the term guru strictly as being embodied in one person and to a terrible detriment to many yoga practitioners as this type of authoritative power is the type that has so often been the course for absolute corruption.
However, there has been a seachange in many modern yoga schools in which guru is ascribed to the sangha, not one overseeing authoritative figure and this is what I believe to be the best and most responsible service to yoga practitioners. Yes, there still needs to be a teacher, and though that teacher is bestowed with the honor of having a particular authority based upon their own experience and knowledge, we have to have some way to gauge whether or not that teacher has our best interest at heart. So how do we as yoga practitioners, in vulnerable situations and oftentimes intimate relationships within the yoga community, know we are not having the wool pulled over our eyes?
For starters we can ask if the teacher telling us how to be, think or feel or rather facilitating and supporting our own journey to be, think and feel for ourselves. This same qualifier must be measured within group think too though, as we embark on this new evolution of yoga together where the sangha serves as the guru, this too can be rife with all sorts of unseen and unwanted outcomes if intentions are not checked and balanced. For as profound the potential for transformation, transcendence, and healing in yoga is, it is our duty to protect the importance and sanctity of the practice of yoga so that for many more generations to come people can receive the benefits it has to offer. Now, in some small way, the way we comport our practice together may have a lasting and loving effect to serve and uphold this noble and ennobling endeavour. To be a steward means to be brave enough to be vulnerable, to be thoughtful enough that intimacy is a space that is safe and inclusive, and that we allow for ourselves and others to step into our power and as we stand there we stand for something greater than ourselves.