Loneliness is a new epidemic. Human beings are tribal creatures. We are meant to live, work, and play in communal environments. For millions of years we have thrived in integrated and cooperative atmospheres. There are seven billion of us on the face of the planet; each of us individualistic in our own right, but also dependent on one another. We need human contact and touch. We need the comfort of friendly faces, and the sweetness that comes with hearing a familiar voice. Our desires for human contact are not just preferences, they are biological requirements. Through yoga we can enrich the quality and quantity of human interactions, and research shows there’s more value in fellowship than meets the eye.
Researcher Susan Pinker, of TED talks reveals that the secret to living longer may be in our social lives. Studies show that above diet, exercise, heart health, and even exposure to infectious disease, social interactions supersede all other factors. Our social interactions are our keys to longevity.
Studies reveal that we need at least three close interpersonal relationships. That means we need three or more people who will pick us up from the side of the road when we run out of gas, three or more people who will loan us money if we need it, advice if we want it, and honesty, even if we’d rather not hear it. Three is the magic number when it comes to close relationships.
But when it comes to community, humans need quantity. To bolster mental and physical health we need copious amounts of engagement. Small interactions such as saying hello to the store attendant and mailman, holding the door for a stranger as we enter a building, running next to someone on a treadmill at the gym, and praying together in church have astounding cumulative effects. When we engage with other people our neurotransmitters light up, and a chemical cocktail of happy hormones flood our systems. Through healthy social interactions we can boost our energy, moods, immune system, and ability to heal. As it turns out, being social might be one of the best ways to practice preventative medicine.
So what does this have to do with yoga? Yoga takes place on a two by six mat. Participants don’t talk, wave, hug, or offer high fives during a practice. The practice requests that we go inside; that we pay attention to our breath, our movements, and our thoughts. It seems that the practice of yoga is a solitary activity in which we connect deeply to ourselves rather than to each other; what gives?
While the practice of yoga can be introspective, the practice of practicing with other yogis offers us a whole other host of benefits.
1. When we breathe together and hear one another’s breaths, we release oxytocin. Oxytocin, is a hormone of connection; often called the, “love hormone”. Oxytocin is a hormone known to induce happiness and states of bliss. A room filled with breath is no longer just a room, it is a incubator for joy.
2. When we move and sweat together we illuminate the limbic system in our brains. The limbic system is the emotional center of our brain. This area is responsible for emotions, behavior, motivation, learning, and memory. While exercising, or practicing yoga alone is healthy, doing it in a group gives us the added benefit of heighten brain functions we wouldn't access if not for one another.
3. The energetic architecture of a yoga studio provides us with ample opportunities to connect. Yogis tend to press pause on the hustle and bustle of the outside world when we walk into a studio; the very tone within the environment encourages us to slow down and connect. We may offer a warm greeting to person next to us, receive a gentle adjustment in a pose, or share a round of OM. The sound of OM, pronounced AUM, is described as the primordial sound of the universe. When we OM together we join collectively on the level of a shared vibration.
While I’ve attributed my happiness and health to the practice of yoga for many years now, it wasn’t until recently that I realized it was not just a series of breathing exercises, movements, and meditations that sparked joy within me. The general sense of ease and wellbeing that I gained from my practice wasn’t entirely from “my practice”at all. It was from the aggregate effects of the people around me. While we can all practice at home in accordance to our own guidance or an instruction video, the real beauty of the practice blossoms when it it shared.
Namaste, the light within me honors, respects, and supports the light in you.