As the recent article on Gaura Yoga Bhakti Centre’s new Thursday night Vinyasa & Kirtan yoga class showed, there’s more than one way to teach yoga.
Also in Wellington, Marianne Elliott is spearheading a series of yoga classes at Yoga Unlimited called Yoga Sangha. These classes are delivered by seva – that is, they have no set price and students decide what they’d like to offer in exchange for attending class.
The Yoga Lunchbox caught up with Marianne to find out more about Yoga Sangha, which has recently had both a name and a venue change.
1. Yoga Sangha started life as Prana Flow – why the change in name?
When Kara-Leah and Taisuke started these classes they were both interested in teaching in the ‘prana flow’ style, as taught by Shiva Rea. A few years on, the teachers have changed and have brought new influences and traditions into the mix.
What has not changed is the community aspect of these classes. Sangha is a sanskrit word that means “community”. In particular it refers to a community of people with a common goal or purpose. Yoga Sangha classes are about people. They are about community.
Yoga Sanghais a community of teachers – the people who teach the classes may change but we are all connected as part of a strong community of yoga teachers in Wellington and beyond.
Yoga Sangha is a community of students – the students at Yoga Sangha have always played a central role in making the classes happen. They help set up for class, they help clean up. Teacher and students are a team making the class happen together.
2. You’ve also changed venue to Yoga Unlimited, what prompted that and what does being in a yoga studio add to the classes?
The move to Yoga Unlimited was prompted mostly by the desire to be able to warm the practice room, it gets very cold in Wellington in mid-winter and the room we were using was very hard to heat. We were also sharing the space with a hip-hop class and their music seemed to be getting louder every week. Initially we all saw this as a great way to practice being present without judgment. Eventually, even our yogi patience was being worn thin. There are only so many times you want to hear the first 12 bars of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ when you are resting in savasana!
We were a bit concerned that being in a yoga studio might dilute the community feeling of our classes, but we needn’t have worried. Kelly and Lynda, the owners of Yoga Unlimited, have always placed a lot of importance on creating that sense of community in their studio. I love seeing how much our Yoga Sangha students appreciate the little luxuries of a yoga studio (look blankets! heaters! dimmers on the lights!). It reminds me to never take these for granted.
The advantages of being at Yoga Unlimited go much deeper than these luxuries, however. Our students have been welcomed into a wider yoga community where they can meet and take classes with other teachers, meet other students and find out about workshops and yoga events that will help to deepen their own yoga experience.
3. These classes are taught by seva – what is your understanding of seva and what does it mean for students coming along?
My understanding of seva is a service offered with no expectation of anything in return, a service offered in love. Teaching these classes is one form of selfless service. At the same time, we invite people to make an offering for the class. This offering, we suggest, can reflect what they are able to pay and what they think the class is worth. If people want to make a non-monetary offering, I’m open to that as well. I have one student who comes and does some gardening with me in exchange for classes.
We hope that this will make the classes accessible to everyone. We also hope, and believe, that this gives all our students the chance to bring a practice of mindfulness and generosity to their own offering. Without a set price, they are asked to make a choice and, in time, we hope that this choice will become part of their yoga practice.
What I love about how the seva classes work is that the offering may vary widely from person to person, but generally the spirit of generosity is consistent. Of course, when someone is new, they might think of the class as a great way to get a free yoga class. But in time, I hope, being part of our yoga community will encourage that person to reconsider what “free” means to them.
4. How do you describe Yoga Sangha classes to people – what makes them different from other yoga classes?
I describe them as community classes, I tell people that if they come long to these classes they can expect to get to know the other students. The students often ask each other about their children, challenges at work, exciting trips etc. You’ll also be invited to be part of the community that makes these classes function. When we were considering moving, I asked the students what they thought. Their views were a deciding factor in our final choice.
We have a lot of fun in the Yoga Sangha classes. When hip-hop music is blasting on one side and a student garage-rock band is practicing on the other side, you need a sense of humour to get through your yoga practice. We laugh together. A lot.
I also find that Yoga Sangha students, generally, are interested in the full path of yoga. They are not simply looking for a stretch class or a way to get tight buns. They want to know about the philosophy of yoga, and all the eight limbs. I think that this has something to do with why they were willing to practice in a cold room, with hip-hop music blaring. They understand that yoga doesn’t depend on conditions or environment. They are interested in what yoga looks like when you practice in less than ideal conditions, what it looks like – even – when you take it off your mat.
5. Anything else you’d like to add?
If you think you’d enjoy a community style yoga class in a beautiful studio setting, then come along:
- Tuesday 7.30pm
- Thursday 7.30pm
- Friday 5.30pm
All classes are at Yoga Unlimited: Level One, 80 Tory St, Wellington
Do you, or someone you know, teach yoga in an innovative or creative way? Let The Yoga Lunchbox know and we might be able to interview you for an up-coming article.