We’ve been examining how the eight limbs of yoga and sheltering from coronavirus relate? In past posts, we discussed the yamas, or moral imperatives, and the niyamas, or personal observances. We saw how they can help to navigate the difficulties of sheltering during the pandemic. Now we will turn to asana, pranayama and pratyahara and try to find how the next three of the eight limbs of yoga can benefit us.
Many people know yoga through asanas, or poses. These are the physical manifestations of yoga practice, the exercises of yoga. The beneficial effects of exercise are well-known and well-publicized. They run the range from improved mood to stronger heart and healthier respiratory and immune system. But an asana practice can do more than the wide range of physical health benefits. Practicing yoga means focusing your mind to direct your body in specific and subtle actions. This focus brings your mind and body closer together and creates a sense of grounding. Your body is always in the present, it cannot be anywhere else. Your mind can leap back and forth from the past to the future, using imagination to create all sorts of worlds to inhabit. Using asana practice to focus your mind on the actions of your body brings your mind back to the present and back to reality. While the reality of sheltering in a pandemic may not be the most desirable of situations, your imagination may create even more dire scenarios. So the time spent focusing on your body here and now in a yoga pose can be a time of welcome respite.
The next of the eight limbs of yoga that we will examine as it relates to sheltering is pranayama, or the breathing exercises. There has been much research on the health benefits of a pranayama practice. A few of the benefits as relate to sheltering include helping with sleep disorders. The stress of stay-at-home orders can make sleeping difficult and pranayama practice can help to calm down your nerves and make falling asleep attainable. Parasympathetic nerve activity can get a boost from pranayama which can help with mild hypertension. The strengthening of the overall respiratory system should be stressed too, as COVID-19 is a serious threat to respiratory health, both short-term during illness and even after recovery. Like an asana practice, the act of directing your breath consciously in specific and subtle ways brings a union to your mind and body. In this way, pranayama creates a sense of grounding and stability.
Next is pratyahara, commonly translated as withdrawal of the senses. This is one of the least known of the eight limbs of yoga. It involves a turning of the senses away from the outside world and inward toward the self. In these times, there is a constant bombardment of our senses. Much of the assault brings negative impressions and causes negative reactions in us. Most people agree that it’s a good idea to take a break from the sights and sounds of the media landscape and even the general environment at times. To practice pratyahara is not only to take a break but to consciously turn inward in a way to soothe the effects of the everyday cacophony. Without minimizing the reality of the current situation, one can be better prepared to face the challenges if she is in a place of calm and clarity. Pratyahara helps to develop and maintain that place within the practitioner.
Asana, pranayama and pratyahara are three of the eight limbs of yoga that can provide the physical support necessary during this time of sheltering. What may seem at first glance to be simple calisthenics can become something more when combined in the larger concept of yoga. In this way, the eight limbs of yoga can provide much needed strength during sheltering. A strong, healthy body combined with deep, conscious breaths and a sense of relaxation and release are an essential part of how yoga can support us in this time of the pandemic. Comment below and tell us how you are finding support in your asana, pranayama and pratyahara practice.