Power of [virtual] community by Michele Lawrence

Last weekend I had the honor of witnessing 25 individuals complete an intensive 8-month, 300-hour yoga therapy training. I’ve witnessed many of these closings over the past 10 years, they often have similar bitter-sweet themes of personal transformation, pride in showing up and doing the work, deep bonding with classmates, and strong community building and connection. What made this closing different was the fact that this group completed their entire training virtually.

When COVID hit last March, I immediately shifted our in-person trainings to a virtual format out of necessity. While I embraced the technology and the possibilities of it, it was a difficult transition, many of the students struggled with the long hours on Zoom and they missed the in-person connection and bonds they created with their classmates.

When May rolled around and we were about to start this new cohort of trainees, it became apparent to me that the training, which was scheduled to span from May – December, would be entirely online. This time, I wanted it to be better. Not only did I want the learning experience to improve, I also held the vision that the essential connections and community that I’ve seen year over year from our in-person trainings be just as strong.

What I witnessed was yes, the online learning experience improved. Tweaking the structure of the class itself went a long way to this improvement. But more importantly, deeper focus was made on connection and community. These individuals, who never met each other in person, are now deeply (and I believe forever) connected. Here are some of the simple things that made a difference for this group. Outside of the training itself were monthly sharing circles, opportunities to practice one another’s classes and social hangouts. They also had time to breakout on Zoom and listen deeply and share their experiences. They were willing to go there and they became a powerful sangha.

Separately from this group, I’ve also heard from students in the practicum component of our program how they’ve held a hand, walked alongside their clients, made a real difference in someone’s life,  essentially providing a lifeline for their clients – all in a virtual format.

Right now the yoga world is a bit upside down. Many studios have closed permanently and there are endless online yoga classes students can take, many of them free. What’s missing for many is community and connection. People are longing to share their story and have someone hold space for them, ask good questions, and listen.

The more we can do that, the better we can serve. And yes, we can help them with their knee issues, anxiety and depression, and cancer recovery too. So, if you are doubting yourself as a yoga teacher, yoga therapist or practitioner of yoga, I invite you to find ways to truly connect and also understand the invaluable service you are offering, particularly now.

Yours in yoga,

Michele Lawrence, Inner Peace Yoga Therapy Founder/Director