I've written before about the different communities in my Tai Chi and my favorite yoga class. Both classes are taught in my gym. In my opinion a class taught in a gym is less likely to feel like a community. My experience with gyms is that people drop in and out of classes. However both of these classes have a large following of regulars and, therefore, both have a strong sense of community.
I much prefer the sense of community in my tai chi class.
This is the first time I've ever studied yoga and my only previous experience with yogis was sharing studio space (my dojo and a yoga class both rented adjacent rooms in a dance studio and we shared a dressing room). I wasn't left with the warm fuzzies for the yogis I met previously. The same is true for the majority of people in this yoga class. They appear rather cliquish, and while not unfriendly, they aren't particularly welcoming. I am definitely an 'outsider regular.' [A lot of this has to do with my personality. I'm not quick to get to know anyone and generally need to be drawn out in social situations. Although b says I'm getting much more social lately. I don't know if it is a function of aging or living in the South.]
Today I got to my yoga class a little early. My neck was hurting quite a bit (from moving furniture incorrectly yesterday) and I wanted to try and stretch and relax a little before class started. There were two other regulars already there. The regulars generally have preferred spots. If I'm not early I often lose my preferred spot but today I was able to claim it. It is right next to an older gentleman who is right next to an older woman. They often chat and were doing so today when I got there.
The woman is someone who has always rubbed me the wrong way. She is a bit of a yoga cop--doesn't actually enforce the rules but complains when they are broken. She is also one of the more cliquish of the regulars. Last week I was surprised that she actually spoke to me.
Today, as I lay on my mat trying to relax, I couldn't help but overhear their conversation. It covered a lot of territory including: the state of Arizona, illegal immigrants, shopping sprees, the Russian mafia in NYC, unicycles, people who foreclose on their mortgages, and people who walk across the yoga floor in shoes. Several times I heard the word "they" used--as in "what they do" and what "enables them." I breathed deep and tried to concentrate on relaxing my shoulders and my neck, which were really tight. Our instructor starts class with a prayer that includes a wish that "no conflict should arise to cause disharmony between us." I tried hard to put that disharmony aside but was only mildly successful.
Another regular, who had been missing for several weeks, came in and said hello to the pair. She said she was glad to be back. The woman acknowledged her and said something to the effect of "we are always glad to have our regulars back." I couldn't help but wonder--am I an 'us' or a 'them'?
In my tai chi class we are also very happy to see regulars come back after an absence. We welcome them back individually and as a class. We also welcome new people--we learn their names and introduce them around. We ask about each other's lives and share little stories. We encourage each other in our practice.
I don't know anyone's political leanings but I'm sure there are many with different views from my own. There are side conversations that occur before and after class but they are fairly innocuous. They are also very fluid; you can watch small groups merge and separate like a successful cocktail party.
During yoga class, I am an individual. I spend an hour trying to live in my body and in the present moment. I don't always achieve my goals but it is helpful to strive for them. In tai chi I am a member of a group. I spend an hour trying to live in my body and in the present moment but I also spend an hour with people I've come to regard as friends. In tai chi I've yet to meet (or feel like) a 'them.'