The Meaning of Community: Guest post by Kristin “Kiki” Lovelace

I’ve been thinking a lot this past month about the meaning of community, and specifically our growing Forrest Yoga community at my new studio, Innerstellar Pilates & Yoga, in Berkeley, California.

When I was dreaming up this studio (and it cooked for a LONG time in my head before it came into being), my mentor, Pilates Educator and Life Coach Tom McCook once asked me to come up with an intention for my studio. I said, “I want a place where we all co-create our success and aliveness and abundance.” That is a wild thing to say if you are a very independent-minded Aries like myself. I spent the first quarter of my life trying to prove to myself and to everyone else that I didn’t need any help whatsoever. But as I got older, I really longed for a work place where I could be the leader of a group of many co-conspirators, with their various superhero skills and creative ideas.

One of the highlights of my week is our Wednesday afternoon “Forrest Yoga Playdate,” a weekly practice at Innerstellar, where all Forrest Yoga Teachers (aka Co-Conspirator Superheroes) are invited to come and do a really strong, sweaty practice in a room full of other thrill seekers and energy weavers. One of the advanced asanas I’ve been working with lately is practicing Forearm Balance in the middle of the room (i.e. no wall-crutch), which puts me directly into what I like to call “the squeal zone.”

About a month ago, Innerstellar Teacher and Forrest Yogini, Marisha Doan and I made a commitment that we would spot each other in this pose every week until we can do it by ourselves. Today, Marisha was sick and I could feel myself going into nervous chatter in my head as we neared the inversion section of our practice. “Well, I could just skip it today,” I thought to myself. But I took a deep Ujjayi breath, looked up from my mat and spotted Michelle Cordero (a Senior Forrest Yoga Teacher at Innerstellar and one of my best friends), in front of me. I asked her, “Will you spot me in Forearm Balance?” She did, of course. I felt totally supported by her.

This was an opportunity to grow into a feeling of being held up (literally) by the people around me, rather than shrinking away into my old hiding hole with my old story: “If I can’t do it by myself, I can’t do it at all.” As I’ve grown (thanks in HUGE part to years of therapy and Forrest Yoga), I’ve come to realize that my true gift as a leader is my vulnerability:  my ability to feel and emote (even in public), my ability to say “I don’t know,” and my willingness to take in feedback from my students, colleagues and teachers to process and digest it to see if it rings true to me.

These were some of the very things I absolutely loathed about myself growing up. But I’ve noticed that as the voice of my Inner Critic has receded into background noise, I’ve been better able to receive feedback from the people I care about with grace and dignity. More so now that ever, I am able to see and be seen in deeply authentic ways, to be comfortable in relationship with others even when it’s uncomfortable. I often think of something my therapist once told me: “Bickering is a sign of intimacy.” I remind myself of that when I’m in a tight spot with a loved one or colleague or student.

I’m inspired by this quote by Dr. Robert Butler in his book The Longevity Prescription:
“One of the best strategies to a long and healthy life is connectivity. Numerous studies have led to wide-ranging conclusions about the importance of social relationships to individual good health. Having caring people around you–or even just making meaning from contact with them by phone, via the Internet, or other means–amounts to a special kind of health insurance. So, a surefire way to longevity is greater interactivity in a social sense. We humans are social creatures: interdependent, adaptable, and flexible.”

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about another social creature: the wolf. I love wolves and am inspired by their ancient wisdom, affection, playfulness and joy. I find it fascinating that they hunt and play and run and sleep in a pack –in community with each other. I wrote my teacher, Ana Forrest, an email a few days ago about the Wolf Medicine I’ve been working with and she responded, and I quote: “Oooohhhhhhaaaaa.” That’s Ana-speak for a good old-fashioned howl. We have a slightly weird tradition in Forrest Yoga of howling when we get together to do our yoga practice. Wolves howl just for the joy of it. You should hear it when group of Forrest Yogis howl together – it lights up the room. It is absurd and funny and tender and joyful.

Wolves also howl as a call out to their pack when they are alone. It is a call for support: throat and jaw wide open and vulnerable. It is a sound of Beauty.

Are YOU willing to be vulnerable today? To call out to your tribe with throat and jaw wide open? When you need help sorting things out, I invite you to lean on your friends or loved ones or teachers or colleagues or fellow students. It’s strangely relaxing and satisfying. Your community will invariably come up with an inspiring, creative solution to the very thing that made you fell stuck. Or they will be still and listen, a true gift to you and your healing process. Either way, they will love to be of service to you. Don’t rob them of the opportunity.

Ask questions of others; be willing to say, “I don’t know.” Doing everything by yourself is so 2011. It’s 2012, y’all, and there are a lot of wise and talented people out there!

As Dr. Butler says, “As a species, we have evolved in a world in which we must rely upon one another and, as individuals, the more we can contribute to bettering that world, the better it will be.”

A-ho and Oooohhhhhhaaaaa!

Kristin “Kiki” Lovelace is  a Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher, Certified Pilates Instructor, and Owner and Director of Education at Innerstellar Pilates & Yoga. She howls with the best of them.