Entrainment – A School of Yogi Fish


This special guest blog is written by contributing author Kate Bennis, who is completing her yoga teacher training at Flow Yoga Center in Washington, D.C. Read more about Kate at the end of this post!

On a recent Sunday afternoon in my yoga teacher training class at the Flow Yoga Center in Washington, D.C., I physically experienced the beautiful concept of entrainment and I haven’t been able to stop seeing it in these fleeting, serendipitous moments every day since.

We started by practicing a simple sequence of poses linking each movement to breath (inhale, arms up, exhale, fold forward).  Our guest teacher, the lovely, inspirational Alanna Kaivalya, began the first sequence by calling out the breath, then the movement.  On the second round, she directed us by the breath only.  The third repeat, she said nothing.  I became deeply aware of the inhale and exhales of my fellow yogis, all in sync for the perfect four counts, leading me through to the next pose.  By the fourth try, I closed my eyes and moved through the sequence, void of visual or verbal cues, the only catalyst being the ocean-like sounds of our breathing, surrendering to the rhythm of the waves of movement.  My mind was not conscious of where my body was in the sequence; the natural life-force of my classmates’ own prana was driving me.

Finishing the sequence in tadasana, the 26 of us stood at the tops of our mats, two rows facing one another.  I opened my eyes to realize my hands were clasped on my pounding heart.  The yogi across from me held her shaking hands in prayer, with a blissful smile on her face.  Another lightly placed a hand over her mouth, eyes reflecting awe.  Like a school of yogi fish, our breath, our movement, our life pulses coordinated into a complex dance.  We didn’t think of how to move next, we just knew.  I’ve never felt a connection so strong than I did in that room, in that moment.

Entrainment is a term used in various scientific fields to describe the phenomenon of one being adjusting its own internal rhythms to sync with another being.  Shiva Rea opened her recent workshop in D.C. (which my sister Stephanie and I attended) by delving into this deep, complex, yet somehow at the same time, innate concept.  The terms were new, but the theory was well-worn territory for me: all beings, on a primitive level, desire to connect with one another.

I’ve been experiencing this phenomenon since the moment I was born, however now recently aware, I cannot help but to observe entrainment in the small and beautifully mundane moments of everyday city living.  I stand behind a stranger in line at Starbucks and now know my heartbeat is decelerating and hers accelerating to meet somewhere in the middle.  I speak to a partner at my law firm, and notice how I mirror his body language to convey engagement and understanding; he lowers his voice, I lower mine.  He leans in with arms crossed, I subconsciously do the same.  A flock of tens of birds soar up out of a city park, dart left, hang a quick right and land across the avenue in a tree, all as if they have been practicing this impeccably choreographed routine for weeks.

This awareness has helped me to cease to view others as merely obstacles in my daily routine, but instead as fellow passengers in the journey, moving forward right along with me.  I love how the heart rhythms yield to each other!  It is evidence that not only the ability but also the desire to compromise is an intrinsic, biological function.  What a beautiful allegory to help us understand one philosophy in how we should interact with others.

In early 2008, Van Morrison released a song entitled “That’s Entrainment” on his album Keep It Simple.  In an interview, he describes his interpretation of the concept as “it’s kind of when you are in the present moment – you’re here – with no past or future.”  In the yoga studio, on a cloudy, warm November afternoon, that moment when we stopped after the final sequence, I didn’t care where I was a year ago, or where in the world I will be next year.  All that mattered was that incredible moment of connection in my school of yogi fish, the unconsciously choreographed rise and fall of our chests and the pounding of our syncing hearts.

About the author: Kate Bennis currently lives in Washington, D.C.  When not studying at Flow Yoga Center, she works as a recruiter for an international law firm.  Kate’s current attributes to her frequent moments of bliss are sweater weather, cooking Sunday dinner, dogs that wear outdoor apparel and Yvette, her deep tissue masseuse/unsolicited astrologist.