How to Build Community in Yoga


Last year, after retiring and moving to Florida, I signed up for a yoga teacher training class. I have taken yoga classes over the years and this seemed to be a good next step. As we age I’ve read that it’s important to continue to learn new things for your brain. The idea of losing my mind with dementia or alzheimers disease is terrifying.

The 200 hour teacher training was a positive experience, so this winter I signed up for an additional 300 hours of yoga “school” (as my over 50 training squad called it). This time Heartwood Institute offered a hybrid class. This training consisted of Zoom meetings and an 8 day immersion program on site with our cohort. Our group met last week.

Located on a tranquil, nature filled seven acres, Heartwood Institute is just minutes from my house in Bradenton, Florida. From 8 am until about 7 pm, I actively engaged with this amazing community of women learning all about yoga and life.

The first morning Ginny Shaddock, the owner of Heartwood, started the week off with a conversation/ lecture on the philosophy of yoga specifically the Sutras of Patanjali. In the afternoon we participated in a musical session with drums and chanting. The spirited atmosphere gave us a fun opportunity to connect with the women in our group. I had a good feeling about this so was excited to get up and go the next morning.

Each morning we spent time discussing yoga philosophies and how they relate to our own lives. We learned how yoga can be used to help deal with trauma and that yoga therapy is often times covered by health insurance. Many people in the medical field now recognize that yoga practice is helping patients to lower blood pressure, maintain or develop balance, stability and flexibility, and reduce stress and anxiety.

Then David, the other owner of Heartwood, would serve the 12 of us a yummy vegetarian lunch. Each dining opportunity gave us a chance to chat and tell stories. We yogis varied in age from 23 to 61. A few of us live nearby so commuted to the program, but several of the women stayed on site. They traveled from Idaho, New Hampshire and a few places in between.

After lunch, the afternoon consisted of a yoga class led by one of us, or one of the amazing teachers at Heartwood and a focused workshop or fun art project to do. We felt a lot like kids at camp. In fact this group, and several of our husbands and children, referred to our week as “yoga camp”.

One afternoon, we were introduced to the idea of Malas. Many religions have a type of prayer bead. The Greeks have worry beads, the Christians have rosary beads and people from India have Mala beads to use in prayer and meditation. The Mala are meant to help you focus and you repeat a mantra, a word or phrase, for each of the 108 beads.

When our instructor brought out the variety of beads we could choose from to make a Mala necklace it was overwhelming and exciting. We each had a jewelry making board to plan our design and count out the 108 beads. Once selected, I strung my lava, rosewood and turquoise beads onto the embroidery thread rather quickly and was pleased with the look but soon found out I was far from finished with this project.

Apparently to do this correctly, you must tie a knot tightly between each bead, keeping the knot as close as possible to the prior bead. If you accidentally tie the knot too quickly before reaching the prior bead, I soon realized it was quite the calamity. The first time my knot landed too far away, I spent 10 minutes trying to get the darn knot out. I frayed the embroidery thread and I considered just making my Mala with an obvious gap. Who cares right?

Seeing my frustration, one of my new friends said she would try. She worked studiously to figure out how to untie the knot and after another 10 minutes, reached success. Feeling relief and appreciation, I sat back down to continue knotting my beads. Suddenly it happened, again!

I couldn’t believe my frustration. I tried once again to untangle the knot. I used to think I had patience. All those years of teaching kindergarten surely were more challenging than making this necklace! Once again one of my new friendly yogis stepped in and assisted before I completely ruined what I had started. Now I was determined to get this thing done. I stayed until bedtime with my group as the ones who had finished helped the rest of us make the tassel with the guru bead to complete each work of art, which they truly are. My black lava beads hold the scents of essential oils, the turquoise stones represent releasing negative energy and bringing peace and protection. I called mine a friendship Mala which I would not have completed without the love and support from my community.

The next morning we practiced yoga together and used our new Malas in a meditation practice, finding our own mantra to repeat. Each new friend created a masterpiece which we admired and posed with during our photo shoot in the gardens on a sunny morning a few days later.

I’m still keeping my self busy by engaging in multiple activities in my retirement life here in Florida. While I am by no means one of those yogis who can do strenuous poses or meditate for hours, I can appreciate the healing and comfort I have received from the practice.

I’ve been giving private yoga lessons and find that fun and rewarding. I’m interested in pursuing the idea of teaching yoga as well as practicing on a regular basis. However, I am not attached to labels and just feel comfortable letting things unfold the way they are meant to be.

What I learned and appreciated during my 300 hour teacher training is that I am connected and supported in community. We don’t have to do this alone. Life is meant to be lived, and loved. I could not have done that Mala on my own. I could not have survived the traumatic and unjust death of my husband without the support of my community. It’s not a weakness, we get stronger by reaching out for help and by helping others.

How are you connecting with community this week?


5 Responses

  1. I love that you have found your community! One of several…as I know you are so good at this. Keep inspiring us!

  2. Creating your Mala bead necklace with new friends and community really gives meaning to the necklace!

  3. I like the Yoga. I am practicing Yoga from the last 30 years. I am free from major and minor diseases. Everybody should yoga for better health particularly for senior citizens.

    1. You are a testament that it works! I am glad you are healthy and agree that more seniors should participate in yoga.

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Runaway Widow
Join me, Kristin, on my journey to adjust to the sudden death of my husband and learn to live as a young, middle-aged, remarried widow.

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