Yoga of Belonging
Yoga, often translated to mean union, as derived from its root “to yoke”, offers a unique perspective on belonging and connection. Like many other spiritual practices, Yoga combines effort AND ease, advocates personal growth AND personal responsibility, emphasizes the importance of community AND service, and prioritizes compassion AND love.
Now, please do not misunderstand me. Yoga, as the imperfect practice of humans, has plenty of examples where the principles I’m going to talk about today have not been upheld. Places and times, where Yoga was used to isolate and exclude; to perpetuate inequality and justify privilege. We’ll have to save these questions for another time. Today, I want to explore the philosophy and pure intention of Yoga to support healthy community and belonging.
Spiritual & Mundane
Yoga is both a spiritual and a mundane practice. A practice that can encompass the full essence of the human condition or simply address the needs of our physical bodies. However, unlike many other spiritual practices, yoga promotes a sense of global unity and recognizes the inherent inter-connectedness of all things, living and non-living, sentient and non-sentient. So it would be literally impossible let alone antithetical, to talk about Yoga and not speak to community connection and belonging.
Yoga is unique in the wellness world as well. Like other wellness practices, yoga’s holistic approach encourages the mind-body connection, prioritizes mindfulness and meditation, and relies on the logical predictability of cause and effect. Unlike many other fitness/wellness modalities, Yoga, in its pure (intention) form, discourages competition, opposes striving for the sake of striving, and dissuades the idea that there is One RIGHT way.
As a spiritual and wellness modality, Yoga proffers a dual pronged approach: (1) personal practice within the (2) context of community. Yoga is BOTH!
In doing BOTH, Yoga advocates for balance. Fluid balance between individual self-improvement and inter-connectedness of all beings. In the simplest of statements, Yoga is the practice of “Yes. AND”. Yes, build community within the self, AND with others, and with all. To build this practice of union, we cultivate (1) personal practice, often with the help of a coach, teacher or guide, and (2) community connection through responsibility and accountability, and collaboration and contribution.
As Brene Brown says, “We are biologically, cognitively, physically, spiritually wired to love, to be loved and to belong. When those needs are not met we don’t function as we we’re meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
A while back, I wrote about longing… and specifically about how longing is NOT the same as attachment as cautioned by the yogis as the root of suffering, but rather evidence of our nature to belong. You can read that post here.
Movement is key for shift and a fundamental component of yoga and Inspired Living. When new to a school, or job, a new community, or even a personal relationship, there is always going to be a bit of shifting that happens. We shift in and out of connection, each step bringing us closer together or pushing us further apart. In the shifting we either build trust or clarify incongruency in our connection. In order to transition from feeling disconnected to connected, to build trust, something HAS to shift, something or someone has to move.
Moving over. Moving up. Moving out. Moving on. Whatever the reason, there’s a direction, a preposition if you will, that makes the difference between connection and belonging and separation and feeling left out.
Disconnection is not just the preemptive state of belonging, it can also be the consequence of circumstances beyond our control or even a defensive strategy consciously or subconsciously used to minimize risk of harm or disappointment. Whether intended or not, disconnection is the antithesis to our nature AND an opportunity for our own becoming.
Whether disconnection starts from a need to move on, move over, or move out, disconnection is ONLY the interim phase in moving to our next belonging. When we do the work of diligent practice, we begin again with even greater authentic, aligned belonging to ourselves and others.
Yoga of Belonging: Spiritual & wellness priorities
Yoga of Belonging, as BOTH a Spiritual and a Wellness practice has TWO MAIN priorities: These two priorities can be described as
- The Mind-Body Connection AND
- Practice as the Path to Oneness
First, by Mind-Body Connection, were referring to Abhyasa or personal practice to align the component of the physical body, the emotional/mental body and the energetic, sometimes also referred to as the subtle body. Personal practice includes: asana, pranayama and meditation with specific emphasis on concepts like:
- Commitment to compassion for self and others, we call this Ahimsa.
- Self-discovery and self-improvement (Swadyaya= self-study)
- Science & Experience: (Karma: act, deed, action or work)
Secondly, practice serves as the Path to Oneness. Meditation as a key ingredient of that practice, might be the most tangible training in our evolution toward Samadhi. Samadhi is the final state of meditation as described by Patanjali and translates to mean total self-collectedness, self-absorption. This self refers to the universal, connected oneness.
