“The power of community to create health is far greater than any physician, clinic or hospital.” – Doctor Mark Hyman

Our Tribal Ancestors

In a world where we no longer live in “tribes”, feeling that we are part of a community is more important than ever. I remember watching a documentary about tribes who sleep in hammocks. The program showed one family of about 5 or 6 people all piled into the same hammock (which looked small enough by the way!) and everyone seemed to be sound asleep. In all honesty, I couldn’t imagine anything worse, but I was chatting about this with my daughter yesterday and I said, “The poor person who got in first would be totally squashed by the others”, and she replied, “I would want to be somewhere in the middle as then you have less chance of falling out!”

The reason I mention this at all is that our tribal ancestors had bucket-loads of human connection. Granted, the example I give above is very extreme. I love my family just as much as the next person, but I ain’t giving up my king-size bed anytime soon! Still, it got me thinking about the impact of isolation people have experienced over the last two years, and the repercussions on our health as a society going forward.

Our hunter-gatherer tribal ancestors lived simply, ate simply, and got plenty of exercise and fresh air through necessity. They were intimately in touch with themselves, each other and with nature. Contrast that with modern living.

The Loneliness Epidemic

Even in pre-pandemic times, Western governments were aware of the harmful effects of social isolation. Back in 2018 Theresa May even went as far as appointing a “minister of loneliness” to address the loneliness epidemic in the UK, where studies concluded that a substantial proportion of society felt that institutions that brought people together like workplaces, church, pubs etc. no longer provided a reliable social network.

It was not only the UK suffering on the loneliness front – In Ireland, (June 2018) the Loneliness Taskforce launched a report recommending that Government take action on loneliness and social isolation. The report highlighted that loneliness is the “public health crisis” of this generation. Let’s not kid ourselves, we were not doing so great before all hell broke loose in 2020.

Fast forward a couple of years, and how are we faring now in 2022? Certainly, we all experienced first-hand the difficulties of isolation – for anyone living alone, this was greatly amplified. So, what do the experts say? Some researchers are now calling for “Post-Pandemic Stress Disorder” to be recognised as a mental condition. We know that social isolation impacts all aspects of our health, that as a species we have an innate need to build connection with others. When that is taken away, the results are not in our favour and the impact can be seen on both our physical and mental health. Research has shown that:

  • Loneliness and social isolation have been linked to a 30% increase in the risk of having a stroke or coronary artery disease.
  • Loneliness is a greater threat to the health of the elderly than obesity.
  • Loneliness is almost as great a cause of death as poverty.
  • Lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than both smoking and high blood pressure.

Finding meaningful connection through Yoga

When I first started practising Yoga, I loved it because it provided me with a sense of calm and ease, regardless of what was happening in the world around me and back when I started to practise intensively, believe me, I was going through some crazy life circumstances (that’s a topic for another day). Yoga provided me with a safe haven, a feeling of sustained tranquillity that allowed me cope when life was tough. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Yoga opened up a whole new world for me and with it a whole new community and a greater sense of happiness.

  • I felt part of something bigger
  • I went to class and met new people who shared a common interest
  • Acquaintances turned into friends
  • I started my Teacher Training course and felt a deeper sense of purpose
  • Five of us went out to practise Yoga in India and I had one of the best months of my life
  • I met David through Yoga

The filtered world of Social Media

David and I established the school not only to teach people Yoga practices but also to provide a space for community, a space where like-minded souls could come together to explore what it is to be human, to connect not only with themselves but also with each other. When we start to get to know ourselves deeply from the inside, we often feel a bit disillusioned with what is going on in the external world even more so now with the proliferation of social media, convincing us that we can be happier if we have the “perfect” (filtered!) life. The Instagram algorithm will always favour the Yogis who demonstrate the more extreme postures like putting legs behind their heads. It will also favour the latest "must have" designer products, playing on our need to compare ourselves to others, and buy into the idea that we need to accumulate more or achieve more to be accepted and to be happy. The truth is that none of this makes us happy. We might get a short term sense of satisfaction from achieving a particular posture or we might feel good temporarily when we click and subsequently collect a new handbag but none of this provides lasting happiness. Let me just say that again - Putting a leg behind your head will not make you any happier, and neither will online shopping - regardless of the purchase.

Make time for relationships - they matter!

Fifty years of happiness research has shown that close relationships are one of the strongest factors that contribute to our happiness. When the first lockdown was imposed, just like almost every other studio, we went online. It was somewhat surprising how many students told us how valuable they found the sense of connection they felt to the people ‘alongside’ whom they were practising remotely. We were a virtual community at a time when it was the only sort we could have. This was highlighted even more clearly on the YogaVeda Living Course, (Click the link for details: Yogaveda Living Course • Yogaveda Living), our first fully online intensive course. Being honest, I wasn’t sure if we could replicate that sense of community, but, one year on, and one of the most heart-warming outcomes from that course is that almost all of the students who enrolled last January and completed in December ’21, are coming out to Portugal with us in July. This group of strangers met online and quickly forged a community in which they felt safe and in which they could open up together. This particular group fostered a deep energetic connection, and it is beautiful that some of these like-minded women will be meeting face to face for the first time, in Portugal, already having an established heart connection. That is the power of community! (Click for details on Portugal Yoga Holiday: Yoga Holiday 2022 • Yogaveda Living)

In a world where we are supposedly more "connected" than ever before through technology, we need to make sure that we make time for meaningful relationships and communities because they really matter - they contribute greatly to our happiness. I'm not suggesting we ever want to go back to sleeping on top of one another in hammocks but we can still feel as though we are part of a tribe and the great news is that you get to choose your own.  The YogaVeda Living tribe is always looking for new members - we believe that everyone belongs - we are all one and everyone is welcome. Thank you for reading,With so much love,x Paula.