There is nothing more powerful than a community. A community that is there to hold you accountable, hold you up, remind you of your inner truth, and be a consistent source of connection you can rely on no matter how you show up in the world.
In March 2020, we shutdown the studios thinking that it would be a maximum of 6 weeks that we would all be separated from each other. Citizen Yoga, and other fitness studios and restaurants who followed the government guidelines, were officially closed for 9-10 months. When the shutdown happened, our community was desperate for connection online. It was devastating, and truthfully, quite traumatizing that we were locked away from our support system with a mysterious virus running rampant throughout our communities. Just like everything in life, it was painful in the beginning, but people got used to the separation. While this separation eventually became the new normal, it was not, and is still not healthy for our bodies and minds. There are good things that we have learned about how we want to change our behaviors and habits, but overall, the stories have a similar theme: “I am glad I can work from home, but I feel lonely, anxious about group interaction, and isolated.”
COVID definitely gave us all a look at a slower paced life without all of the driving, but it also has given large companies a shoe in to say that doing everything at home alone is better. There is always a place for alone and self-reflection, but I know that it must come with balance.
As Thich Nhat Hahn states in Good Citizens:
“Whether the twenty-first century becomes a century of spirituality depends on our capacity to build Sanghas. Without a Sangha, we will become victims of despair. We need each other. We need to congregate, to bring together our wisdom, our insight, and our compassion, and make the Sangha like a family. We should give up focusing only on our personal desires and see the Earth as our true home, a home for all of us. Now is the time when we have to build the Sangha of all nations. We invite everyone to look deeply into our situation. We invite everyone to speak out and spread the message. If we fail in this task of Sangha building, then the suffering of the twenty-first century will be indescribable.”
—Nhat Hanh, Thich. Good Citizens (p. 124). Parallax Press. Kindle Edition.
The Simple Answer is Community
Community is the most simple answer to so many of our feelings of loneliness and isolation, yet we were denied that for over a year. Usually the loudest complaint that people share is missing family, travel, and exciting experiences. As a witness to a community that transformed thousands of lives over the past 8 years, community is the unsung hero holding up our hearts during the day to day fluctuations in our lives.
To me, community is the antidote to anxiety, depression and stress. It does not alleviate these for the entire day, but it can remind you of your “why” and your worth. This is my belief, and there are many studies to prove that having a true support network decreases the chance of disease in the body, and eliminates stress in the mind.
From Psychology Today:
“We need human connections, as we are socially oriented. However, after the “Industrial Revolution, people moved from farms into cities, often separating from their families. They had fewer deep relationships and needed to find their own non family connections. Many joined churches and civic organizations, but near the turn of the last century, fewer people were regularly participating in small group activities.
Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam, a political scientist, showcased data that indicated that Americans were less connected, and less likely to participate in civic activities or to join clubs. He sounded an alarm about this: He was concerned that loss of social capital in small towns and cities made citizens less honest and less interested in contributing to societal good.”
I will say that I am an advocate for entrepreneurs. Working alone CAN BE and sometimes might BE THE ONLY way to follow your dreams. I understand that. I pioneered and broke free from the inherited yoga industry in Detroit that believed that alignment did not exist, dating students was ok, and hating other yoga teachers was the norm. Being service and community oriented is choosing yourself AND others, not yourself or others.
COVID cut the thin thread that communities and in-person social networks in our country have barely been hanging on — I know that I might sound like an alarmist, but there are true threats in the world to our last community institutions.
The first threat is real, a pandemic that spreads illness as a consequence of communing, so though it is painful it is important to find ways to connect safely.
Social media: Our social media identities, which represent a fraction of our real life identities take time to curate and are deemed successful by the amount of virtual hearts we see on our newsfeed. Commenting and liking are not ways of communication; they are instant rewards for a proper strategy and presentation of your individual identity. We have been trained by large corporations to participate in a system that objectifies the individual. A person is no longer a dimensional being. A person is a certain quote, a certain selfie with a certain mouth position, a certain filter. We spend so much time trying to fit in that we lose touch with nature, people, communities, our families, and our friends. Walking down a path in the woods has become content for people to share. What we once found reflective has become curated content we use for instant gratification. Your preoccupation with social media becomes a second world making your actions in the real world distracted and disconnected.
Is it too bold to say that dedicating too much time on social media and relying on it to create your business is participating in the larger agenda of large marketing agencies? Social Media companies, in the time of the pandemic, have force fed and hypnotized us into believing that working for yourself delivers freedom and creates a convenience that you just cannot pass up. You can do less work from the comfort of your own home, but a realistic picture of that life looks like you alone on your couch. Convenience is the kryptonite to community and good mental health. Of course, there are a few things, especially for parents, that became more convenient during the pandemic that contributed to mental health (temporarily), however, the long term effects of trading in convenience for community and connection will be devastating on our minds and our hearts. Social media companies and other online portals are aimed at keeping you addicted, bought in, and involved on your phone. Again, I will say that I have only come to this conclusion by watching so many people and being less involved and committed to growing my own social media profile. There is definitely a direct connection between the pernicious messaging from large social media companies about instant and convenient money and purpose and mental health and community. Remember, to be successful on social media, you have to be completely involved and bought into the system, unless you were previously famous. (Ahhhh fame, the dream of so many of us.) So though it is sold like entrepreneurship, it is really a giving into the larger system of rewarding the participant for being completely involved in social media versus in a real life community. And this is exactly what they need us to believe and do in order for their company to grow. What is the difference between being an influencer and being a direct employee of a large company? At least in having direct employment you know, who and what you have decided to work for versus being sold false individualism in order to feed something so much larger than you.
The best way to learn about yourself is to play with others.
Working alone and following your dreams used to mean something different in the past. It meant that you got more involved in the local community and made more connections to build a new network. Now, your following can be built from anywhere in the world, but your preoccupation is with your phone and a world that does not have true connection or contact with other humans. I will never forget being in Tulum studying and watching the sunrise, while the person next to me sat for 1 hour posting about the sunrise. In this situation, who is free?
Few realize that when making a decision to work alone, that you are actually doing exactly what the larger companies are hoping you will do, live on social media. Turning yourself into a brand obligates you to conform and participate in a system that, yes, is not a corporation per se, but in the end, is furthering the intent of very large corporations. Keep people on their phones at all costs. So yes, is there power in social media, no question. But is it good for long term mental and physical health to turn in your community for a social media following, I am going to guess not.
Online Convenience: There is something amazing about on-demand, clearly I believe that since Citizen Yoga launched an app. Online communities are powerful in a variety of ways that I will not deny. I had the privilege of taking trainings and classes that used to only be available in-person. The spread of information is such a benefit. But daily use of these communities will again lead to a fall of your neighborhood small business community that has taken the place of churches, temples, and community centers in modern day life. People are refusing to come in for work, not realizing that the only people their efforts are affecting are small businesses, not the large corporations that they intend to fight. There are real people behind these visions, and I am guessing that the intention of small businesses owners are far better and more holistic than Instagram, Facebook, etc. So when the time is right for you, maybe you reconsider taking that drive to the grocery store, fitness studio, or retailer in your neighborhood.
Over the past few months, the majority of stories I listen to have an undercurrent of fear, anxiety, isolation and depression. As sad as that sounds, it is just the truth. The first question I ask is, how much in-person contact have you had? The answer is usually, very little. Why? School is online. Yoga is online. Spin class is online. Parents live far away and travel was impossible. All of these things are conveniences we were forced to accommodate for 1 year, but are they worth keeping at the cost of our hearts, minds, and bodies?
—Kacee Must, Founder of Citizen Yoga