When you ask people what their favorite word is, they will likely respond with something zany, like “defenestrate,” or something eloquent-sounding, like “effervescent.” But if I were posed this question, I would reply with the Sanskrit word “kula”: a “soul family,” or a community bound together by awareness and empathy. And I can definitely say that, without my yoga kula, I would not be the person I am today.

One day in July, my father dragged me to a 9:30 yoga class, and after an hour of forgetting the difference between my left and right feet and tumbling over on the wood floor, I found that I actually enjoyed the practice, in large part because of the kind people who surrounded me. No one laughed when I fell or looked at me funny when I faced the wrong side of the room; in fact, everyone welcomed me with open arms, encouraging me to come back and try again sometime. So I continued.

A year and a half later, I can be found with a purple mat bag slung over my shoulder most days of the week, giving the excuse that I can’t be social on Friday nights because I refuse to miss my favorite yoga class. While I love flipping myself over in urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose) and seeing how deep I can get into hanumanasana (monkey pose, also known as splits pose), my favorite part of my yoga journey has been the people I’ve bonded with along the way. Though each class is filled with a diverse group of yogis — from marathon runners who double as teachers to loving mothers who can do handstands like no other — we all somehow find a way to connect on our mats through our mutual love of yoga. Being present with others, including yourself, without saying a word: that is the magic of the practice.

Sometimes when I step on my mat, I can completely forget reality, following my breath and holding myself balanced — and that’s who I am in that moment. But sometimes, I start crying for no reason when a song comes on, or laugh uncontrollably when I try a difficult pose, or just need a hug in the middle of class because not even sun salutations can distract me from the fact that I, in that moment, am a human being being an emotional tornado. With my kula, I can be both of those people in both of those moments, because a yoga family will always understand that there are times when you are present in silence, and times when you are present in (often chaotic) feeling. And both are equally important, equally OK, and equally deserving of compassion.

For many people, myself included, it’s difficult to recognize who you are in the moment, but my kula has been a reminder again and again to take my present self and show kindness and gratitude towards the world, to boldly open up my heart to this life right now, even when I feel ripped at the seams in the directions of the past and the future. The best communities embrace you, center you, and love you as someone here, breathing and being and expressing, and my yoga family has done just that for me over the years.

Though I would love for you to come and join us at Saraswati’s Yoga Joint or Hello Yoga (shout-out to my friend Marianne — she’s the new owner there!), you don’t have to practice yoga to find a tribe with which to be present. Your quirky band of co-workers, your theater squad, your two friends who always come over to watch Disney movies with you: they are your community, and they adore you for being the person you are today.


Abby Schiff is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.