Building Community at Sangha Saturdays

I’d been there just 5 minutes and I already had my arm around the guy next to me.  Sangha Saturdays was conceived to bring people together over their love of yoga, and it was working.  We hear the words yoga and community so often, the meaning starts to get lost.  But Robin Duryea, founder of Sangha Saturdays and beloved Bay Area yoga teacher, is determined to enlighten us all with her monthly event, combining vinyasa, the discussion of themes like mantra and meditation, and friends.

This month's event, Mythic Mantra, was held at The Centre SF - a charming teahouse / yoga-studio / event space with a secret entrance hidden in an overgrown alleyway off Fillmore.  Just stepping into the space is magical.  Inside is an eclectic mix of vintage tables, handmade pottery and even some of the most covetable eyeglasses - embedded with crystals and made by the impossibly stylish Dro who works the tea-station - for sale and on display.  The crowd was a mix of girls and guys, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, ranging from yoga teachers to those who’d never even heard the word mantra.      

When I asked my new friend, Steven, what brought him to class, he had just one word: Robin.  Milling around the room with her blonde undercut, she’s smiling.  She shares wisdom from her years of teaching and personal life.  She is honest and open without over-sharing.  And perhaps it’s precisely because she’s so unafraid to be herself that her students seem to open up too.  For instance, when we arrived, she said ‘Even I'm shy about this part, but we’re all in this together, so please introduce yourself to your neighbors’.  And like a spell was broken, the room erupted in laughter and conversation.  Over the years, I’ve nodded at many a mat-buddy but it’s rare everyone actually starts to chat.  

Sangha means community.  Robin was inspired to start the event after a trip to Nicaragua in 2014.  Economically speaking, it’s a poor country, yet there is a feeling of togetherness that makes it supremely rich.  Returning home, she felt a lack.  When she did her teacher training, she’d learned so much from her peers, but during the day-to-day practice, that spirit of sharing was often lost.  We rush to class, then rush back to the grind without much discussion of, or consideration to what we just practiced.  Robin wanted to provide a place to do yoga and share discourse with like-minded people, because there’s more to it than a series of stretches - it’s just as much a practice of the mind and collective spirit.  

This month’s theme was Mythic Mantra.  Class started with an hour-long Vinyasa practice by candle-light, followed by snacks in the tea-room.  After the break, about 30 of us stayed to talk about Mantra.  Robin taught her favorites; the ones she uses to channel compassion, lift her spirits, even find a parking space!  She talked about Sanskrit, the relation of sound and vibration to healing meridians in our bodies.  The class chimed in too. 

Shreejana Pradhan, a regular yoga teacher at The Centre SF and native of Nepal, told us about growing up chanting mantra daily with her grandma because, for her culture, it's even more important than daily yoga.  Deidre Norman, SFYogaMag’s founder, reminded us that you don’t have to sound pretty to chant, either.  Her guru in India preferred an ‘authentic’ sound to that which was forced in tune.  Others said they'd initially been embarrassed to chant in Sanskrit, but once they got the nerve, felt a shift in their daily lives.  I’m in that camp - it works.

Robin often collaborates on her events, which is fitting.  For this one, Lauren Pisano played harmonium and helped lead Mantra.  Robin says, ‘I’m interested in what we all bring to the table, this practice is about everyone, about supporting one another. We all have different experiences, and I love hearing from others.’  And I felt she did.  The event was supposed to end at 9pm, but by that time, we were begging her to stay.  We ended up chanting and sharing stories till 10.  I hugged my new friends goodbye and, feeling like I’d just been on retreat, understood the meaning of Sangha.

Proceeds from the event are donated to KPOO 89.5, community-supported radio honoring artists, healers, thinkers, musicians, and those affected by changes to the city of San Francisco.

For more information on Robin Duryea and Sangha Saturdays, please visit:www.robinduryea.com or visit her Facebook page here.

Photo: Courtesy of Robin Duryea
Post written for SFYogaMag.com