This week’s installment of Yoga Living Project is brought to you by Austin Richman, whose unique perspective of how community can deepen your yoga practice is sure to influence your intentions and expectations when walking into the studio. Read below for insights on how to cross the threshold from vulnerability into intimacy, and how to hold that door open for others. What unique perspectives do view the world with? Email
Vulnerability and Intimacy in the Yoga Community
Taking a public class is a completely different experience than practicing on your own at home or from a video as a certain energy begins to congele that cannot be replicated solo. Studies have been done around how the efficacy of meditation increases in groups and though I know of no proper studies of the same ilk around yoga, I know it to be utterly true when people roll their mats out side by side. This group energy only seems to increase in effect when that space is contained well, that is why yoga at a proper studio is often times so much more profound than classes held at gyms or goat ranches or brew houses.
Creating a container is only that much more effective when the space is held by a teacher who gets vulnerability. If you are curious as to what aspect of the yoga practice is transformational (I mean the type of transformation that happens on the interior front) it is vulnerability. Yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation are the tools but they are only as effective as the willingness and openness of the practitioner to receive the work those tools can provide. When a container has been created that is held well, we as practitioners are given the space to explore and experience that inner field of emotions, thoughts and beyond without judgement; then and only then have the conditions for vulnerability been fostered. Vulnerability in a public space is no small or common thing! Where else is vulnerability held in such high esteem or with such value as a yoga class?
Vulnerability leads us to truth; the truth about who we are, where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. The thought of that type of exposure, even unto ourselves, can seem daunting or even exhausting, but when yoga is done right it is anything but; in fact, when we allow ourselves the freedom to feel our feelings, observe our thoughts, and fully surrender to sensation, it can be surprising how refreshing and restorative an experience it is. Whether if it’s the knowledge we gain of ourselves in an incredibly demanding class that arises from the moment we scrape the bottom of the proverbial barrel or the way that insight can seem to float to the surface of our consciousness in the relaxed atmosphere of a more gentle yoga practice, vulnerability is something to be celebrated and can be unexpectedly liberating.
This vulnerability, when shared in a group setting, becomes intimacy. Whereas vulnerability creates the conditions for the doors of transformation, transcendence and healing to open, intimacy is what gives us the power to walk through that threshold. Unspoken understandings, shared experiences of meaning and purpose, and a greater sense of acceptance and awareness are the things that unwittingly begin to bond us when we achieve true intimacy in a yoga practice. There are many tell tale signs that your practice is leading you down the road toward vulnerability and intimacy and one obvious indicator is the burgeoning ability to witness without judgment. Being able to witness the perceived experiences happening to us in real time and realize we are separate from them on some level gives us the ability to act rather than react to circumstances. It is not uncommon to make eye contact with total strangers after a yoga class in a way that is both connecting and devoid of expectation- a combination that is all too absent from normal everyday interactions. Just as when we end class with the word “namaste” to signify that we recognize the light within one another, yoga allows us to see and be seen in a light unfettered from vanity or insecurity, to be seen in a light that illuminates us for who we are beyond our pride and defenses.
This humility is the stuff of yoga magic but to show up as our best selves (read: our true selves) and be seen, two things are required: 1) we must let go and 2) we must serve. To let go, we mustn’t allow ourselves to resign to indifference but rather steady our commitment to the work no matter how much non-attachment challenges us to adapt or be resourceful. One can most certainly be non-attached and enthusiastic simultaneously. The beautiful irony of yoga practice is that the work becomes more potent the more that we do it without attachment.
At the same time, that potency expands when we allow the intents and purposes of the practice to be of service to something greater than ourselves. It may sound like a contradiction in terms to be non-attached and dedicated in the spirit of service, but herein lies one of the many paradoxes of yoga that need to be experienced to be understood rather than intellectualized. Try it for yourself, the next time you practice yoga simply resolve at the beginning of class to dedicate the work to someone or something else, or even your own higher power (as you understand it), and then let go of your expectations around the way it manifests.
In light of everything touched on here- vulnerability, intimacy, non-attachment, and service, there is one more thing I would like to challenge you with. Choose a friend or family member to bring to a public yoga class who has an inclination toward the practice of yoga as indicated by an open mind and a desire to better themselves. Studio-phobia is a real thing, I never would have ventured into a yoga studio had it not been for the encouragement and support of my sister, a gift that I will never be able to repay. By tugging on the sleeve of someone you love to come to a class with you, you surround yourself with people who are doing the work and you will begin to cultivate a deeper, more profound framework for relationships to flourish in your life.