For most of 2020, people worldwide have been faced with the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Over the months, individuals, families, and businesses have been dealing with social distancing, testing, caring for others, sheltering in place, unemployment, and a whole lot more. Economic devastation has been a primary concern for business owners. Parents have been negotiating whether or not to send their children back to school. Hospitals and other health facilities have been overwhelmed with treating the sick and dying. These are all huge issues to deal with during this global pandemic.
Another critical issue that many are coping with is their mental health. Not only are people getting sick from the virus, but far too many are also struggling with the emotional and mental strain due to the pandemic. They range from depression and anxiety to anger and grief. How can one manage these conditions effectively? Yoga can be a resourceful tool to deal with these mental and emotional issues.
The emotional impact of coronavirus has touched everyone in various ways. Front line workers in hospitals are dealing with mental fatigue. They are working beyond their physical capacity to treat the far-too-many individuals being admitted for treatment. Parents have so much on their plate: the despair of being laid off from work, the uncertainty of when businesses will reopen, the stress of taking care of themselves and their families. And even children are being affected by the virus: confusion and sadness top the list of what young people are experiencing.
Although people are feeling out of control, they are scared and ungrounded. Fortunately, there are ways to manage these deep-seated feelings.
Some may know of yoga as an exercise performed in local gyms, community centers, and stand-alone studios around town. Students don their yoga gear, grab their yoga mats, and perform yoga poses led by an instructor to gain flexibility and strength. But yoga is much more than that. Yoga was originated over 5,000 years ago; it is an ancient art and philosophy. It was designed to offer the people a guideline to lead a spiritual and wholesome life. This was done through spiritual practices like meditation, prayer, and study. These practices were to clear an enlightened path toward the Divine. Many thousands of years later, these early beliefs are still relevant in how yoga is practiced today. Through Breath Work, Mindfulness Meditation, and Asana (Yoga Postures), modern-day yogis practice clearing their minds and bodies of distractions and barriers to living a healthy life. Even as we face this global pandemic, which can also be deemed a mental health crisis, yoga is a discipline and practice that can identify, restore, and maintain a sense of stability, calm, and strength through these trying times. Let's take a look at each of these profoundly helpful components to see how they can be effective for you and your family.
Breath can be considered the foundation of all yoga practices. Whether you're actively moving in a hot yoga class or sitting in meditation, breath is essential in practice. It is the foundation of life itself. Breath practice in yoga is called Pranayama. Quote, Prana quote, refers to the quote life force, quot which gives us life. We want prana to flow freely through the whole body. It stimulates good health and well-being if all energetic channels are open to this pranic force. If there are blockages in the system, it can result in ill-health, disease, mental and physical decline. Practicing Pranayama, or breathing exercises, keep these channels open for clarity and purification.
This ancient practice is still performed today by many. It considers the use of breath as an anchor to become focused, still, and silent. In this sacred space, one is able to push aside the many mental distractions in order to experience a clear mind. Meditation may seem like a very daunting and intimidating practice, but it can be done by anyone: the novice yogi, the anxious student, the overwhelmed parent, and even hyperactive children. It only takes a few minutes to do, and if done consistently and routinely, the individual will gain that sense of calm and ease they want to achieve. Take a seat in a comfortable chair in a quiet space. Close your eyes and begin to pay attention to your breath. Take slow deep breaths so you can feel the air fill your lungs. Also, breathe so you can hear the sound of each inhale and each exhale. By doing so, all other distracting thoughts and sounds will dissipate. All you have are the present moment, tuning into yourself, and deeper self-awareness. This is quite healing, especially for someone experiencing the heaviness of depression or anxiety. When one, for example, is trying to manage the many responsibilities of family care, homeschooling, unemployment, and the other burdening layers of this pandemic, turning to meditation and breathwork can be formidably helpful. The time you take each day to practice these aspects of yoga may not solve the problems, but it gives you clarity and a sense of calm to be a more effective problem solver. Rather than feeling overwhelmed with all that needs to be done, you will instead have the capacity and strength to handle the challenges that you face.
This part of yoga involves moving the body. It incorporates the physiological component of breath, the mindful work of meditation, and the physical state of the body. When combined, these elements form asana or yoga postures. It can be viewed as a moving meditation. Since feelings like stress and anger have a direct effect on the body, it would make sense to free yourself from these sensations with some type of exercise. For example, an upset stomach or tension in your shoulders can be relieved through a series of yoga postures.
The idea of the yoga posture and sequence of poses is to focus on body areas that are holding blocked energy. Remember, it is believed that when Prana is not energetically flowing freely in the body, it can result in unhealthy restraints. Using breath, mindfulness, and movement, a yogi can target those restrained parts of self and actively clear those blocked pathways.
Overall, yoga can be very useful in this mental health crisis. You do not need to be proficient in the practice. It is designed for people of all types and levels. Practice some breathing exercises on your own, invite your family members to watch some beginner yoga videos online together. Make it a fun event, knowing that the result of practicing any style of yoga will lead you and your family toward improved physical and mental health.