Yoga can teach us about life in a pandemic
Communication, courage and perseverance: the lessons yoga teaches us about surviving the Covid-19 pandemic. By Ralitza Petrova
For most of us, the past year has truly put our mental health to the test. With the Covid-19 pandemic now in its second year, and half of the world still in lockdown, we’ve all had to grow and adapt in ways we could have never imagined.
This hasn’t simply been a year of challenges, though, but of obstacles we’ve largely had to face alone, trapped within four walls. With the realities of lockdown and our loved ones being far away, taking care of our minds has never felt more important.
It is through these challenging, and often nearly soul-crushing circumstances, that the pandemic has taught us some valuable life lessons. Upon reflection, the mindsets that have proven useful in lockdown have often resembled the core principles of yoga. From facing discomfort to staying consistent to reaching out to others, it turns out that yogic wisdom has a lot to teach us about life in a global pandemic.
At its core, yogic philosophy is all about connection. On a very basic level, yoga is described as the union of the mind, the breath and the body. Beyond that, yoga is also about connecting with others. Whether it’s learning from our teachers, picking up an issue of OM magazine, or practicing with a group of like-minded individuals, community lays at the centre of each of our individual yogic journeys.
The importance of human-to-human connection is also something that has surfaced time and again during lockdown. The longer we go without being able to see each other, the more we realise that communities are what makes us stronger. A beautiful silver lining of this pandemic has been the strengthening of many friendships and familial bonds, even if carried out mostly via Zoom. For many of us, losing the small daily interactions with our loved ones has made us realise that we want to invest more time, love and attention into our relationships.
On the flip side, most of us have also experienced moments during the pandemic when we felt disconnected and struggled to reach out. Let this be a reminder for anyone going through such a time right now that sharing can feel difficult at times, but is always well worth it. Just like yoga teaches us, we might all be on our individual journeys, but it is only through learning from each other that we can truly progress.
Face the discomfort
For most of us, lockdown has meant a dip in our overall productivity and happiness. Without the rhythm and diversions of our pre-Covid lives, we have found ourselves with little to distract us from negative thoughts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people have simultaneously reported engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as emotional eating and/or watching excessive amounts of Netflix during the pandemic.
What these actions have in common is that they are ways to numb our pain, and avoid sitting with any potential discomfort. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying a piece of cake on a dreary evening, or having a Friends marathon when we feel sad, these practices should not become our go-tos. Not only can overusing them cause an imbalance in our lives (e.g. an unhealthy diet or a lack of productivity), but it can prevent us from addressing the actual root cause of our problems.
Facing discomfort is a foundational principle of yoga – be it mentally, through quieting the noise of our thoughts, or physically, through challenging our flexibility, strength and balance. While it’s important to still be gentle with ourselves, sometimes self-kindness looks like doing what’s difficult yet necessary. A self-compassionate approach to the current situation would involve allowing ourselves to experience and sit with our feelings, even when the urge to ignore them is strong. Because, as the old adage goes, ‘the only way out is through’.
It’s all about consistency
One thing has become clear by this point of the pandemic – we need to treat this experience as a marathon, not the quick sprint we’d all hoped it would be. The longer lockdown goes, the harder it gets for us to stay motivated. To show up. To just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And yet, just like with yoga, it’s all about consistency.
It is completely understandable that by the third round of lockdown, our desire to stick to healthy habits has dwindled. The more we stay inside, the more our previous lives start to feel like a distant memory. It’s tempting to wave goodbye to our yoga practice or our morning run, because really, what difference does a workout make in the face of a global pandemic?
The problem with this thinking, however, is that it’s a sure-fire way to despair. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the negative news, we’d be doing ourselves a favour by focusing on what we can control instead. Ancient yogic wisdom teaches us that it’s important to do what we can, as well as we can, and to keep showing up until we see progress. Even if we are hopelessly stiff the first time we show up on the yoga mat, chances are that after a year or two of regular practice, we’ll have improved more than we had ever anticipated. It’s hard to see in the beginning of a journey how our small steps will add up to greater success, but later down the line they inevitably do.
So, at (what is hopefully) the tail end of this pandemic, focus on staying hopeful. Keep showing up, and know that even in the darkest of times you can create positive growth, one mindful step at a time.
Ralitza Petrova is a freelance journalist. You can find her on Instagram @ralitzapetrova