Putting the community back into Yoga


III.23 Maitryadisu balani — By samyama (intensive meditation) on friendliness, great strengths are acquired.

I received a compliment from one of my students over the weekend. It had nothing to do with my instructions, or my sequence, or even my holding class on the holiday. The student said “I really appreciate the sense of community I feel in your class.” “Thanks!” I said and left without really thinking about it.

That comment from my student has been sticking with me for a while. I have been teaching at Unity Church of Honolulu since 2004 and still have 3 of my original students. Teaching over a long period of time in the same spot grows deep roots.

The simple act of showing up consistently week after week on time is a much harder task than teaching “advanced” poses. Some weeks I have only one student, some weeks none at all! But over the years, I’m fairly confident that at least a handful show up. I rarely cancel class. Only during special events, major holidays, or if I’m too sick.

The class has always been small with about 7-8 regulars. Saturday morning at 8 am is a hard sell for most. Keeping this time slot has produced a special type of student: the kind who is serious enough to wake up early on a weekend.

I accept “love offerings” as Unity Church calls them which makes it a donation based class. But I don’t have a “suggested donation.” If students don’t feel like paying, I don’t take issue. I make enough money at my main job to cover expenses. Unity Church has been gracious about the arrangement. My students aren’t chintzy though, they give me enough to keep the church happy.

My priority is to have students return weekly over a long period of time, not to make a quick buck, sell merchandise, or up-sell a teacher training program. I am barely a beginning teacher myself, how could I ethically instruct others how to teach?

My students return week after week. They say they get benefit from my teaching. But I also feel they come back because it is one of the few places in our fast paced society where they feel a sense of connection with others. They notice when a student has been away. They celebrate each others’ good news, and are sympathetic to each other when there is not so good news.

Prior to my starting the Unity Class, I was part of a Vipassana-based Sangha that met weekly for a one hour meditation, and then a one hour discussion. I remember how much that group gave me a sense of community, and wanted to pass the feeling on.

Even as far back as childhood, I remember my Dad would take my brother and I to an annual Jazz festival in Madrid, New Mexico. Madrid is a ghost town that had an abandoned baseball park where the festival was held. As we were kids, we did not give a hoot about Jazz, so we brought a kick ball and utilized the baseball diamond. It wasn’t long before we had  game going with all the other kids whose parents dragged them to the festival. I think that is what planted the seed for me understanding how important it is to have a community. The other kids sure appreciated it.

Yoga is a big business now. Across the street there is a studio that packs ’em in, blasts the tunes and people pay via the internet. I am sure I “missed out” on the big payday in the Yoga world. But again, for me it’s not about the money, it’s about the personal satisfaction of watching my students grow with me as a teacher. It would sure be nice if I can teach here another 12 years.


13 thoughts on “Putting the community back into Yoga

  1. Phyllis Conlan

    I practiced with the same teacher and the same small group for 10 years. But then our teacher moved away. We all experienced a sense of loss, and were unable to find another Iyengar teacher to take his place. I now practice only at home, and am grateful for the strong foundation I received from him. I am happy to have found your blog and, like a previous commentor, am grateful for the online community you provide.


    1. yogibattle Post author

      Thanks Phyllis! It is very sad when a long time teacher moves away. I’m happy that he taught you enough to do a home practice. I am equally delighted that you consider my blog part of your community. That means a lot 🙂


  2. sdeden

    Great blog! My yoga class is similar–Sunday mornings at 9 am at a kids dance studio. Anywhere from 2 to 12 come, and you’re right, we so appreciate the quiet space, our teacher, and each other. It’s a gift, thanks for reminding me. I will pass this on to my teacher! 🙂


  3. swtspontaneous

    Wow! Twelve years doing donations-based community yoga is an accomplishment indeed!!!!!!! Wish you were here so I could attend your class!!!!! It is refreshing to see people with passion rather than doing something only for the money!!!!


  4. Aparna

    OH MY gosh – this is so awesome. I agree with the previous comment – what an accomplishment. It takes a compassionate, un-selfish and genuine person to do what you do. You are a real gift to your students. I also agree wholeheartedly with the previous comment – it is SO refreshing to see someone teach yoga just for the intention of helping his or her students and for nothing else (except for the joy of being a teacher!).



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