Even the most dedicated yogi may find it challenging to maintain their equilibrium during social distancing. As an introvert and yoga practitioner living in relative isolation on a remote island on the west coast of Canada, even I don’t find it easy, and I’ve had time to process solitude.
I live alone, with my dog, and conduct trainings and teach classes from my home studio on an island—my life oscillates between seclusion and the need to anticipate and respond to the dynamics of a group. I’ve discovered that navigating these polarities can become a skill that compliments and balances each extreme. Solitude can nourish the qualities of reflection necessary to really listen to another, and in solitude we learn so much about ourselves in relationship to others.
Below I share seven key “nutrients” that have helped me maintain a sense of appreciation and reduce everyday anxiety as I’ve attempted to strike this balance.
1. Develop a daily schedule. It will keep you moving forward mentally and encourage the flow of dopamine.
When we’re busy, time flies and our complaint is often that we feel rushed—too much to do and too little time to do it in. As a yoga teacher, mentioning the value of slowing down is often the right suggestion to a group of frenetic and overworked students. However, these days time seems to be slowing down and the days stretching out. This newfound space may be a painful experience for some of us, especially with the heightened uncertainty in the world, but it can also be an opportunity to notice how we are in each moment.
It can be helpful to start the day by sitting down and writing out an hour-by-hour schedule and rewarding yourself—with a cup of tea or a restorative posture, for example—after you complete an item on your new to-do list. Then you can consciously build those moments into a busier schedule when life speeds up again. This balance of structure and play can become the blueprint for building longer-term goals that align with what brings you satisfaction.
2. Take a long walk in the morning. It is free, good for your mood and immune system, and it will remind you that the world is beautiful.
We are creatures of the earth and respond to its rhythms. After a good night’s sleep, wake up early and step outside to feel the sun’s rays warm your face. Go for a walk, keeping your distance from others, noticing the world as if for the first time. Explore trails you haven’t hiked yet if you live in a rural area, or architecture you haven’t had the time to appreciate if you live in a city. Listen for the sound of the birds, learn to orient yourself with your internal GPS.
3. Buy some paint supplies, crayons, or markers and make some art just for you, that no one else needs to see. There is more to you than you may have thought.
The creation of art is often outsourced to professionals, but self-expression is something innate to all of us. Painting simply to express a mental state widens our emotional landscape and unlocks parts of us we might have ignored when we’re busy. If you have time now, allow these concealed parts of you to find their voice and expression on canvas or paper. Or explore your creativity in any other medium you’d prefer. Perhaps there’s an instrument you haven’t played in a while or wanted to find time to learn.
4. Eat well and cook at home.
Plan three meals a day, cook them, sit down to eat them, and really enjoy the whole process.
The appreciation of food through cooking and really tasting what we’ve created can be one of our most fundamental and joyful daily rituals. If you don’t consider yourself kitchen savvy, you can learn how to make almost anything with online recipes and YouTube videos and even whole cooking courses, and you'll find that mastery comes pretty quickly.
Enjoying food can be another basic pleasure that can easily fall by the wayside when life gets busy. So why not take this time to explore your culinary skills and lay down new nurturing rituals?
5. If you have been considering getting a pet, now’s the time.
They need you and you need them. Adopt a cat or dog from a local shelter and you'll get some warm, furry contact every day—something you might be missing. If you love animals but can’t have a pet where you live, do what my 75-year-old friend George does and carry a few healthy dog treats with you on your morning walk. You’ll become an immediate hit and there are few things as unburdening to the soul as seeing a dog happy to meet you. Just make sure it’s okay with their caregiver and that you practice social distancing during your interactions.
6. Remember what you wanted to do apart from work.
If you have a passion that’s been on hold because of time constraints, try to bring that into focus now and put some effort into strategizing how it can become a bigger part of your life.
Few of us have the good fortune to monetize an interest we would do for free and so those interests usually get put on the back burner, but, given that some of us have more free time now as a resource, it’s possible to experiment. If the marker for success is only the monetization of our gifts, then our quieter and more humble instincts toward the creation of the quirky and unmarketable remain overlooked. Our world needs more things that are done “just because,” and so do we.
7. Take a few moments of gratitude.
We are alive, breathing, and able to communicate with one another. We are all living through this time in history together—remembering that we are in this together and bringing to mind the things we’re thankful for can make the situation a little less challenging.
None of these seven points are quick fixes, rather, they are small ways that you can nourish and support yourself during a challenging time. You could say that the search for the quick fix is the root of many of our problems. The Buddha awakened to the reality that life contains both ups and downs, and that it is in the recognition of these polarities and not in the attempt to eradicate them that true equanimity lies. I hope these suggestions from my corner of the world encourage you to look again into the richness in yours—both within and outside of yourself.