The pandemic is everywhere. It’s in the news, it’s in your emails and it’s on your social media timeline. Even if your body hasn’t caught the coronavirus, your mind is still infected by its presence. The looming threat of the virus creates fear and anxiety. No doubt we have all experienced feelings of panic at one time or another as we struggle to adjust to our new lives. Yoga helps us to process these difficult times in our lives, and gives us strength to face the challenges that arise. Ashtanga, or the eight limbs of yoga, is our guide as we are sheltering.
Most yoga practitioners know asana (poses) and are familiar with their health benefits. Often taught in conjunction with asana is pranayama (breath exercises). The soothing effects of pranayama are also well-known. Less well-known are the other six of the eight limbs of yoga.
Beyond the asanas (poses), yoga has much more to offer us as we struggle with social and personal effects of sheltering. The first of these is yamas (external disciplines). Yamas are composed of five moral imperatives, all of which will help us navigate the realities of the pandemic and preserve our emotional well-being.
The first is ahimsa (non-violence). An attitude of non-harming is important as many of us are sheltering together with others in small spaces. Although these may be friends and loved ones, the reality of being confined in close quarters can bring heightened tensions. It is good to keep in mind the concept of ahimsa, especially as violence can take shape verbally as well as physically.
A second yama is satya (truthfulness). We need to be honest with ourselves about the reality that we are facing and why it is so. The fact is we will be sheltering for a long time. Though it may not be ideal, it is a necessary practice to save the lives of our fellow citizens. The end of the lock down is unknown and the uncertainty can be stressful, but creating false hope that is not based on true knowledge will only bring disappointment when that hope is inevitably dashed.
Another yama is asteya (non-stealing). This seems the most obvious, that is “don’t take what isn’t yours.” Materially this is clear, but there are more subtle ways that this applies as well. For instance, we could be stealing time from our family that we are sheltering with if we do not fulfill our responsibilities. Though the stress of the situation can make it harder to maintain our daily routine, we should be mindful of the effect it will have around us. Being honest with your fellows will help in such a case if you can tell them when you are having a particularly difficult time.
Next of the eight limbs is brahmacharya (moderation). Again, the duration of lock down is unknown, and in despair we may look for comfort or distraction. Food and television are two ways to find comfort. However, we need to stay mindful that we don’t slip into habits where either begin to dominate our daily life. When overdone, the things that give us comfort in our despair can easily begin to contribute to our stress when we begin to see the consequences of overindulgence. Eventually, the need to shelter in place will end, and it will be better not to have cultivated bad habits when we finally do get back to a more normal life.
Last is aparigraha (non-greediness). Here is another of the eight limbs of yoga that seems clear and simple until we face a situation such as long-term sheltering. Stories abound of grocery shelves emptied as people hoard items such as toilet paper. Stepping back to see reality, many of these products have shortages precisely because people buy more than they need. Others will then see the shortage and think they should buy more than they need or they will be left short. So the cycle perpetuates itself. Being mindful of this phenomenon and buying only what you will use in a reasonable period of time will help you to resist the urge to get caught up in panic-buying.
Like with asteya, material greed is not the only thing to look out for. Living in close quarters with others, we may get possessive about the common resources that we share but that may be limited. These are things such as time and space. Again, honesty about your needs can go a long way to keeping the peace.
These are some of the ways the eight limbs of yoga, specifically the yamas, can assist us in navigating the social and personal effects of sheltering. However, I am presenting the outlines of my own personal reflections. The true art of yoga is expressed in the individual path of each practitioner and how their practice informs their everyday life. Comment below with your thoughts and reflections on how yoga is helping you deal with current events, specifically your reflections on the yamas. Then join us for our next post as we turn to another of the eight limbs, the niyamas (ethical imperatives).