≡ Menu

Where Yoga Community is Found

in YD News, YogOpinions


by J. Brown

In the new connection economy, community is an invaluable asset. When people identify with a particular set of motivating ideas, those inclinations can easily be targeted to encourage behavior with either honest or nefarious intent. Too often, calls to rally the “yoga community” fail because they inadvertently become veiled attempts to follow a model of coercion rather than camaraderie.

When I think about what communities I might be a part of, I have to sort through a whole bunch of ingrained notions. I am a white man. I was born to a Jewish mother. I make my living as a professional yoga teacher. So I guess that would make me part of the white, male, Jewish yoga community. Right? Chances are there are probably a lot of white Jewish men who are into yoga around the world. Maybe I should start a Facebook page and a hashtag – #whitejewishguysintoyoga.  If I garner enough likes and followers then I can launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new book I want to write about white Jewish guys who are into yoga. But does that have anything to do with community? Just because I share some characteristics with another person doesn’t mean that there is any community between us.

There is a difference between community as an identifier or demographic, as in: we are both into yoga so we are part of a yoga community, and as a consequence of shared time and experiences.

I get a lot of emails from people who are doing all sorts of great things. They send me these emails because I have a popular blog and a center and they are hoping that I will join a cause and promote their project through my email lists and social media platforms. Many times I find the work these folks are doing admirable and I am genuinely supportive. However, I almost never join in, because I cannot escape a subtle feeling of resentment. Truth is, there exists no real relationship between us outside of their seeing me as a possible way to help promote their project, which would be fine if it were not being sold as community.

It seems as if the whole notion of community has become distorted and co-opted on the internet. If real community is more than just common identifiers and demographics then the idea of a virtual community is an oxymoron. Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet is awesome. I have most certainly been able to connect with people outside of my immediate sphere in ways that would never have been dreamt possible even ten years ago. There are many valuable applications for all this new technology that we are blessed to have been born into. But these online connections, while sometimes very meaningful and rewarding, never constitute a true community.

Community cannot be created through an email blast. Nor is community born through causes or abstract ideas. Community only occurs through the mutual affection that exists between people who come together in actual spaces.

When I am sitting at the front desk doing admin work and someone stops in because they want to introduce me to their mother who is visiting, that feels like community to me. When I see people who have never met before hanging around talking and laughing together for as long as possible after class because they are enjoying themselves so much that they don’t want to leave, that feels like community to me. When a senior teacher decides to have all the Italian ladies from her chair class be bridesmaids at her wedding, that feels like community to me.

Over the last year, I have had the good fortune of being able to travel and see first-hand how small pockets of yoga community are happening in other parts of the world. What I have discovered is that, essentially, it is the same everywhere. Someone has the guts to secure a space and does their best to keep pace with the rents for as long as they can so that earnest people can get together with sincere intent to help themselves and each other – and as a natural course of events this comes a community.

Supporting causes and projects that speak to us via Indiegogo or GoFundMe is an admirable thing. There is a lot that we can do for each other through these mediums. But let us not kid ourselves into believing that this constitutes any sort of community. Altruism maybe. Fundraising for sure. But only when participation springs unconditional and unsolicited through the natural congruence of circumstance and friendship does community become something real.


J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY.  His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere.  Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com.



6 comments… add one
  • and why the overused phrase “yoga community” always rang exceedingly false to me.

    • Jive Ass Muckety Mucks

      Like the phrase “intelligence community,” it could even be an oxymoron?

      Good piece from a brother from another mother…..

      I think what you largely describing are cliques, fiefdoms and cults…..but as the song goes, you say Friend and I say Fiend

      As always, the J-man is gentle when he’s actually skewering. I prefer a dull serrated blade…

      • VQ2

        Oh, that is so true.

        You are a master at existential irony.

  • I-and-I Yen, Grrr

    I have a serious question —

    Is there anything in the history of “classical” yoga, the Gita, the Sutras or other “sacred” texts that even remotely suggests that the building or achievement of “community” is a goal of yoga?

    It seems to me that yoga has always been about the individual’s well-being and that the “collective,” to the extent that it exists at all, relates to family clans and their rivalries or states at war with other states. (Onward Hindu soldiers!! Arjun you DUH MAN!)

    Sure, there’s reference to “seva” but all that strikes me more along the lines of “alms for the poor,” etc. You know — some hand-outs to make me feel better inside.

    Yoga’s underlying Hindu fundamentalism — much like it’s Christian analogue — emphasizes a “personal relationship with the God” and people cling to sacred dogma much as Christians do when they insist that people read the Bible every day, and interpret it strictly — for themselves.

    Really, it’s every man — and woman — for himself — and those you might draw into your little orbit perhaps.

    I suspect if Hinduism was more of a formal religion with a central God, it actually WOULD stress community more, just as Western religions do? Hard to say, but I don’t think it does?

    Love to hear from the real Yoga Scriptural Hot-Shots on this theme…

    Personally I’m not surprised that American yoga is riddled with free-market libertarianism — see Chip Wilson, see Leslie Kaminoff , see everyone else practically– and is so hostile to collective accountability and self-regulation on behalf of teachers, students and the general public — or corporate “social responsibility” on behalf of teachers, students, and the general public.

    You’d really have to believe in a larger sense of “community” to embrace those things. By their deeds alone, it is clear that yogis plainly do not.

    When “community” is invoked, it’s a business trade alliance like the YA — let’s band together like merry thieves and get as much out of this gig as possible, which is pretty much how any mercenary trade alliance thinks.

    I’d be a lot happier if yogis would just cut the bullshit and say…..”Hey, there’s gold in them thar suburban pocketbooks, it’s every man and woman for him/herself.” Because it’s pretty damn clear to most folks outside the Great Yoga Fart Bubble that this is the case?

    Hey, just try not to trample me on your way to the ATM?

    And please massa, if I could have a partial scholarship to your next Tuscany wine country retreat, I’d be much obliged?

    Maybe I could carry your yoga accessories for you, or hold your microphone?

    Okay you Holy Roller Scholars, now what sez you….

    — Nammie

    • VQ2

      Seva = noblesse oblige. True to its upper-middle class demo, as ever, avoiding yoga’s little NIMBY problem and exporting their charity via eco-tours to third world countries, and not to the beleaguered working class people next door …


      Yes, yoga studios do attract a lot of college students and the appropriate-age for developing fast friendships. Regular working people, older people, the occasional drop-in, notsomuch …

      With the young, community of a sort could have happened at a nearby Rathskellar or beer garden …

  • Wondering

    Always thought community is the people in your community/area. The folks at jury duty with you, in line at the post office and DMV etc. Not just folks who Have similar interests, politics etc. Like jive ass says, that’s cults n cliques. I just don’t think one necessarily agrees with or even really knows or likes all in their community, it’s geographic/location etc.

Leave a Comment