Yoga in the Age of Covid-19 and Lockdown

The global pandemic has changed life as we know it and how we conduct our everyday lives. As such it has had profound effects on peoples’ quality of life and mental health.

Our lives can be divided into the time before Covid-19 and the time after Covid-19. The time before seems like a technicolour dream of freedom and possibility. An existence where we would hug, share food, sing in crowds and come together in ways which now would seem careless at best, dangerous at worst.

 

L.P Hartley’s classic novel. ‘The Go-Between’ begins with the infamous line, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ (Hartley, 1953, p.5) The seeming distance of the recent past stands in stark reality to the new present which is framed in a new lexicon of shielding, aerosol transmission, home schooling, self- isolation, support bubbles, R numbers and social distancing. Our minds and our bodies are having to adapt to this new reality day by day as we collectively grieve for the past and yearn for a brighter future. So, how can Yoga help with this process?

 

 

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there

Yoga is a philosophy for life with an 8 limb road map which details how we relate to the world around us and how we relate to ourselves. As the world and our choices have narrowed, Yoga points to the strength (sthiram) and comfort (sukham) which can come from our inner resources if we only know where to look.

The one thing we can all relate to and a point for connection is the breath, we all breath. As we manage working from home, trying to supervise home schooling or running the gauntlet of supermarket shopping, how often are we aware of how we are breathing? We know when we feel anxious or worried or excited our breath becomes shallow. We know if we feel miserable or lacking in motivation or relaxed we sigh and take longer exhales.

Yoga in the time of COVID
Yoga in times of COVID and pandemic

The 4th limb of Yoga is breath control or pranayama. A simple resource we all have is our breath. We can’t control the pandemic, other people or the weather but we can control how we react and one way of gaining a mindful awareness of our reactions is by harnessing the healing power of the breath. Simply by observing the breath coming in and the breath moving out we can begin to feel the quality of our breath and our thoughts. This concentration is the 6th limb of yoga (dharana) and is a precursor to the 7th limb of meditation (dhyana).

 When we focus on our breath and our shifting thoughts we can begin to see patterns emerge. With self-knowledge comes agency, an ability to change the quality of breath to bring more ease to the mind. Yoga has a range of pranayama practices which can be helpful but the starting off point is the simple awareness of breath coming in, breath coming out. When breath awareness is coupled with movement, the 3rd limb of asana or posture, to release tension and stress then a body-mind-breath connection is established in a state of Yoga. Life is often overwhelming but the simple process of settling into the felt sensations of the body and linking this to the breath is a way to process the past, meet the challenges of the present and to make peace with the uncertainty of the future.

By Emma Conally-Barklem, December 2020, All rights reserved.

Reference: The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley, 1953, Penguin Classics, London

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