At the studio where Tara and I teach, we have a “silent sanctuary” policy. The idea is that our classrooms are to be silent before and after classes to allow our members and guests a quiet place to meditate or focus before and after class. While this idea seemed very yogi, and we worked as teachers and staff to enforce the quiet policy with our members, something just seemed of the mark about requiring quiet in a place where we were also trying to promote community.
As I reflected on the positives of creating a peaceful environment for students to find solace from the noise of everyday living, I also was reading a lot about the human need to connect with others and feel a sense of belonging. I began to wonder if our strict silence policy might be working against the opportunity for our clients to feel connected to others in our studio community?
We have a great lobby at our studio with places to sit and chat before and after class, and we have always encouraged our clients to socialize there, but once they crossed the threshold into the classrooms, silence was expected. While our regular members got the hang of keeping the chatter in the lobby, I tried to imagine myself as a new client – one already a bit nervous about trying yoga for the first time – entering this “silent sanctuary.” Suddenly, the yogic feel of the studio classroom became very isolating and intimidating through the eyes of a newbie.
Would it be so wrong to allow – possibly even encourage – a little communication in the yoga classroom? Could we actually help more yogis find a sense of connection they could be seeking through some actual connection rather than give them more time to feel isolated on a mat in a room with others intentionally not speaking to one another? Sounds a little less yogic when you think of it that way, huh?
Our studio’s solution was to get a little more lax with the silent sanctuary before the classes start. However, we stressed that our teachers should then enforce some time at the opening of each class to let our students focus and breathe in quiet preparation for their practice. This timing allows the teacher to be present to help guide those new to yoga in ways to bring their focus to their breath and body (a practice that not everyone automatically knows how to do when they walk into a yoga classroom). Then, at the end of the class the silent sanctuary would be available for those who would like to enjoy it.
It is a compromise, and a work in progress at our studio. But I also think it is a valuable experiment in what it is exactly that people are seeking when they come to a yoga studio. I know it can also be just as intimidating to walk into a yoga classroom for the first time and see everyone else chatting and connecting and you don’t even know where to put your mat down. But what if one of those chatting clients noticed you were new and helped show you where to put your mat? What if the community you sense existed in that classroom made you want to come back even more than the yoga class itself? Could it be that the silent sanctuary is yet another one of those “yoga rules” that needs to be broken in order to make the practice more accessible to all?