I am working my way through Stephen Cope’s Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (Bantam Books: 1999) and find it a fascinating read. It’s up there with my three favorite yoga books. Cope makes a strong point for seeing yoga and transformation within the context of the community. Given the U.S. tendency to focus just on the physical side and strip away the rest, Cope writes, “Consciousness is transmitted in relationships… Company is more powerful than willpower… A caring community can help us create a safe domain in which personal experiences can be expressed, expanded and enriched.” (pp. 166-7 — these are just a few of the sentences that I had highlighted.) Of course, Cope’s own experience comes from within the Kripalu Center and naturally reflects that exposure to a sangha.
Most yoga studios are not going to have the capacity to create community, unless there is a very strong personality driving the initiative beyond being a mere business venture. This opens up a lot of other issues because of the bad vibes from gurus and cults. For that matter, not that many of practitioners are actively seeking community.
Cope’s insistence on the context of consciousness and the power of human relationships strike a resonant cord with me — I’m a PK and I grew up in the shelter of a church, a natural extension of my family.
In response: Asia Nelson asked in a comment whether I had any tips for promoting sangha. As a writer, I am not qualified to give advice in creating community. I tend to be aloner who shows up for class. Because most studios tend to be swamped by newcomers, there is a certain transience to classes, rarely the same people showing up for a class. The needs of a novice are different from an experienced yogi who would be more inclined to seek community. So the challenge of the instructor and the studio is to find ways that build continuity and collective experience. I’ve noticed that programs like teacher training, work study exchanges and workshop/retreats tend to instill a deeper sense of community.