I may be the only yoga teacher around who didn’t take to Zoom to teach online during the pandemic. I also haven’t taught a physically distanced outdoor class, or even guided my family through a flow. I haven’t been ill; rather, this pandemic has caused me to quarantine in a different way—to retreat from some of the trappings of my “before” life and try to really tune in to the increasingly more pressing demands of my kids, family, and health. Here’s why I think that is the ultimate expression of mindfulness and yoga (for me).
My children aren’t toddlers, but at ages 14 and 10, they do live at home, and they have needed me during this pandemic in ways I never could have imagined. One of them has been quite unwell physically (not COVID-19-related), and my entire family has been struggling mentally. I have been on call for my kids 24/7 with an intensity that I haven’t experienced since their newborn days. I’m not talking about helicopter parenting or helping them make snacks. I’ve had to assist with life-threatening conditions and serious mental health issues. There was no way I could Zoom-teach and be fully present for both my kids and my students.
Before I was a parent, one of my first corporate office jobs was in communications. My boss, who was a mom to two young children and looking after her aging mother, had a sign on her desk that said, “Be Here Now.” At the time I didn’t fully understand why, but now I get it. When she was at work, she tried to give it her all, devoting time and energy to the task at hand. When she was at home, she tried to minimize work interruptions. I can see now that it wasn’t easy, but she made it her focus and that helped her structure her time.
I have taken that to heart and made my children and their health a priority during these challenging times. As teaching yoga was never my full-time job or sole source of income, I’ve been fortunate to be able to do so via a combination of family support, diversifying my work to focus on asynchronous opportunities (like writing at midnight when everyone is asleep), and an overall tightening of my budget. I’ve been mindful of my role as a parent. And I’ve been committed to ensuring the health, safety, and happiness of my children, and by extension of myself, above all else.
In saying no to online teaching, I was called to practice a lesson I preach: setting boundaries. I had to learn how to be okay with not pleasing everyone, but rather sticking to the priorities I set for myself. I learned how to say no more readily. No, I couldn’t teach online or outside, or cover a weekend-long training course. I had to be honest with the organization that I volunteer with and say no to writing articles and researching topics, and the reason I gave was the truth—I was burned out. Some nights my family ate pizza on the couch for the third night in a row because I simply could not muster the energy to find a way to safely shop for groceries, even if I could have dreamed up a healthy and delicious meal plan.
I learned a very valuable lesson during this pandemic, and that was how to be realistic and protective. Paradoxically, through not teaching yoga classes, practicing some of the non-physical aspects of yoga came into sharper focus. In not beating myself up for all the things I wasn’t doing, I practiced loving-kindness toward myself, and made it my goal to model patience and loving-kindness to my kids.
These days yoga and self-care are practically synonymous. But rather than paying lip service to the importance of self-care, I took this time as an opportunity to divine what self-care means for me. It doesn’t necessarily look like bubble baths and foot massages, although those certainly are nice. Some days it might resemble delicious nutrition or a good night’s sleep. Other days it might be realizing that I’m too exhausted to communicate, and thus avoiding lengthy conversations—another good reason for not teaching yoga during this trying time.
Self-care also equates to short moments of solitude snatched from my busy, heaving, and demanding household. I have also been reminded of a sankalpa (intention) I developed during one yoga training: I ask for help. And that overall plea can take on a variety of forms: understanding, compassion, acceptance, and support for all of the times I chose to say no.
I asked for help when I said no to teaching and volunteering. I asked for help when I said no to my son when he wanted to take a walk outside during a heat wave (I read a chapter of his book aloud to him instead). My sankalpa is encompassed in my version of self-care, and it is necessary. Asking for help, for me, equals asking the people in my life to accept and support my boundaries and decisions. It may seem like the opposite of what a nurturing mother or productive employee does, but it’s what I need to do to survive right now.
So, at first glance, do I look like a yogi during this pandemic? Maybe not. I haven’t performed a single flow, or molded my body into any asana. My meditation has been wild, scattered, and intuitive. My pranayama has not been disciplined; it is reactive, oft times in tune with the blooming flowers, or waves on the lake. But on second glance, it just may appear that I’m living my yoga now more than ever, by tuning in to what matters and honoring my integrity and authenticity.
I’ve said no. I’ve set boundaries. And isn’t that what yoga invites us to do? Don’t we, as yogis, discipline our lives so that we can connect more to our essence, so that we can be more present for what really matters? I’m pretty sure that what I am practicing these days is actually yoga in its truest, most loving form: being authentic, loving, forgiving, and present. Pandemic or no pandemic, I recommend you give it a try.