With the lockdown taking over the world, many turned to the practice of yoga to overcome the anxiety that the pandemic brought or simply to boost their wellbeing while fighting boredom. While we are kept out of studios and most teachers running classes via Zoom or other video-conferencing systems, has the way we practice yoga changed? And if so, in what ways?
Traditionally yoga and mindfulness have been used to quiet the mind and improve mental health and wellbeing. Combined, they work towards allowing a deeper connection to both body and mind, leading to a deeper understanding of one’s self. Yoga and meditation are a great tool to tune into your breath, be aware of the sensations in your body and to be present in the moment.
Anxiety or stress usually triggers the sympathetic nervous system which will have manifestations such as increased blood pressure, tensed muscles, lack of concentration, faster breathing, and yoga helps to calm that down. Yoga’s stretching poses help to reduce tension in muscles and joints, and this can, in turn, help relax the sympathetic system. Also, many yoga poses are excellent for managing blood pressure, thereby reducing anxiety symptoms.
We have had a lot to deal with in 2020 already, a world pandemic, lock-down issues, social distancing and financial issues. Probably the hardest thing was not being able to go where we wanted, when we wanted. Now that the restrictions are slowly being lifted, we need to get used to re-join each other with a whole new set of rules, making sure we are respectful of others, as well as ourselves.
Yoga to stay healthy
I always talk about the many benefits of living a yogic life, on and off the mat. At a time when we have less choice in terms of our fitness regime, yoga is an activity that everybody can do from the comfort of their living room – no need of fancy equipment or much space around you. Researchers found that people who practiced yoga for at least 30 minutes once a week for at least four years, gained less weight during middle adulthood. People who were overweight actually lost weight. Overall, those who practiced yoga had lower body mass indexes (BMIs) compared with those who did not practice yoga. Researchers attributed this to mindfulness. Mindful eating can help lead to a more positive relationship with food and eating.
In another study, after eight weeks of practicing yoga at least twice a week for a total of 180 minutes, participants had greater muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and cardio-respiratory fitness.
Yoga to keep us connected
Loneliness and lack of human interaction are real problems, and our addiction to technology often disconnects us more than it brings us together.
Yoga is a great way to maintain some social interaction during lockdown, even if it is only over a Zoom group meeting or Facebook live.
Furthermore, yogic exercise improves our social health and teaches us to care and to connect with other people in society, to understand our social responsibilities, and also to help the community. By practicing yogic exercise, which improves our social health, we can also teach others to practice this exercise to help stay relaxed in this pandemic situation. Social health teaches us to experience life in all its beauty.
Acceptance and compassion are two more fundamental components of yoga, and mindfulness in general. The more we cultivate these internally, the more we can express them outwards in an authentic manner. Most people are their own worst critic (I am so guilty of this) and so self-acceptance is usually the first step. In the current situation we may also notice that those around us can be critical of themselves also and we can try to invite them to be mindful of this. An acceptance of what we are all going through can help to nullify some of our habitual responses. Viewing it as a unique and shared situation may also help to cultivate compassion in and between us.
Using lockdown yoga to overcome the obstacle of the ‘new’ normal
With yoga, we come to accept the new ‘normal’ through the practice of self-study. This starts when we stand on the mat, in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and notice how the body feels, how the heart rate is, how the breath is. We observe ourselves. At the start of our yoga journey, we may think this is a waste of time but with practice this becomes a key element of our beginning of self-awareness.
By incorporating a yoga session into the morning routine, we can start the day at a more peaceful and calmer pace; this is something I’ve come to appreciate perhaps more than I would have in another time due to the stressful days we are going through.
Having my alone time without disturbance in the mornings also gives me a sense of independence. As great as living with family can be, personal space and individual time can be difficult to achieve when you can’t escape anywhere.
Motivation is something that can be even scarcer than usual in lockdown – the tough days can be even tougher, concentration can be a far-off dream, and irritation levels can easily peak. In these instances, yoga brings me back down to earth, allows me to focus on my body, my breath, my thoughts, in a safe space.
As we observe these physical changes in our bodies, we can learn to take note of them, and not push them aside. Become more curious about them, then react in an appropriate way that is beneficial to us, allowing us to thrive.
We’ve never been through a worldwide shut down before, and we need to remind ourselves to go gently with our feelings because we all have a lot to learn.
At the same time, the lockdown has given us more time to think, connect with our inner forces and become more aware. When our own minds are less ‘full’, we have more capacity to relate. Many people found that they have been connecting more with their family and/or nature during this time and this is something we can lean into, engage with and let grow for the future – if we so wish.
Not all is bad about a lockdown situation… Remember that life moves fast. If we don’t stop, press that personal pause button and take a good look around once in a while, we could very well miss it.