yoga ethics for covid-19
For the last what already feels like forever I have been working from home in my day job as a counsellor. My partner is also working from home, I have two kids in year 11 and one in year 12 who have all been schooling from home as well as my adult son who is studying online at University. With all 6 of us, it's a full busy house, and my experience is that I am more time poor rather than time rich.
My yoga space is now my office. The lounge room is usually busy with someone doing something. The new deck is the kids art room, and my meditation deck is too dark or cold in the times I am free to practice.....To be honest, it has been hard to find room and time to roll out a yoga mat and do my " normal" practice.
However, I have still practiced the yamas and the niyamas- the attitudes or ethics of yoga, and this is a great time to water the foundational roots of my practice. I thought I would share my Covid-19 ethics with you here, and the wisdom practice that comes from these.
In one of the Sanskrit texts on Hatha yoga, the 'Yoga Sutra', the author, Patanjali, sets out an eighfold path system of yoga. It contains ethics (yama and niyama), posture, breathing, relaxation, contemplation, meditation and absorption.
I like to visualize yoga as a tree, the yamas and the niyamas are like the roots of that tree. They provide nourishment and foundational support to the whole tree. Asana and pranayama - often what we think of as yoga, are like the trunk of the tree, as they provide the strength and structure for the other paths. The branches of the tree are expressions of the pathways of relaxation, concentration, meditation, and absorbtion.
Focusing on the roots of the tree seems to be a good place for me to attend to right now. Just like the health of any tree is dependent on its roots, any yoga practice not sustained with ethical practice will not lead to the intended personal growth that the system of yoga offers.
The yama and the niyamas are attitudes or characteristics we are invited to observe and cultivate in our lives. It is important to think of them as practices, not ideals to harshly judge ourselves by. This is an important point. Like many I can have perfectionist tendencies- if i can't do something well, I tend to avoid it, or I can get caught up in a swathe of negative self talk about my failures. This is one of the habits these practices help to change, but we need to be aware of it when it comes.
Just like an asana expressed in my body will look slightly different to an asana expressed in some one else's body, my expression of yamas and niyamas may be different than someone else's. These attitudes are helpful tools to help us clarify our own values and purpose, and identify ways to live our lives with meaning and purpose- all things we know lead to good mental health.
The yamas are directed externally- practices and attitudes offered towards others, while the niyamas are practices and attitudes to offered inwards, towards ourselves. I have previously written about niyamas as radical self care.
There are 10 of these ethical practices in the Patanjali system, although in some tantra yoga texts there are more. I have summararised how my COVID-19 code of ethics at the bottom of the post. Following is a little more detail of each.
Ahimsa- Non harming. To me this is being kind and supportive towards other beings. Literally staying at home to slow and hopefully stop the spread of the virus is an expression of Ahimsa at the moment- something we are doing for the safety and well-being of us all. As a practice - I remind myself of this often, and have made the commitment to stay at home for as long as this is required.
Satya -Truthfulness. In this time of COVID, this observance is inviting me to face the truth, to stay informed without getting caught up in the drama of the events. Seeing truth clearly allows for clear decision making. I notice that initially I would seek information - truth, but more recently, I have been balancing time consuming news with time attending to present moment activities, such as cooking or cleaning, or playing board games with the kids, in an effort to remember the truth from my own senses as well. My most important practice here is often putting down my phone, and only getting information from valid sources.
Asteya - non stealing. This is not just material items, but also not taking credit for others work, or taking others people's time unnecessarily. I've noticed many meetings are shorter and sharper right now as our time is precious. For me this is also about using the earth resources sparingly, and like others I have been working in the garden, mostly weeding, pruning and giving back nutrients to the soil.
Aparigraha- Non-possessiveness. We saw why this is so important with the great toilet paper shortage. When we are fearful we tend to cling to all sorts of things, whether it be belief structures or physical items we think we might need in the future. For me generosity has always been an important practice, and this is what this niyama encourages. My current crop in the garden is pomegranates, and I have enjoyed sharing these with the friends and neighbours I have seen. We have also decided to fund particular world health organisation projects as a way of sharing our resources at this time.
Brahmacharya -maintaing vitality. For me this is about Don't sweat the small stuff - This yama encourages us to preserve our energy for the most important things whatever they are. Often we have many energy leaks, things where we spend attention that doesn't serve us, excessive worry and ruminations for example. I try and stay present focused and am living day by day in terms of priorities and values, as I find this helps contain my worry most. Spending time to listen to music, read fiction are replenishing activities for me when I feel I need a pick me up.
Saucha - Purity or Cleanliness. I usually think of this as hygiene for our body and mind. I am taking this one so much more literally now, hand washing, sanitizing our home space more frequently. Yes, all this counts as yoga!
Santosha- Contentment, cultivating peacefulness. I am finding the concept of wanting what I have so important, whether that's wanting whats in the fridge/ pantry for tea, or wanting just the company of my self, kids, partner and dogs and chooks who are here with me.
Tapas-Effort, This is about having dedication and energy to the things that are important to us. For me, maintaining routines are vital. Even though I work from home I am up, showered and have breakfast and dress for work. I travel to work with meditation. All these things are an expression of discipline, of some effort.
Svadhyaya -Self study. Knowing our own habits, strengths and challenges. For me, I tend towards depressive symptoms and have suffered with depression in my youth. Knowing and watching for this is like noticing weeds, of course they are going to come up for. Time to time. Knowing when I need to use my self care strategies such as reaching out to friends, checking my thinking, going for a walk or even yes getting on my mat to move my body are all part of me understanding and providing for my own needs. Self awareness is the most difficult, but most useful self care strategy we have.
Ishvara Pranidhana- Surrender to what is. In this time of global pandemic, we can see how real our interconnection is. Lives, income, mental well being all impacted as we come to terms with what is happening. Accepting the need for a change to our normal is an ongoing practice, especially as normal is changing rapidly. The virus is small, but in many ways it is bigger than us. In the same way, our shared commitment to the health and well-being of others is also bigger than myself. To practice this at this time I remind myself often about why I am at home, how I want to protect nor only my lived ones, but others I've not met. Remembering this helps to keep going, and to a also provide a sense of hopefulness, that these shared values can be strengthened as we move through this crisis as a species.
Just remembering these things are my practice, and it is usually very informal. What i am doing is noticing when my own buttons are pushed - those moments of frustration towards others and myself, and then smile at my own limitations, or to be reassuring towards the kids, or my partner and be with them in their struggles. I try and use what would have been my travel time to work as meditation, and contemplation of these qualities, by focusing on grounding practices. I try and spend time outside, watching the chickens and the birds and the sway of the trees. And yes this is all legitimate yoga practice, even without a mat, or any fancy body shapes.
Covid 19- Yamas and Niyamas Summary