I don’t think there is anything I like more than collaboration: it’s part of the reason I believe in marriage, parties, friendships, reunions, co-ops, festivals and yoga. I love collaboration in art and music and I LOVE when scientists work together to attack a question from specific and incredibly different angles to discover a solution together. I love that everyone in this world brings something to the table. Not long ago, a request went out from another yoga studio based in Ohio. The request was essentially a request for collaboration: the Trini Foundation, the brainchild of Taylor and Jess Hunt (of Ashtanga Yoga Columbus) was asking yoga studios all over the world to hold a donation based class during the month of September to help raise funds for the foundation. These funds provide yoga classes for those in recovery. September is National Recovery Month and Taylor and Jess have an inspiring, personal story to tell about recovery. (Read “A Way From Darkness” if you haven’t already. It will change you.) This foundation is a small part of the way they give back. We were excited to help.
As things tend to go at Flex Yoga, we took this idea and began running. How could we give more? How could we raise awareness beyond changing the name of a class already on the schedule? What could we do to offer folks more? We knew that if we just changed the name of the class, the donations would be minimal. We wanted people to know exactly what they were doing. We decided to collaborate. In yoga, this can be dangerous business. Consistency is important to students who have a specific class they take on a regular basis with a consistent teacher who is expected to teach a class that adheres to the specifics of the name, length, style and intensity of the class that is presented on the schedule. Could we really play with something set in stone? Could we take one of our busiest, longest running, most diverse classes and shake it up? Yep. For this, we decided we could. We would. For starters, we decided Annie Yoder would sing. Annie is the studio manager and a musician extraordinaire. She has just recently released her debut album, Thousand, and the feedback has been over the top. Annie’s voice moves people. I’m not kidding. The girl hums and I get jittery. Her voice is rich and fluid and it fills an enormous room with ease. The girl is full and she puts it out there with no apology. I like that. So Annie would sing. That much was set. I would teach. I was already teaching the class and I love to work with Annie so I didn’t even offer it up to others. (Maybe I should have? I didn’t consider it then, I only feel a smidge of guilt now that I think about it.) Great. That would be nice. We would create an “event” that we could promote in the studio and on social media. We would do our part to collaborate with other yogis out there who were going above and beyond. We would create a class based on the idea of community and giving back. The class was beginning to take shape.
There is this other “thing” that happens at Flex Yoga that we have spent countless hours discussing amongst ourselves. The single sentence each one of our teachers hears most is some version of this sentence: “I can’t do yoga because…” The last part of this statement takes on a thousand forms. I have heard so many: “I’m not flexible. I’ve never done it before. I don’t know what to wear. I don’t have a mat. I did it once a long time ago and I didn’t like it. I’m too big. I’m not strong enough. I’m too scared. I wouldn’t know where to start. I can’t touch my toes! I need to lose 20 pounds first. I don’t have someone to watch the kids. I’m a Christian. I’m too busy.” As a studio we often consider how to address all of these completely legitimate fears. These fears are just that: fears. I had them. I have them. I have replaced old ones with new ones. But how can we convince people that yoga truly IS for EVERYONE? How can we convince people to roll out a yoga mat (borrowed if need be, we have plenty) in spite of these fears? We know yoga works because we see it at Flex Yoga every single day. We see people that believe all of these fears. We have instructors who carry around these fears. However, one of the biggest lessons in yoga is the practice of controlling the stories we tell ourselves. It is the practice of speaking to ourselves with empathy. It is changing the dialogue in our heads. It is speaking and thinking compassionately. It is taking small steps toward change. It is building the courage to recognize and understand where we are in any given moment and moving forward from there! I am well aware that most of the yoga images out there are of young to middle aged white women, looking incredibly fit in beautiful yoga clothing, often with a filter of some sort to cover up anything that might not seem perfect. But this simply is not the reality. If you dig a little deeper, and I’m talking about just peeling back the first layer, you will find much, much, ever so muchly much more.
The essential truth is that the power of the practice is NOT the asanas/postures themselves. They are simply a byproduct of the practice. The practice is uncovering the false layers of the self to truly discover who you already are: your true self. The asanas are one of the tools used, but there are others. Pranayama (breathwork) and Meditation are also tools you will hear about in almost all yoga classes you sign up for regardless of the discipline. (Want more? Dig a little into the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. If you want a fantastic book to begin a mini-quest into the first two of the 8 limbs, try Debora Adele’s “Yamas & Niyamas”.)
Anyway… all this is to say that those big and small fears are just that: fears that hold you back. They are fears that stop you from making a change. How could we show people that we see and welcome it all, because each of our teachers is doing this same work? From the very beginning, we decided we would not take photos of classes while they were in session. (This has not applied to special workshops with visiting instructors, but we always ask first!) A yoga mat should be a safe space free of judgement. It is no exaggeration that the world we now live in is documented in the form of visual media all the time. Rare is it that there is not a camera around. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is. So. Were we willing to break this rule? Yes. We were.
We have another friend: Bob Ralston. He does amazingly creative work. I like everything I’ve seen. He is able to capture an emotion (an energy even) on film. I felt it was a good time to bring someone else into our growing collaboration. Could we actually show what it feels like to be a part of our yoga community? Is it actually possible to gather up and collect and present the feeling of “community” on film? I thought so. We decided to give it a try.
We reached out to everyone we thought might show up for our donation class in support of the Trini Foundation and told them what we were up to. We told them I would teach, Annie would sing, and Bob would take some footage during the class. We hoped for the best.
I have to say that the mood in the room during class was almost electric. We were very clear about why we were there that Saturday morning. We talked a lot about offering kindness to all people, all the time, as part of the practice of yoga. We talked about being kind to ourselves. We spoke about patience. Annie’s voice filled the room and everyone moved. The shapes were all different, just as they should be! Some folks chose crow pose while others chose child’s pose. Some yogis jumped forward and back and others took steps to the front and back of their mats. There were those who kept two feet on the ground during tree pose and those who wobbled and wiggled. It was beautiful. The room was full, the light spilled in the windows, the heat intensified as the class went on and still we moved.
In savasana, Annie plugged in her phone and played a pre-recorded version of a beautiful song which she then harmonized to. Several people sat up on their mats. It was one of the most powerful moments I have ever experienced in yoga.
We closed the class as a community bound together with a single intention.
And then… I knew it would happen and it did. People began to worry. I began to worry. Had we gone too far? Can you really take images of people during class? Bob quickly sent me a short video set to the final song. It took my breath away. I thought it was perfect and safe. However, I still felt as though I should reach out to everyone I had heard might be hesitant about being on film. I sent the video out. Luckily, everyone I spoke to was pleased with the final result. No one is perfect and it is easy to criticize ourselves, but isn’t there more? Isn’t the idea behind the practice more than the images we see of ourselves in an imperfect trikonasana? I think so. I even think there is more in an imperfect asana than in a “perfect” one. It shows us who we are, and here is the essential truth: We aren’t perfect. Our teachers aren’t perfect. Our students aren’t perfect. But we are a community and we are taking risks. As a studio our goal is to provide a safe space for everyone to grow and change. We hope this video shows how diverse and how powerful our community is. We are powerful because we support one another. We are powerful because we accept people as they are. We also support people in other communities. Collaboration makes us happy. Our class raised $403.00 for the Trini Foundation. That’s proof positive that every single person that came to class (and even some that didn’t, but donated from afar) made a commitment to another yogi they have not met. That is yoga and that is community.
Thank you Flex Family. Thank you all for collaborating.
View the collaboration here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQEJzuIQKaA