(Photo: A community meal, early days of the San Francisco IYI.)

As we gather for various events celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Integral Yoga in San Francisco, we are reminded again and again of the importance of spiritual community.  We have committed ourselves this month to making good use of the support and inspiration we derive from practicing Yoga together, and contributing to the strength of our community in any way that we can.

Both the Yoga and Buddhist traditions use the word sangha to signify spiritual community—those who share the same spiritual values and offer a source of support to each other. In Buddhism, sangha is considered one of the three forms of refuge for a spiritual seeker, along with the Buddha and the Dharma. Yoga teachings also consider spiritual community to be an essential element of a spiritual path.

Walking the spiritual path challenges us to examine the moments when we find it difficult to be at peace in ourselves and compassionate with others. It requires a steady effort to disengage ourselves from habitual, self-centered thinking and most of us need a regular meditation practice to be free of such deeply ingrained patterns.

Both of these efforts—to self-reflect on our behavior and to meditate regularly—can be difficult when we feel upset or overwhelmed, and we can easily get discouraged when we don’t have any support. Sharing our struggles with like-minded seekers puts things in perspective, helps us develop self-awareness, and brings relief from feeling alone with our efforts.

The support and safety of a group can help us let down defenses and be more honest with ourselves. It can inspire us to have more compassion for ourselves and each other and be a great source of inspiration.  When we practice Yoga or meditation together, the group energy helps us focus and uplift the mind beyond what we can do alone.

Our culture instills in us the belief that happiness can be acquired, which keeps us stuck in the head, measuring, judging and planning to arrange our lives. Spiritual community brings us back into our hearts where we can feel our natural connection to the whole web of life. In the heart, we can sense that the events in our lives are part of a bigger picture than our limited minds can know.

I encourage all Yoga practitioners to gather with sangha whenever possible to share the ups and downs of living a spiritual life, to give and receive support. Even when it’s not possible to practice Yoga together or attend a scripture study group, books and videos can be another source of sangha. Technology makes it possible to share the spiritual journey even those living far from us. We don’t need to walk the path alone.

About the Author:

Swami Ramananda is the president of the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco and a greatly respected master teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, who has been practicing Yoga for more than 35 years. He offers practical methods for integrating the timeless teachings and practices of Yoga into daily life. He leads beginner, intermediate, and advanced-level Yoga Teacher Training programs in San Francisco and a variety of programs in many locations in the United States, Europe, and South America. Swami Ramananda trains Yoga teachers to carry Yoga into corporate, hospital, and medical settings and has taught mind/body wellness programs in many places. He is a founding board member of the Yoga Alliance, a national registry that supports and promotes Yoga teachers as professionals.