A couple paragrphs from the full text (below) written originally as: “Endowed With Longing for Connection.”
Perfection in yoga may have been an ancient goal, and to achieve that goal many yogis spent time alone and in isolation; but I don’t know anyone with perfection on their bucket list. I’ve not heard anyone say, “Yea, I want to become the perfect yogi, to levitate, reach santosha, and become one with God.
. . . The myth of rugged individualism, a notion that’s driven the ethic of individualism and ambition in my country really is a myth. We all need connections with others; and that need is so powerful that people will change their identities, alter their most treasured beliefs, or explore far and wide to find a niche or group from which to draw comfort.
Yoga communities around the world continue to be deeply affected by an invisible virus called COVID-19. Starting in 2020, our community in-person gatherings have been stunted and its intensified the challenge to make important new social connections.
Now for the third time, I’ve scaled back my regular yoga attendance at a studio and I’m bummed about it. But with a worldwide pandemic still happening, and my aversion to sickness, I’m on pause.
All of us in the yoga community have responded the best we can, and we’ve learned to use social media tools to stay in contact with others. But we also noticed that while communities established through the World Wide Web were important, they were different.
I taught online for six years, but it never felt natural to me. I’m still a bit uneasy with community generated virtually. These communities are happening though, and through them we are connected through a vast unseen network with potentially far-reaching effects – just like the network of connections transferring the virus.
Dealing with fallout from the worldwide pandemic we’ve learned to navigate a new normal and attempted to go on as before. Concerned about the future and wondering what the next trend or challenge will be, it’s hard to be present, calm, and connected. But this new awareness of social space is upon us.
Noreena Hertz, author of *The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart, wrote, “Even before COVID, three in five adults in the US considered themselves to be lonely.” She went on to cite examples in Japan where people were committing minor offenses just be arrested and go to jail, so they’d have someone to talk with.
Social scientists tell us we’re re-learning how to reconnect after our forced isolation. This shows both the adaptability of the human species and our longing for a healthy life. We could argue that yoga is built to meet this need because yoga teaches us how to reframe the spaces we inhabit.
Reframing yoga space means redefining social distance and seeing it as the possibility for a new sacred space. If this happens, our yoga communities may become springboards for new forms of yoga and life in the present.
It’s nothing new, but worth repeating that yoga comes from the word yuj, meaning yoke or connection. A yoke can be hard to bear, but today we know better than before that living without connection is perilous to our health and sanity. I don’t know anyone that wants their gravestone to read, “Lived a shallow life alone; buried alone in a shallow grave.”
Carl Jung was famous for having said that unless a person has a deep spiritual community to which they belong, they will fall victim to the lower denominators of base instincts or even evil. I don’t think humans are destined to fall into evil without a spiritual community, but without meaningful connections, isolation and loneliness can be a slippery slope to desperation and more.
The myth of rugged individualism, a notion that’s driven the ethic of individualism and ambition in my country really is a myth. We all need connections with others; and that need is so powerful that people will change their identities, alter their most treasured beliefs, or explore far and wide to find a niche or group from which to draw comfort.
Yoga practice with others, or by ourselves, can open us to a meaningful and powerful connection. Yoga practice in community creates space for dialogue and relationship; it lays down a platform for a starting point for all community and that is our encounter with self.
If we do yoga alone, we still make connection but it’s to a larger sense of self that yogis speak of in spiritual terms. Of the spiritual connection, every yogi will interpret and experience it in their unique way.
Perfection in yoga may have been an ancient goal, and to achieve that goal many yogis spent time alone and in isolation; but I don’t know anyone with perfection on their bucket list. I’ve not heard anyone say, “Yea, I want to become the perfect yogi, to levitate, reach santosha, and become one with God.”
For most of us, its enough to be at ease through yoga while improving our practice of breath and breathing on the way to a better life. From this, we may form new communities, improve our relationships and lives, and start doing things on our bucket lists. These may be activities alone or in community.
Yoga is about relationship with self, but also about providing space for connection and learning. Now these theories of yoga are being tested by a crisis. This crisis offers a time for renewed connections to others; crisis also provides an entrée to a renewed friendship with ourselves and our yoga. Crisis may even help us appreciate and understand that we are endowed with a deep longing for connection.
And if you celebrate my learning with me, or better yet, get yourself to the mat so that you can learn something new … then I’m happy for you. If your goal is to be perfect, you’re welcome to go for it. I’ll wait for your video showing me that you’ve levitated. But until that time, let’s reimagine Hamlet’s sardonic words to Ophelia. Get thee to a yoga session . . . even if it’s just you.
Its incumbent upon all of us to make connections with others in new ways during these COVID years. And maybe the gift of COVID is that we have time to once again let yoga lead us back to self. Finding a silver lining in COVID happens when we reconnect with self on a different level; it happens with more practice and time alone, and from that solitary space we may lean a new way to leap confidently into the future.
Get back to you and the rest will fall into place. Take care of you and trust that connections and community will happen in unforeseen ways opening you to a new enlightenment of body, mind, and spirit.
*Noreena Hertz, The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart: New York: Penguin Random House, 2021