Within the Practice as the Path to Oneness there are THREE key concepts that further define Yoga of Belonging and will serve as our focus today:
- Seva: Self-less Service
- Sangha: Community Connection
- Satsang: Collaboration/Cooperation
Let’s take a closer look.
Seva: Self-less Service
Pronounced see-va or say-va, Seva is a Sanskrit word meaning selfless service, to give without expectation of return, or volunteer work. Seva is an integral part of many yoga traditions and rests in the individual responsibility to use one’s skills and talents to benefit the community and those in need.
One of the most beautiful components of Seva is its openness to contribution from all, in all forms. Seva is open to anyone who wants to participate, regardless of their background, beliefs, or social status. This inclusivity can make individuals feel welcome and valued, often benefiting the volunteer with a sense of belonging as much if not more than the benefit received by the recipient.
By practicing seva, individuals create connections, build empathy, and contribute positively to the well-being of others. Engaging in seva can provide a profound sense of purpose and fulfillment. When people feel that they are making a meaningful contribution to society or a specific cause, they are more likely to feel connected and like they belong to something greater than themselves.
Seva often involves contributing to one’s community or a larger cause and often fosters a sense of belonging because it connects individuals to a shared purpose and the people they are serving alongside. Collaborative efforts in turn build healthy relationships. Through seva, people have the opportunity to interact with a diverse group of individuals, including those they may not have otherwise met. These interactions may lead to the development of new friendships and a sense of belonging within the volunteer community.
The seemingly simple act of giving and receiving in seva can create a sense of reciprocity and interdependence. Individuals who receive through seva may feel grateful, and those who give grow in their responsibility and connection to those they are helping. In this way, engaging in seva can lead to personal growth and self-discovery. As individuals learn more about themselves and their abilities, they develop a stronger sense of self, which contributes to a greater sense of belonging within their own lives and communities.
Many seva activities are part of broader movements or initiatives aimed at solving societal or environmental challenges. Being part of something larger than oneself can enhance a sense of belonging to a cause or movement.
In summary, seva can enhance belonging by fostering a sense of community, building relationships, promoting shared values, being inclusive, providing fulfillment and purpose, creating a sense of reciprocity, facilitating personal growth, and allowing individuals to belong to a larger cause. It is a powerful way to connect with others and the world around us, ultimately strengthening one’s sense of belonging.
Although a personal responsibility, Seva does not have to be an independent endeavor. As such, let’s move on to sangha.
Sangha: Community Connection
In yogic philosophy, there is a concept known as “sangha,” which refers to a spiritual community or fellowship. Although typically, Sangha refers to the community of Buddhist ascetics or monks and nuns who have renounced worldly life to pursue spiritual goals, lay practitioners often participate in the broader context of Sangha. In Buddhist tradition, Sangha together with the Buddha and Dharma comprise what Buddhist’s call the three-fold Refuge or “Ti-Ratana”: The treasures of inestimable worth.
Sanghas provide a space for individuals to come together, share experiences, and support each other on their journeys toward self-realization. Being a part of a supportive and like-minded community can be a source of inspiration, motivation, and growth on one’s spiritual path. Additionally, being part of a sangha provides emotional and social support. Practicing yoga, asanas, ethical principles, and philosophies in a group setting can be motivating and generate a deeper sense of belonging and increased likelihood to stick to the path of practice. Sangha is the primary mission of Life’sWork Studio. Practice as well as Circles provide a safe space to gather and practice (imperfectly), a place to just be together.
Yoga is about being AND doing. We go in so we can go out… out into the world in service and in compassion. Satsang, combines these two ideas of service and community in the ACTION of doing good in the world.
Satsang: a gathering of good people for the ACTION of good/devotion
Satsang is a term commonly used in Indian and yogic spiritual traditions, particularly in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. It is derived from two Sanskrit words: “sat,” which means truth, and “sang,” which means association or gathering. Satsang is the company of truth or being in the presence of those who uplift and inspire. Satsang refers to a gathering or community of individuals who come together to discuss, study, and contemplate spiritual or philosophical topics, often in the company of a knowledgeable teacher or guru.
