Yoga can be associated with many ideas and pre-concepts. One I sometimes hear is that yoga is a self-oriented practice, meaning an ego-centered, almost selfish, modality. And I understand why some people would think that way.
Yoga is an individual practice, me, my body, and my mat… It is about drawing attention inwards, about getting back in touch with our breath and body. Traditionally, some yogis would feel drawn to retreat from civilization and isolate, thereby cutting off any contact with others. Even today, yoga can appear to be about doing the most “instagrammable” pose, comforting our insecurities, wanting to look good with the right outfit and accessories, and comparing ourselves to others. But eh, we are all humans! And with the light always comes the shadow!
Like everything else, yoga also has its shadow; some of which inflates our egos and pulls us unconsciously away from a more empowered and accepting view of ourselves. Obviously, yoga is much more than a self-oriented or individual practice. Yoga in fact means “yoke” or unifying, bringing together. It is about experiencing the union of our shadow and light as well as our interconnectedness with the world within and around us.
One word that illustrates that greatly is “KULA.” Kula is the Sanskrit for “community” or “tribe,” a group of individuals who decide to hold together out of their own will, eager to connect with and support one another, looking for belonging to a group of heart-centere people.
In addition to the social dimension, kula also relates to the connection between body, mind, and spirit – or “the heart.” Indeed, our body is a very intelligent, self-organizing and coherent “kula” where limbs, muscles, tissues, bones, organs, etc. and different parts of the body (shoulders, hips, heart, mind, etc.) constantly support and “communicate” with each other.
Then, on a micro, individual level, one of our goals as yogis is to awaken to this incredible interconnection inside of us. On a macro, social level, yoga is also a practice that connects us to one another, and awakens us to our unique contribution to our society. On both the micro and macro levels, experiencing kula is about answering a deep longing for belonging.
Growing up, I would dream about traveling, speaking other languages, and not feeling limited in terms of where I wanted to live. Indeed, I have spent almost all my adult life living abroad! During years of extensive travels and residency in three other countries, I have often struggled with feeling “at home” and the big question as of where I belong. I have close friends from different cultures, and when I would visit them I would always ask myself, “would I live here?”… Yet over time, I realized that belonging is not determined by something from the outside world. Obviously, I would not just live anywhere, and I value some places more than others, but all in all, if I can accept and welcome myself, I will feel accepted and welcome in the communities and cultures where I live.
Yoga has been one way for me to learn to love and care for my body and, on deeper levels, to accept the fullness of who I am – and believe me, this is still a work in progress!! ?
Cultivating a sense of wholeness inside our bodies, we begin to experience a sense of belonging in ourselves, which we then can also experience with other people. We can feel connected and belonging to others only if we allow ourselves to connect and belong to our bodies first. We recognize our gifts, our shadows and light, and embrace who we are.
In other words, by getting more aware of our “internal, body kula” – as we for instance do through our asana practice – we take a more powerful and more intentional seat in our “external, social kula(s).” Truthfully, the goal of our yoga practice is to bring us back in touch with this place deep inside, where we recognize our true nature and KNOW that we belong. And when we do so, we inspire others also to belong and step into their unique gifts.
Mini-belonging practice: Let Nature Hold you and you Belong in Nature
Find a comfortable seat or a laying down position. Draw your attention inwards and attune to your breath for a few minutes. Gently bring to your mind a place in nature, known or imaginary, which feels peaceful and very pleasant. Imagine yourself completely immersed in these surroundings, with the perfect light, the perfect temperature, the perfect smell. Begin to open to how this landscape is holding you, how the air and space around you, the sky above you and the earth below you are all bearing and embracing you with love and peace.
Sense into how your body responds to this experience; what sensations are you aware of? How does it feel? What qualities, colors, memories etc. do you notice?
Now take moment to realize that this imaginary landscape is bringing within you a deep sense that you belong here, you’re perfectly held, welcome, and have all the right and the time in the world to be in this place. Indulge, and allow this experience to sink and melt into your body and your heart.
One of my visions is to build up a Kula of heart-centered people where everyone feels encouraged to be their full selves, at the image of the kulas I have had the privilege to experiences across continents.
Deep gratitude to you, because you are contributing of making this dream come true by being part of this vision and kula!
Many blessings (including one below from John O’Donohue)
For Belonging (John O’ Donohue)
May you listen to your longing to be free.
May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.
May you arise each day with a voice of blessing whispering in your heart.
May you find a harmony between your soul and your life.
May the sanctuary of your soul never become haunted.
May you know the eternal longing that lives at the heart of time.
May there be kindness in your gaze when you look within.
May you never place walls between the light and yourself.
May you allow the wild beauty of the invisible world to gather you, mind you, and embrace you in belonging.