Yoga is an individual practice that takes place on a mat, a rug, outside, inside or various other places. When we breathe and do asanas we are given a chance to be an inner witness to our own challenges, successes and boundaries. These truths are part of what makes the practice perfect for anyone: You come to the mat where you are, with what you have and as you are.
Yet, there are more and more opportunities to practice in a group setting at yoga studios and gyms, in schools, prisons and our place of employment. The magic of practicing together is a many-fold gift. Here are some of the benefits of a group class:
1. Sangha: Yoga studios and gyms are wonderful places to meet like-minded folks. Joining together regularly in classes gives you the opportunity to connect, to converse and to share the practice. Yoga studios often have events that encourage such community building and many students establish friendships and business partnerships with their fellow yogis.
2. Breath: There is perhaps no more powerful moment in a yoga class than that time when the room is collectively breathing together. The unison of inhales and exhales creates a murmur throughout the room that resonates beyond the yogis present on their mats. Students feel connected to each other through this fundamental part of the practice, and can be encouraged to rest or continue forward in response to the breath of their neighbors.
3. Mantra: At the beginning or end of a group class, the mantra “Om” is often chanted. The moment of individual yogis chanting Om and joining together as a collective in the harmonious sound is powerful. At once the yogis present are reminded that they are both individuals and one with the others, an experience that today is often elusive outside of a group yoga class.
4. Similarities: We often feel like islands in the vast ocean of life, adrift, alone and unlike those around us. Yoga classes create a mini-oasis for the isolation of individuality and remind us that there exist others like us. We are reminded that we all breathe, rest, reflect, struggle and succeed. A group class reminds us that we are connected to others in basic and tangible ways. We are reminded of our humanness, our physicality and our emotional connections to others.
5. Uniqueness: One of the best ways group yoga classes benefit students is that they provide an environment for us to remember our own uniqueness. When we feel challenged to be the same, we can find space on our mat to acknowledge the gift in our differences. We can celebrate someone else’s success in an asana or part of the practice while at the same time struggling to get there ourselves. Simply by looking at our fellow yogis in a pose such as Baddha Konasana we are enlightened to the anatomical differences that lead to vastly diverse expressions of this asana. In accepting these varieties of yogis in our classes, we are able to accept where we are on our own mats. We are given the gift of celebrating our own uniqueness.