by Jen Krakowsky
As we make our way through another week of home quarantine and social distancing, I’m struck more and more each day by the parallels between this experience and a yoga practice. At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive (or just plain wrong). Why do we practice yoga after all? An easy answer is that it usually feels good on some level - it can relieve stress, it can help us physically with pain or tightness, it can provide community. These are things that, clearly, are not byproducts of this quarantine for most people.
But let’s look deeper at why we receive these benefits of a yoga practice. The word “yoga” means union or communion. In yogic philosophy, yoga is the merging of our small, individual selves with the universal Self, a shared consciousness that exists within each of us (or according to some schools of thought, that forms a wider web comprised of our individual selves).
The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali are a series of 185 sutras, or threads, that offer a path or a system to achieve this union. When we go to a yoga class, we are typically practicing but a small piece of that system — asana, the physical postures, and sometimes pranayama, the breath control techniques. These are concrete methods that help us on the path to merging with that universal consciousness. We get a taste of that merging by the calm we feel after class. The quieting of our minds feels like comfort, even bliss. Indeed, the practice of yoga pushes the cobwebs of our daily lives — the mental distractions, the clutter — away to reveal a shared state of peace.
So what does this have to do with this pandemic and the resulting quarantine? This is a stressful, highly anxiety-producing and profoundly sad experience. It certainly does not feel like bliss. But the very purpose of this lockdown is to quite literally clear the air. Much like we clear the cobwebs of our minds in a yoga practice, we are being asked to clear the streets, to create space between us. It is a pause, a powering down of all society so that something that is highly destructive (much like a chattering mind) can slow down so we can calmly, clearly emerge and deal with it. In this collective pause, we understand that we can, as individuals, tap into a collective experience and even reduce suffering on a universal scale.
Yoga is so much more than doing poses on a mat. But doing the poses is enough to understand the profound impact of the practice. That is in many ways the wisdom of yoga; we don’t need to devote ourselves to an ascetic life to feel and understand its benefits. And similarly, by staying home and keeping our distance from our friends and families, we can understand the benefits and maybe even see the wisdom in this weird, horrible experience. A yoga practice can help us get through this madness. But maybe it can also help us understand that it’s not madness at all. Just like a quieting savasana at the end of class, it is a necessary pause, so that we may rise again with clarity and awareness that we are all part of this universal whole, together.
Jen came to yoga several years ago with both intrigue and fear. At the age of 14, she went through spinal fusion surgery to halt the progression of scoliosis. With a fused spine, she wasn’t sure yoga would be right for her body. But in physical pain (and more than a little frazzled) from chasing and lifting her two young boys, she knew she needed to do something to help herself. She immediately fell in love not only with the physical benefits of yoga, but also the mental ones. She realized that yoga was nothing to fear. To the contrary, yoga was the perfect way to understand her spine — not only the eight fused vertebrae but also the underlying scoliosis. Jen received her 200 hour teacher training certification at Yoga Haven in Westchester, NY. Jen is a registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance (RYT-200) and a Certified Yoga for Scoliosis Teacher through Senior Iyengar Teacher Elise Browning Miller’s Yoga for Scoliosis Teacher Training Program. She is grateful to share her passion and knowledge with others.