While it’s important to note that satsang can take various forms, from formal gatherings with a spiritual leader to informal discussions among friends who share common spiritual interests. The specific role satsang plays in one’s sense of belonging can vary from person to person, depending on their individual spiritual journey and the nature of the satsang community they engage with.
From the Yogic perspective, community and connection are seen as integral to spiritual and personal growth. The practice of yoga encourages individuals to recognize their inter-connectedness with others, foster a sense of unity, and engage in selfless service and compassionate works to benefit the community and the world as a whole. These principles contribute to a more harmonious and connected society.
The satsang supports community connection and belonging through intentional collaboration in THREE primary ways:
- Spiritual growth
- Moral & ethical guidance
- Spiritual Growth: Satsang provides a supportive environment where individuals can engage in spiritual discussions and practices, which can lead to both personal and spiritual growth. It offers opportunities to learn from experienced spiritual guides and fellow seekers, helping people deepen their understanding of their spiritual paths. Satsang can reinforce beliefs and practices. Regular participation in satsang can help individuals stay committed to their spiritual journey, deepen their faith, and maintain a regular practice of meditation, prayer, or other spiritual exercises.
- Community and Belonging: Satsang creates a sense of community and belonging among its members. People who attend satsangs often share common spiritual interests and goals, which can foster a sense of connection and camaraderie. This sense of belonging can be especially important for individuals seeking like-minded communities. Satsang can help individuals transcend the ego and the illusion of separateness. The shared experience of oneness and unity with fellow participants and the teachings of self-realization can contribute to a sense of belonging to a broader spiritual reality.
- Moral and Ethical Guidance: Satsang can serve as a source of moral and ethical guidance. The teachings and discussions within these gatherings often focus on ethical and virtuous living, helping individuals navigate the challenges of life while adhering to their spiritual principles. In this pursuit of right living, Satsangs also offer emotional support to its members. Sharing experiences and challenges in a safe and understanding environment can be comforting, reducing feelings of isolation and providing emotional support.
Yoga can be a powerful tool for building community connections in numerous ways. Some of the ways in which yoga can help foster a sense of community include:
- Shared experience such as group classes, trainings, workshops and retreats
- Support and encouragement through social interaction, volunteer and community initiatives
- Shared values and priorities such as mindfulness, personal practice, service, compassion, diversity and inclusion
To build community connections through yoga, it’s essential to actively participate in group classes, engage in conversations, and be open to forming bonds with fellow yogis. By doing so, you contribute you the creation of community, cultivate a sense of belonging and connection that extends beyond the yoga mat. Authentic connection, whether in relationships, friendships, or professional interactions, requires several key elements to be truly meaningful and fulfilling. Sharing space, time and values are just the beginning.
So here’s the catch, Belonging doesn’t just happen. And like many of the other benefits of Yoga we’ve discussed, community certainly can’t happen without diligent practice. Something’s got to move… in mind, body, or spirit! Or all THREE! This practice is easier to sustain when we have support and accountability provided by others. Call it Sangha or a Circle, the work we do together to build sustainable practice of compassion and wise action is the work of Inspired Living.
So let’s practice. Let’s get curious, creative and courageous. Let’s explore new ideas, new strategies, new shapes and new patterns. Let’s reframe our mental mindset and our emotional outlook from love. Let’s consider possibility and potentiality. Let’s MOVE toward CONNECTION. Let’s MOVE together to build community on a foundation of compassion and belonging.
What are you practicing? How are you navigating shift in your world? My invitation for you today is reach out or to accept an extended invitation. Get connected. Consider:
- Who can support me in this endeavor of Inspired Shift?
- Who can I support?
- What do I have to offer?
In conclusion, as we travel the 7 Cs of Inspired shift, we build a foundation of compassion, and invite the skill building for curiosity, creativity and courage through practice of being our authentic self. Confidence and competence come as a result of this diligent practice. When we practice with others, we cultivate CONNECTION which enhances the foundation of compassion through service. N
May you breathe deeply, move freely, labor lovingly and live vibrantly. May you be well.
Remember, I’m counting on you. To learn you have to get involved. So, join us in studio or online whether it’s for one-on-one or a group experience. We have Circles, we offer practice, we lead trainings, and we provide personal treatments of yoga therapy, Energy treatments, and Life’sWork coaching. I hope that you check us out so that we can support you in living your life’s work