Leah Nylander of West Coast Yoga blogs on the impact of isolation on our yoga and meditation practice for International Day of Yoga 2020 (21st June 2020); an awareness day initiated by United Nations which promotes health, harmony and peace.
So here we find ourselves living in a COVID 19 world under the rule of isolation. Yes, we know living an ISO life now is what is best to Stop the Spread, it’s the responsible thing to do. But what will be the mental health fallout from this life we now lead? The answer to that question won’t be known until further down the track, but something that can help us stay healthy in body and more importantly in mind is Yoga and Meditation. And the best part is that we can do it from anywhere in our home, all we need is a mat or a decent rug to practice on and a quiet space. Sounds easy right?
In a Utopian world we’d all just come to our mat, pop on some relaxing music, light some candles, do some Yoga, maybe a little Meditation and all would be well. But this isn’t how it goes, there is way too much going on in our minds and in our homes to expect this kind of experience and we must be realistic about our expectations right now. Yoga can still help in the ways it did when we made the trip to our favourite studio but there are challenges to get our heads around before we can hope to find stillness and peace. In the home there are so many distractions; household noises, washing that keeps nagging our attention and now the dog wants to join in! Add to that if we are working from home, there should be time in our day for a little Yoga right? It’s not as though the Boss is breathing down our neck! But on the whole we are creatures of patterning and will still be slaves to deadlines and ticking off our task list even though no one is watching. We will still want to do the right thing and be the good little employee. The greatest issue for some of us right now is to refrain from checking that one last email! STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER!
Yoga studios all over the world are now offering a plethora of virtual and live streamed Yoga so there are no excuses in not being able to find a class that resonates with where we are at in our practise and life right now. If Meditation is more the go to for keeping centred and calm, there are many guided Meditation classes available too. Some students prefer Yoga at home in isolation, as they are solitary creatures and find they can come to their own space more readily from the quiet of home. Yoga is non-competitive and non-judgemental, but we are often our harshest critics and want to be the good student, so not having the teacher in the room allows some students to relax a little more with their Yoga. For those more advanced, Yoga from home allows them to delve deeper into practice and connect to their physical, mental and emotional self on a whole new level.
In life as we knew it Pre Pandemic, a lot of our unhappiness came from external influences; living in this busy, materialistic and social media driven world we often felt that we didn’t have enough or worse still we didn’t feel we were enough so ended up working harder to earn more money, which lead to spending more, going to as many social gatherings as we could and pursuing endless quests in search of what would make us happy. Now with the isolation of COVID 19 for some of us unhappiness comes from the inside. The world has been flipped on its head and some of us are finding it truly challenging with where we find ourselves right now. COVID 19 is eating away at the core of what makes us tick, it has taken away security, health, community, connection and all of these things are vital to what makes us happy. We have been given more time for contemplation and often too much time in our heads can lead to anxiety and depression, depleting levels of contentment and happiness.
Yoga teaches that what makes us truly happy is already within us, we just need to take the time to check in and reconnect with what makes us, us. We move, react and think too quickly, never giving ourselves time to settle and work out what it is that would truly bring us joy, what it is that makes our heart sing and lives worthwhile. We won’t know all of this until we learn to sit quietly with ourselves and listen. Yoga gives us the tools of movement (asana), breath (pranayama) and meditation to help us tap into our physical self (what makes the body happy), emotional self (what makes our mind happy) and energetic self (what balances our energy) and once we have a handle on these deeper expressions of our being we can start to feel happier with our external self. Practising gratitude can also help, if we think of things we are grateful for, we know that we have enough, we know that we are enough and in that there is joy to be found.
If we are overthinkers, Yoga and Meditation might sound like quite the reverse of what we need right now, however Yoga also has scientific and chemical reactions on the body and mind. Studies have shown that the Brains Gamma Aminobutyric (GABA) levels spike after just 1 hour of Yoga. Higher levels of GABA are associated with lower levels of Depression and Anxiety. So even doing one Yoga class can help improve our mood by changing the brains chemistry. Yoga also stimulates the Vagus Nerve, stimulating our Parasympathetic Nervous System leaving us feeling more
relaxed, calm and together; making us nicer and happier to be around. If we are holed up with family or friends at the moment, maybe Yoga could benefit the whole household allowing us all to “Calm the Farm!”
One need only Google “the Mental Health Benefits of Yoga and Meditation” to see what they can offer in a stressful world so why not give them a try at home, it can only help us move through this isolation world with more calm and grace.
Try this simple Pranayama (Breath Restraint) to help calm a busy mind whilst in isolation;
Sama Vritti (Equal Parts Breath)
With Sama Vritti we breathe in and out in equal parts, for instance we breathe in for a count of 4 and we breath out for a count of 4. Once we have the pattern of the breath we are able to retain the breath at the bottom of the inhalation. We hold for the same count as the inhalation and exhalation. Sama Vritti is used for body awareness and has the ability to bring focus and calmness to the mind very quickly. When you become more comfortable with the count of Breath consider extending the count. Giving the brain something to focus on such as a count of breath, keeps it from going off task and wandering to unhelpful trains of thought.