Yogis Reflect: How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Practice?

When I first had the idea to write about yoga in the time of Covid-19, I thought it would be helpful to address the particular challenges of practicing right now. But after doing an informal survey on social media, I was surprised to learn that while some people certainly are facing new challenges to their practice, many yogis have actually been facing fewer challenges and are even getting more out of their practices than ever before.

Below I share some of their responses to highlight specific ways that our practices have changed for better and for worse, along with how people are using their time on the mat to navigate the intensity of this period. 

Significant ways yogis around the world have shared that their practices are serving them these days:

1. Practice is easier and more consistent than ever. We have time to do more, to go slower and deeper.

For me this time is actually wonderful for home practice. I have more time at home and less worldly pressure so enjoying the space to immerse myself more fully in practices. 

—Ann, Sydney, Australia

This is the best opportunity of my life to practice every day before I begin work at home.

—Jeanne, Montreal, Canada

For those of us at home with more time on our hands and fewer work responsibilities, it might actually be easier to get on our mats more regularly and for longer periods of time. Many people told me that even amid the adversity and challenges they face, this time of social isolation feels like an extended period of retreat. 

2. Practice feels more important and valuable. Yoga is an essential tool for navigating the current uncertainty.

I find myself doing more yoga and meditation than ever. I realize how lucky I am to know these disciplines and be able to utilize them every hour of the day. 

—Nicole, Cantley, Canada

My practice is giving me the freedom to explore, to feel, and respond accordingly.

—Angi Bloom, Mont-Tremblant, Canada

Many yogis have shared that they’ve never felt more grateful to have yoga in their lives. Not only asana, but also meditation, breathwork, and mantra repetition are bringing moments of much-needed stillness and calm. Now more than ever, many of us realize the value of our practices to ease fear, quell anxiety, soothe frustration, and find grounding amid the uncertainty of everyday life.

3. Practice is bringing a sense of normalcy.

My practice is the only thing that’s the same as it was before. Everything else has changed.

—Sabrina, Alhambra, Canada

The structure and consistency of a daily practice can be a key to maintaining a sense of normalcy at a time when our regular routines have largely been disrupted.

4. Yoga is helping us recover from increased time at our desks and on our devices.

Yoga is helping me stretch out all the kinks from sitting through the video sessions I am doing right now. 

—Julie, the Bahamas

With many of us working more often at our computer for online meetings, yoga practice allows us to get us out of our minds and into our bodies. It helps us recover from hours spent sitting and interacting with the world through our devices.

5. Practice is helping us gain (and regain) perspective.

My practice is allowing me to witness the unfolding events without losing equanimity and inner steadiness. 

—Pam, Buffalo, New York

Yoga practice is providing me with the permission to pull away from all the hustle, bustle, and uncertainty the pandemic is bringing forth to find that place of resourcefulness, creativity, and exploration

—Ann, Montreal, Canada

It’s not necessarily news to yogis that their practice can help to expand their perspective on life. But the ability to pause from the news cycle of the day can feel especially valuable when current events leave us feeling overwhelmed, angry, or scared. Yoga provides space and distance so we can respond with thoughtfulness rather than react from intense emotions. For many, the broader perspective that yoga can bring also helps us to foster positive qualities like acceptance, patience, compassion, and gratitude.

6. Yoga is helping us come back to the present moment.

My practice helps me to stay present so I can be there for my boys.

—Christie, St. John’s, Canada

Yoga starts my day with the focus and calm I need to get two kids through a day of schooling and the energy of a house that was previously empty for most of the day.

—Joy, Woodside, New York

Becoming more mindful and present has always been an important benefit of yoga. And in light of all the ways our everyday lives are being disrupted, this presence is needed now more than ever. Through cultivating mindful presence, we can feel more equipped to handle all the new and different stressors each day may throw at us.

7. We’re focusing on what is essential and most nourishing in our yoga.

My seven-day-a-week practice is 20 minutes of meditation plus 20 minutes of legs up the wall pose. Some days I add in other yoga poses, but that's my minimum to keep me sane.

—Nina, Berkeley, California

I’ve added a focus on long-holds and heavily propped and supported poses, making it the most pleasant home practice I've ever had. And, amazingly, the other day in a more advanced Zoom class, I found certain poses way more accessible.

