I’ve been practicing yoga weekly for 12 years with a group of seven people. We call this our sangha, which is a Sanskrit word for “assembly” or “community.”
The people in our yoga sangha have endured many challenges: the death of parents, friends, and a spouse; serious injuries and illnesses; and struggles with family and work, including two of us who each experienced the horrific-ness of murder committed by people who worked at our companies.
We’ve also celebrated milestones, such as finding new jobs, moving house, publishing a book, and children growing up and graduating into their next life phases.
We have supported one another throughout these challenges and milestones with the guidance of our instructor, Michelle. She begins each practice with a short, powerful lesson, which always culminates in a reminder of the beauty of our own inner light. Michelle often reminds us that Ego likes to stamp out our light with false beliefs (I’m not good enough) or try to convince us that our light is better than another’s (I matter and you don’t).
Through our sangha we have come to not only understand, but to experience, our yoga practice as sacred. It helps us go out into the big, bad world and see not just the big badness but the beauty and joy. It helps us to be a light for others when they struggle. It helps us to remember our own individual light that guides us through personal struggles.
In this way, our sangha isn’t just about yoga, although that is the physical practice that we’ve chosen for its health benefits. Our sangha also awakens our spiritual bodies. For those who have a separate spiritual community, our sangha enhances that spiritual practice. It holds a center for compassion, without which we as a human species cannot healthily function—or survive.
We practice yoga together because we all know we need this. It is one form of self-care that carries us through life. When any of us misses our sangha, we feel it.
If you don’t already have a self-care practice, I encourage you to develop the habitat. We are stronger in numbers, so practicing with others can be more beneficial. But even practicing alone is better than nothing. It matters less what specifically you practice than that the intention of your practice benefits your physical, emotional, or spiritual self—or all three.
As we enter this season of Christmas and Hanukkah, let’s remember the light that shines in us all. Let’s remember the love and compassion that was a gift to us two millennia ago, and that continues giving every day. Practicing self-care is one way to remember these truths and honor them. You don’t have to be a religious believer to reap the benefits.
Wishing you compassion, wisdom, and joy.
For more resources on self-care through retreating, read my past blogs.