The Family We Choose

by Janet Arnold-Grych

As social creatures, we seek connection with others. Over the years, I have found community in various places—at particular organizations, with people singing kirtan, with the teachers and students at the yoga studio where I practice, and always, at Kripalu.

During one of my first trips to Kripalu, I ventured out onto the back lawn in the quiet of the new morning. The stillness of the scene was enlivened by a young man, his arms extended and eyes closed, who appeared to be reviewing dance steps. Another visitor seemed to be meditating. A woman nearby was moving through yoga poses, stopping intermittently to breathe into her poses and her breathe in her surroundings—at least that’s how it appeared to me.

I was neither sitting nor moving with any of them, and yet I felt in communion with this group. We shared what I imagined to be a common desire for greater peace, connection, and joy.

Finding Our People

It’s said that we have the family we are born into and the family we choose. Even when we have loving familial relationships, there is great power in finding the “families” that align with our core beliefs and interests. In those communities, we receive tremendous affirmation that our hopes, our actions, and even our frailties are not so unusual. With our chosen families, we freely share space and find support for our journey and, in return, expand to offer the same to our fellow travelers. Communities are initially about us, and then extend to so much more beyond us. 

In important ways, our self-identified communities—whether large or small—feed our need for authenticity, both in defining what that means and in refilling it when we’re depleted. Our communities can arise from yoga studios, online forums, neighborhoods—really anywhere we recognize similarity and room for definition.

I live in the Midwest and stand on Kripalu soil once a year, if my schedule allows. Yet I feel part of the Kripalu community because my experiences there have touched me so deeply. To be part of a community of seekers, even just for a weekend, who work to grow, discover, and advance good, reaffirms my faith in humanity and possibility in myself.

“When we come together and let our guard down, when we allow ourselves to show up as we are, we find we have more in common, more connection with others than we realize,” says Cristie Newhart, a faculty member at Kripalu for more than 20 years and now Dean of the Kripalu School of Yoga. “I've observed how people who might not even notice one another in everyday life, after sharing an experience or taking yoga classes together, become friends or remain connected once they leave Kripalu.” 

These connections, woven from non-judgment and kindness, serve as a beacon. They help to center me even when I’m more than a thousand miles away.

The Power of Community

While communities provide a forum for like-minded people, in the best of communities, it’s not about creating one voice—one way of thinking or being. Rather, it’s about making room for the individual voices that share a common objective, and challenging us all to grow along the way.

“I think the greatest gift I’ve received from different communities is new perspectives, new ways of seeing,” says Cristie. “Being in the company of different people and ideas helps me to remember my way of doing things, my way of thinking and believing, isn’t the only way.”   

Community—the family we choose—can meaningfully bring form to and offer support for what we hold close to our heart. It can help round out those pieces that feel chipped or fragile. It can give energy to the parts that are strong and growing toward the sky. With our fellow travelers, we exchange hope for hope, and support for support. Together, we cover more ground that we could alone, coming closer to that place of wholeness that benefits each of us, those by our side, and the world around us. 

Find out about programs with Cristie Newhart at Kripalu.

Janet Arnold-Grych is a yoga teacher and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets.