Changed for the Better

By Swami Shrutananda

Who can change you for the better? Who really gets you? Other yogis!

I think about all the yogis who have made — and continue to make — a difference in my life. These thoughts especially arise when I hear For Good, a song about the friendship between two witches, Glinda and Elphaba in the musical “Wicked.” Tears well up in my eyes when I hear its lines “I do believe I have been changed for the better. And because I knew you.”

One of the things I love about teaching yoga classes and immersions is how students inspire each other. When you put words to your deep inner experiences, others gain insight into their own inner experiences. Your comments and questions enrich everyone’s understanding. Perhaps it’s an understanding of how to handle a difficult situation or person in their life. Perhaps you understand yourself better. From knowing each other, you have been changed for the better. And you are inspired to do more yoga!

You become yoga buddies. You may not know if they have a partner, children or grandchildren or what they do for a living. Yet you share, understand and know one another at a much deeper level. This is the purpose of being in community with fellow yogis. As long as you continue to come to Ashram programs, I will be in relationship with you – over decades. For I, too, am changed for the better because I know you.

International Day of Yoga, observed across the world on June 21st annually, celebrates the spread of yoga throughout the world with gatherings of yogis. How can you celebrate International Yoga Day?

Get together with a few yoga buddies in person or on Zoom. Share tea or a meal, or enjoy an outing or a yogic get-together of some kind. Find new yogis to be friends with, even if they do a different style or are from another tradition. Yoga doesn’t say that one tradition is right. All paths of yoga are honored, states the sage Kshemaraja from over 1200 years ago:

Tad bhuumikah sarva-darshana-sthitayah
— Pratyabhij~nahrdayam 8

The various traditions are different roles of Consciousness.
— Rendered by Gurudevi Nirmalananda

In this text, the One Divine Essence is called by the name “Consciousness.” The One has become everything that exists. In addition to being you, Consciousness is also being all the different forms, traditions and paths of yoga. Kshemaraja explains that Consciousness becomes so many different traditions because different kinds of people need different ways and paths to the knowing of their own Divine Essence, their own Self.

I enjoy talking to yogis that come from a different tradition. I learn something more about the breadth of yoga, about them and about me. There are lots of yogis out there to meet. With the worldwide increase of people doing yoga, you are part of a huge yoga family.

According to Shri Google, the worldwide population of yoga practitioners is more than 300 million. The global number of people who meditate is anywhere between 200 and 500 million. Considering there is likely some overlap, let’s say 500 million people meditate and/or practice yoga. This is 6% of the world population. This means 6 of every 100 people you meet do yoga. This doubles to 12% when you are in the US. I am going to assume this is also true in Australia, Canada and Europe.

So yogis are everywhere. In the past two days alone, I met two while traveling. One was my Lyft driver, who takes local YMCA yoga classes twice weekly. Coming back on the plane, I sat across the aisle from a yogi. She zooms into a Mumbai teacher’s yoga classes and meditation every week. Telling me about the benefits they are getting, both yogis had such love for their yoga. Yogis love to talk about yoga!

Your yoga community and conversations are an important part of your practice. Is it expanding? Make it your practice to step into relationship with more yogis. Together you inspire each other on the path and profoundly affect the world. Together, we yogis are a Divine Force enriching the lives of others.

Remember, don’t limit yourself to those who only do your kind of yoga or meditation. All yoga is good yoga. All meditation is good meditation. Get out there and make more yoga friends. Be changed for the better!

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