Using the Yamas to navigate the chaos of COVID-19

DSC02855As my teacher, Coby Kozlowski says, yoga is about teaching us to ride the waves of life skillfully, and let’s face it, we are currently in the eye of the storm. There is so much chaos and disorder, not to mention a lack of patience, kindness and compassion in society in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether you already consider yourself a yoga practitioner or not, we can use the ethical guidelines of the Yamas, the first limb on Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path of Yoga to help us move through the disorder. 

Firstly, I ask you to take a good look at your own actions. Are you acting in a way that is kind? Are you living in a way that is compassionate? Are you moving through life with patience? Look at your own actions without judgement or criticism and if feelings of embarrassment or shame begin to rise, make a shift. Treat others how you wish to be treated. 

Secondly, remember empathy. We are all fighting different battles that will all have different outcomes. Before you criticise another for the way they are dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, pause, take a breath and put yourself in their position. If you are able, hold space for them to express their worries, if you aren’t, step away. Try not to react with anger. 

Thirdly, let’s turn to our teachings within the yoga tradition during this difficult time for guidance of how we can best serve ourselves and others. 

Ahimsa, the first Yama. Ahimsa translates to non-violence. Practising non-violent words, thoughts and actions. Remember this when you are tempted to snatch the last product of something off the supermarket shelf, when you feel anger rising to the surface during a tense conversation with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs of how is best to live in these uncharted waters, when you notice someone shouting at a staff member in a shop because they are out of eggs/milk/bread. 

Satya, translated as truthfulness. How can we live truthfully during this chaos? Are we living in a way that truthfully aligns with our beliefs? Are you moving through life honestly? What does living your truth mean to you during this time? 

Asteya, non-stealing. There have been so many news stories over the past few weeks about people stealing hand sanitizer, masks, soap and toilet rolls from hospitals and businesses. I’m sure we all know this is wrong! Hysteria spreads quickly and we can all find ourselves acting in a way that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. But, just take a breath, take a step back and ask yourself if you are acting in an appropriate manner. If you are tempted to steal hand sanitizer from medical staff, I can hazard a pretty good guess that you are not. 

Brahmacharya, energy management. Originally interpreted by ancient yoga practitioners as celibacy, as modern day yogi’s we look at Brahmacharya as non-excess. Are you using your energy skillfully during this time? Are you reaching out in a way that could benefit others? Or are you arguing over pasta in Sainsbury’s? Are you criticizing the way in which someone is dealing with the chaos? There is enough food for everyone if we all stopped shopping excessively, so next time you are tempted to act in a way that does not align with Brahmacharya, ask yourself if you are using your energy to live a more fulfilled life or are you using it to cause pain and distress to others? 

And, finally, Aparigraha! Non-greed! Have we all noticed a theme? Stop hoarding! You do not need 80 toilet rolls, 20 loaves of bread or 20 pints of milk. Take a moment to think of people on low incomes that cannot afford to hoard. Take a moment to think of the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and key workers, working around the clock to beat the virus so life can return to some sense of normality. 

I urge you to act with kindness, patience and compassion during this difficult time.