—Bill, Montpelier, Vermont

As in all parts of society right now, there’s a focus among yogis on what is essential. We’re getting back to basics and what we know works. In addition to active asana practice for strength and vitality, we’re also focusing on practices that support our emotional and mental well-being, such as meditation, yoga nidra, and restorative yoga.

Challenges to yoga practice right now (and suggestions for overcoming them)

Having two kids and a partner at home is a different dynamic for our regular daily routine. I find it difficult to arrange time isolated just for me. I do yoga but not daily. I get interrupted and it annoys me.

—Szilvia, Lasalle, Canada

Having my husband around who likes to listen to the news can be difficult in a limited space. But he is very understanding and encouraging, and will turn off the TV and go out on the balcony at times so I can meditate and do yoga. 

—Traci, Montreal, Canada

While this can be an opportunity to dig into the practices we know do us a world of good, or rekindle our love for those practices, this time of sheltering in place also can present certain obstacles to yoga practice. Here are a few suggestions for overcoming some of those challenges.

1. Space

Working from home, children at home, doing everything from home has dramatically changed the dynamics of our day. With offices and classrooms now in our living spaces, carving out room to practice can be an issue, in both a physical and energetic sense. Here are some suggestions:

• If possible, wake up early and do a short practice before the house gets busy and crowded.

• If you don’t have the physical space for formal practice right now, consider expanding your ideas about what practice means for you. Maybe it’s possible to just pause for a few mindful breaths, observe or be in nature, or do some simple stretches in your kitchen or living room. 

2. Time

Being home with a full house with no real schedule is throwing me off. I did better when I knew I only had a small window to practice.

—Sabrina, Alhambra, Canada

Home schooling a five-year-old for four hours a day and still doing all the rest of my jobs in the house means my practice ebbs and flows. Now my practice is not getting frustrated when my son is!

—Shari, East Rockaway, New York

Upended routines and less structure to our days can make it difficult to find time or consciously carve out time to practice. Here are some ideas that can help:

• The simple work of planning, making a yoga date with yourself, and doing your best to stick to it is as important as ever. These days, however, that commitment also needs to be met with flexibility in order to adapt to the needs of the moment. If something comes up, like work or parenting demands, let go of your expectations, but not your intention to practice. Schedule it again. Do your best to move on and not let the uncertainty of the moment keep you from getting on your mat.

• Practice as early in the day as you can. For one thing, it’s less likely for other things to get in the way. But also, it allows you to experience the benefits of your practice all day long.

3. Mental distraction

Meeting my worries before I meet my mat is a challenge. If I can get to my mat before I start worrying, then practice is ON, but if my worries stop me in my tracks then it's a hit or miss.

—Jeannine, Longueuil, Quebec

Inertia. Getting out of my head and back into my body. Hyper-vigilance causes me to feel I need to stay alert.

—Phoebe, San Anselmo, California

Overwhelm, agitation, distraction, and inertia are all natural responses to our current situation. Here are three suggestions for meeting yourself where you are:

• Welcome yourself to practice with complete and utter self-acceptance. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to be exactly where you are. Take a moment to sit before you begin or while you are rolling out your mat to consciously appreciate yourself for coming to your mat. 

• Start with something you love that feels great in your body. It may simply be lying down on your back with your knees bent into your chest and rolling around. It may be stretching your legs up the nearest wall for a few minutes. A few rolls of your shoulders or your wrists. Anything you remember or anything you love to do is a great place to start.

• Thank yourself for showing up. Whatever your practice was like, even when it falls short of your expectations, be grateful that you did it. Some simple ways to do this are by bringing your hands together in the center of your chest, bowing your head toward your heart, or allowing a moment of conscious breathing and self-connection as you conclude your practice. Inwardly expressing appreciation to yourself for your efforts makes it easier for you to come back to your mat the next time.

You are not alone.

If your practice has shifted during this global pandemic, I hope this brief survey encourages you in knowing that you are not alone. I also hope it serves as a reminder that your practice can—and should—adapt to serve you in your life.

Regardless of the form or frequency of your practice, may your yoga be whatever you need it to be. May it do whatever you need it to do. And may it support you in meeting the challenges of this moment with strength and courage.

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About the teacher

Barrie Risman is the best-selling author of Evolving Your Yoga: Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.... Read more

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