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Get Hygge with Your Sangha this Winter
Get Hygge with Your Sangha this Winter

On the last Sunday of a recent year, I scrounged up all my old magazines, scissors, and a glue stick and headed over to my friend Reece’s healing center for a women’s life mapping workshop. For many past New Years, I had collaged together visions of my next year’s intentions and goals and was excited to do so again this year. However, when I arrived at the gathering I was told that we would be not be planning for the future with our collage but rather reflecting on the past year

Although this was disappointing – it’s much more exhilarating to dream and plan than to reflect and process – I faced the collage challenge head-on. In the end, my map of the prior year included, amongst many beautiful and fun memories, some difficult images of heartbreak, financial stress, health problems, and dreams dashed.  After duly reflecting upon it, I ceremoniously tore up the art piece and created another for intentions and goals for the year ahead. Bodhi svaha!

Ultimately the life map collage process provoked a period of reconciliation for me, as I looked back on the prior year and could see how far I’ve come over the past twelve months. It had been a year of resiliency for me. I was in a much stronger, healthier, and happier place than I was a year ago. Obviously, I am proud of this resiliency, or titiksha in Sanskrit. But where does resiliency reside? How does it come about, and how do we consciously resource it?

For me, this resiliency, the ability to bounce back and rise higher, was so greatly buoyed by my community, or satsang. Sharon Gannon, the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, says that satsang is the number one practice for the 21st century.  ‘Sat’ meaning truth, and ‘ang’ meaning attachment, satsang implies that we keep divine company with others who are making a sincere effort to grow spiritually.

In the previous year, my primary satsang was my circle of girlfriends. I adore this ever-morphing, joyful and supportive group of wild women! We rely on each other for everything from rides to the airport, to sharing our yoga and meditation practices, to swapping perspectives on relationships, and so much more. Equally important has been the satsang of my yoga community, which has anchored and held me over the past ten years of teaching and immersion in yoga studio culture. That year I found a new family in the different yoga communities for whom I am ever so grateful.

I even feel the strength and support from my cyber communities. I am admittedly a Facebook addict. Advice and inspiration can now so easily be volleyed around these social media circles, this virtual satsang. Even so, there’s much to be said about the intimacy of “in the flesh” interactions. In the 21st century we humans can create friendships and community online, but they still fail to be as powerful and authentic as face-to-face interaction. 

As useful as it is, I cannot get a hug over LinkedIn, or hear the subtleties of my best friend’s voice over Twitter. I now have a policy that I won’t be Facebook friends with someone I have never spoken to in the “real” world. It’s become very clear to me, especially over the past year of singledom, that we need each other in our physical forms. 

I believe that it is my basic human need to feel another’s skin and body heat, to hear their voice, smell their distinct scent and even live with their rhythms. My teacher Jessica Patterson recently relayed the story of a Northern Alaskan town in which the residents mitigate the extreme cold and dark of the wintertime by holding an organized party at a local bar each year. They recognize the great importance of human company during hard times, so each finds another to shack up with for the season. There’s something about this that I just love.

I remembered this quirky antidote of the Alaskan town many times during the last few weeks of the year, especially during that bitter sub-zero week here in Denver, and also around the holidays. Towards the end of December I encountered so many beautiful, tender, lonely souls.  Courageous, interesting, intelligent, warm, and talented people from different walks of life expressed loneliness and yearning to me. And as each one shared I thought of all the others and how gratifying it would be to match them all up together so they could offer each other some much-needed company, conversation, and body heat.  So many people are starving for connection and intimacy.  On one cold evening, I suggested (via a Facebook post, ironically) that we lone wolves all cozy up under a big down comforter with some veggie soup and hold Beatles sing-along.

This brings me to my current obsession with the concept of hygge. Hygge (pronounced hYOUguh) is a Danish term that doesn’t seem to have an easy English translation. The closest meaning is something like cozy, which is actually my favorite four-letter word of our language, except that hygge can be a verb, noun, or adjective.  It implies relaxing in a friendly atmosphere with friends and loved ones, and usually something delicious to eat. It’s this kind of activity that spreads joy throughout your community or satsang.  In the words of psychologist James Fowler, who studies happiness and determines its benefits last about a year, there is “a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends‘ happiness, but between your happiness and your friends‘ friends‘ friends‘ happiness.”

A very different culture also experiences the benefits of hygge. Termed the Hispanic Health Paradox, there is a well-known contradiction between the high life expectance and general health and the low-socioeconomic status of Mexican Americans. Researcher John Ruiz of the University of North Texas explains that “Hispanic cultural values such as simpatica (importance of displaying kindness and maintaining interpersonal harmony), familismo (importance of keeping warm family relationships), and personalismo (valuing and building warm relationships) may help build strong social support which itself is associated with better health and lower mortality risk.”

Although with the winter holidays being their own storm of problems, including loneliness and isolation for some, for me it’s easier to get my hygge on during the stretch of the year between Thanksgiving and New Years. Holiday parties and events all lend to that sense of community. Now that New Years has come and gone, my social obligations have also calmed down. This is a welcome break for now, but it also means I’ll need to put greater effort into expanding and relying on my satsang in the coming cold winter months. Please join me in coming together with friends, loved ones, and spiritual seekers this season. I’ll get the soup on the stove, you bring the cozy blankets and your Beatles-singing voices….“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”

By Elise Fabricant

Elise Fabricant is a top teacher on YogaDownload.com. She's also always at your service for one-on-one coaching. If you’re ready to make big changes in all aspects of your life, sign up for a complimentary clarity session with her from her website here.

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