Collective effervescence: the synchrony you feel when you slide into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor, colleagues in a brainstorming session, cousins at a religious service, or teammates on a soccer field. – Adam Grant
Feeling like one with thousands of strangers
The night I saw U2 in a sold-out, massive stadium, I left the show astonished at how it felt to be a part of the audience. I remember thinking that Bono must be the most charismatic man on the planet. While I am confident that his stage presence played a role in what I felt that night, now that I am familiar with the term, I am certain that my experience in my upper-level seat was one of collective effervescence.
For an hour or two that night, I was part of a massive whole that was moving, breathing, singing, and bouncing up and down together in synchrony so complete that I had a sense that the building itself was rising and falling with us. While the concert was amazing, I remember the energy and harmony of the crowd more clearly. The experience was close to euphoric.
Yoga creates an individual sense of unity and connection
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to unite or to connect. The uniting and connecting being done in a yoga practice happens on at least two levels. Individually, we are connecting the three aspects of ourselves – body, mind, and spirit. Doing so creates a feeling of wholeness, integration, and authenticity.
I remember feeling like I’d finally discovered an Amy who felt both surprising and natural as I rolled up out of savasana, the rest at the end of a yoga class. This Amy was calm, clear, and moved at a much slower pace than the Amy I lived as most of the time. My struggle was that my newfound Amy would disappear in an instant the second someone cut me off on my two-minute drive home. Or, if she made it all the way to my driveway, she’d be but a memory as soon as I walked in the door to greet two hungry preschoolers and an infant.
As I dove into my study of yoga philosophy and, steadily and persistently, continued to practice, I began to glimpse “Yoga Amy” cropping up more often. One day, in the midst of a typical parenting moment that would typically morph into another moment of regret, “Yoga Amy” hung around. I realized “she” had become “me.” The relief and freedom I felt that afternoon made me feel nearly as effervescent as the collective effervescence I felt at that concert.
Connecting with a greater whole
Yoga offers a second – in some ways more powerful – level of union or connection. This connection is to an unimaginably huge whole. For some people, this whole is humanity. For some it is this world of ours – the planet itself and all the plants, animals, and people that populate it. For some, this whole takes on a cosmic scope – creation and Creator throughout the span of time.
We get glimpses of this union and connection through steady practice. For many, one of the first is the experience of collective effervescence as a yoga class moves and breathes together in total synchrony. As yoga expands to include meditation, many will feel boundaries – physical, mental, and emotional – dissolving. Some feel a sense of melting into the space around them as they breathe, some rise from meditation with a mind newly open to perspectives they never considered, and some feel old grudges and fears start to shrink.
When change changes how you’re living in the world, you can trust that it will stick
As these experiences of connection start to pile up, we begin to feel more grounded in our individual life. Until we feel whole or integrated ourselves, it is pretty hard to sense how integral we are to the greater whole. We can think about it, read about it, and even talk about it, but until we feel it, it cannot change the way we are living in the world. And, as I learned so viscerally that long-ago afternoon with my children, effervescence happens when what we think and believe changes how we’re living our lives.
Moments of unity inspire us to keep practicing so we can have more of them
In addition to steady, persistent practice, I think moments of collective effervescence – whether in a crowd of thousands or in a yoga class of 15 – are vivid, compelling, “mountain-top” experiences of wholeness. Because something deep within us each wants more of these experiences, they inspire us to keep practicing.
One of my teachers, James Finley, says the highest intention of practice is to put us in a stance with the least resistance to moments of grace. For me, moments of individual and collective effervescence are such moments of grace. They give me the gift of clarity and feel like “proof” that the unity and connection promised by the ancient yogis is not only possible, it is the way we are meant to live.
The next time you feel a sense of collective effervescence – and in my corner of the world, Philadelphia, we have just had a “moment” of effervescence that lasted for weeks as we drew together to support our beloved football team and their trip to the Super Bowl – tune in. Notice feeling connected to a greater whole changes the way you act. Notice how good and right it feels. Tuck these experiences away in your heart and trust that there will be more – some of which you and your practice might even help create.
I love helping people turn inward to find unity and wholeness via practices of meditation and yoga; and some of my greatest joys are when people share in spiritual direction sessions the sense of wholeness that they discover through effervescent moments when they sense of unity and connection with the world around them. Drop me a note to learn more.