Jews have to pray together. According to Jewish Law, certain essential prayers can only be recited in the presence of a minyan - ten Jewish adults. Of course, a Jew can pray on his or her own, but if they're praying by the rules, they need to skip some of the greatest hits of the prayer book - the Kaddish and the Barchu, to name a few.
In yoga, we have a very different story. As a beginner, it helps to practice yoga in a class led by an experienced teacher and surrounded by fellow students. As one progresses, however, as the body learns the poses and the mind memorizes the sequences, as the nervous system becomes more and more adept at sensing imbalances in alignment, one can shift to a home-based practice.
When I practice at home, I tailor yoga sequences to fit my needs - I do second and third sets of some poses, depending on how the first set feels that day. I hold some poses for longer durations when I sense that my body hasn't opened as much as it could. I skip other poses to compensate. All of this costs zero dollars, takes zero minutes of commuting time, and can start and end exactly when I need.
So why do I find myself shlepping to the yoga studio as many days as I practice at home?
It's not for the sense of community. The yoga studio I currently attend runs at a D.C.-pace, with classes every two hours. Students pour in and out in Starbucks fashion. Few exchange words with one another in the locker rooms or the lobby.
Despite the anonymity, when class begins, I join these strangers in a dance, a dance that's pulsing, purposeful, and intimate. When I struggle, the woman next to me, the one I've seen a bunch of times but whose name I still don't know, she struggles too. We are alone together, strangers involved in a collective experience of the self. We're locked in our separate bodies and minds, castaways on our own private islands. But we're looking out at the same sea, reaching for the same sun. Knowing she's next to me, knowing they're all in it with me, that's when the loneliness ends. It doesn't matter that we've skipped the pre-class schmooze and will most likely forego the post-class kvetch. In practice together, moving together, breathing together, we heal each other.
Jews need one another to pray. Yogis do, too. Today, I practiced at home. The sequence perfectly fit my state of body and mind. Tomorrow, I'll be back in the studio. It won't fit just right, but it will be just right - together.