The Yamas and Niyamas of Public Health

Editor’s note: For more on the Covid-19 outbreak and an outline of how students and teachers can practice “public health yoga,” please see Clare’s recent article A Yogic Approach to Public Health in the Time of the Coronavirus

As it becomes clearer that our physical distancing measures for COVID-19 will be in place for some time to protect the most vulnerable in our species, how can we turn to our yoga practice? Few of us will ever again be called in our lifetimes to such an extraordinary opportunity to practice yoga in action.

Current public health priorities align gracefully with the qualities we tend to in our yoga practice: consideration, cooperation, and living for something bigger than ourselves even as we care for ourselves. How can we let the yamas and niyamas (ethical principles outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra) serve as a compass as we navigate uncertain waters? 

The Public Health Yamas and Niyamas

Yamas

Ahimsa (non-harming): Practice non-harming with those who need the most protection, even if they’re outside of your immediate sphere of concern. 

Satya (truthfulness): Stay within your scope of practice. Don’t spread misinformation or minimize the efforts of public health officials. Only share information from trusted sources that you know for certain is factual. 

Asteya (non-stealing): Do not steal health from others; follow social distancing and quarantine guidelines; don’t go to hospitals and doctors unless you really need to, and make sure you’re leaving supplies for those who are vulnerable. 

Aparigraha (non-grasping): Practice generosity rather than coveting or comparing different circumstances.

Brahmacharya (containment): Practice viral containment strategies.

Niyamas

Tapas (courageous fire): Be active and creative in coming up with solutions for yogis with accessibility needs when our current strategies are disrupted. 

Santosha (contentment): Practice thoughtful and compassionate consideration of yourself when difficult emotions arise by inviting feelings of friendliness and empathy when you are overwhelmed. Acknowledge and savor positive emotions and sensations when they occur. Tend to your nervous system and spirit as you would tend to a beloved friend. 

Saucha (cleanliness): Maintain proper hygiene. Hand washing is best. Know how to properly use hand sanitizer and surface sanitizers. 

Svadhyaya (self-study): Examine your subtle biases toward the healthcare system. Examine racist and/or xenophobic feelings that arise. Make sure your words and actions boost all humans, regardless of their differences, paying special attention to marginalized people.

Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power): Be in service of something larger. This is our shining moment to come together as individual waves part of a vast ocean of aliveness.

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About the teacher

Clare Kelley is a movement and nature therapy guide. She did her graduate studies in global public health... Read more

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