The roots of yoga class.
Yoga was originally a solitary pursuit. For centuries, it was taught under the guidance of a guru to a small number of students, no more than three or four at a time. Guidance was direct and often harsh; the physical practice, demanding and often extreme.
Then, in 1936, in the city of Pune in southwestern India, BKS Iyengar taught the first class to a group of women. And from then on, through hard work, dedication, and a selfless devotion to his craft, he evolved his teaching method to reach a broader audience. Iyengar was the first teacher to advocate the benefit of yoga for everyone—not just the privileged or gifted—and he made many poses more accessible through the use of props and pedagogy. He also taught that the practice of yoga was transformative, not only of body, but of mind and soul. And so the Yoga class was born.
From class to Community.
In traditions like Buddhism and Yoga, we use the Sanskrit word “sangha” to denote our understanding of Community. In a lovely book called Good Citizens, Tich Nhat Hanh describes how practitioners create sangha on the basis of spiritual practice:
“…thanks to the collective practice, we can regain our solidity. Even if we’re distracted, our sangha can help us remember to come back to the present moment, to touch what is positive, to touch our own peace, to see how to undo what is difficult”.
He points out that practicing in community is easier than practicing alone, and that people practicing together generate a community that is more than the sum of its parts. And, since the sangha exists wherever the practice exists, it opens a path to global connectedness and harmony. In this way, Tich Nhat Hanh goes on to say, practice nourishes you, the community, and the world. Does that make sense?
sangha in sadhana: Community in practice.
The Iyengar Yoga class has some distinctive features that make it feasible for a practitioner with a basic level of poses and a responsible sense of self-care to participate in any Iyengar class around the world, our global sangha. We can enter the practice room, and feel at home. In fact, you may have experienced this already. Why is that?
~ There is a familiar structure and rhythm to all classes, beginning with the invocation, and ending in relaxation, with the savasana pose.
~ The teachers are here to teach everyone. Not just their “favorite” students, or the “good” or “known” students, but all students. Who needs a support? Who should do something more achievable? Who should be pushed a little harder?
~ The students are here to learn. Each pose is an opportunity for self-discovery, each instruction a vehicle for introspection. Watching a teacher demonstrate, or (better yet) watching a pose blossom as a teacher and a student work together, creates the seamless experience of personal insight and shared understanding that we call sangha.
IYS: Our year of sangha.
And so you, as an individual student, are part of this community at our local studio, and one with the wider community of practitioners around the globe. It is in this spirit that Iyengar Yoga Sarasota dedicates this year 2020 to sangha, community. We will offer opportunities in class to get to know your fellow practitioners; events in the greater Sarasota community; and features in the newsletter that I hope will bring us all closer together. In this way our year of sangha can be a springboard to take what we have gained off the mat; beyond our studio walls; and into our wider communities, our limitless sangha.