By Kari Kemper
There are moments when teaching yoga that resembles a runner’s high. Total euphoria and elation. But it is not just for one individual, but for everyone in the room. Every instructor can feel the shift that happens in the midst of teaching when the collective energy in the class begins to sync. It is a palpable sense of connectedness – a heightened quality as movement, breath, and embodied awareness come into flow.
It starts with our own breath. Not only do our lungs breathe in the air around us, but our attention also shifts with each inhalation and exhalation, expanding and contracting into your own rhythm. Next is physical muscle movement, a rhythm and harmony as you flow through a sequence: inhale reach up, exhale forward fold; inhale halfway lift, exhale forward bend. There’s the sound and the silence: that hushed sound of the inhale followed by the split second of stillness before the exhale in an Ujjayi breath, the light sounds of hands and feet moving around the mat, and the internal sounds of the thoughts in the mind.
Add to the symphony, the instructor’s voice in tempo, cueing you into poses with the music from the playlist for that class. Some say that when we come together, the electromagnetic field of our heart begins to “sense or read” the heart rhythm of each other. Heart rhythms either begin to syncopate together to create a sense of “coherence” or “dissonance” between people, i.e. harmony or resistance.
One’s normal heart rate has a “dance-like plasticity and variability,” speeding up and slowing down. It does not beat in march-step or with any sort of regularity. Rather, it is constantly regulated by our nervous system. Movement or anxiety increases this rhythm, while meditation or slow breathing will slow its pace. It has also been shown that the heart is greatly influenced by music. Fast and syncopated music can speed the heart while soft and soothing melodies and rhythms can calm it. (source: Music of the Heart – Rhythms and Murmurs – Oregon Health and Science University)
December 31st, 2018, I taught a New Year’s Eve class that has since become an annual tradition at Sellwood Yoga. A full house greeted me for this extended class that started an hour and a half before the New Year. It was a lovely alternative for those who wanted a more peaceful entry into the new year.
Each attendee had their own candle at the top of their mat – with all artificial lighting turned off. The sequence I designed was to slowly build heat through a flow, increasing in intensity and pace, ending with several restorative poses. All timed to music I specifically selected for this special class. 75% of the students were new to the studio, finding this class through a Google search. When you have that many “new to you” students, a bit of anxiety can creep in, wondering if it is all going to fall apart rather quickly.
I didn’t need to worry. By the 20-minute mark, the collective energy hit and was enormous. All breathing and moving in unison – with each other and with the music. It took my breath away. I stood there, illuminated by candlelight, watching in awe over these lovely human beings as they moved and morphed, and breathed and sighed, and floated in and out of whatever realm they were experiencing. I was an honored witness.
We ended class into the New Year with a toast of something sparkling. Perfect strangers were wishing each other Happy New Year, sharing a commonality that was created minutes before – that divine shared energy. They felt it. They talked about it.
This is the magic of a collective group of strangers, arriving on the mat for their own individual purpose, but coming together in community – unknowingly allowing it to happen.