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How Yoga and Breathing is Helping Me Through the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hands crossing over my heart center, thumb tips touching, counting my inhale, counting my exhale. Dropping hypervigilance and surrendering to the reality of the moment. 

I’m a yoga and meditation teacher, and parent of an atypical kid. What does my home practice look like in a global pandemic? It looks very different. It feels very different.

My pre-pandemic yoga and meditation practice was a sweet, luxurious balance of privacy and community. It was relevant to a life of rhythm and routine. It was slotted in carefully between parenting in the morning and afternoon, and a full schedule of teaching.

I was consistent with meditation because that’s how it worked best. Sitting for at least 10 minutes in stillness felt generative, and had the potential to be cumulatively transformative. Making sure I carved out a set amount of time to be absorbed into deep self-awareness was possible, and felt necessary.

My current practice is relevant to what’s happening now. It is triage. It sustains and comforts. I’m going back to familiar, gentle practices. I check in with my body multiple times a day, noticing the state of my heart, gut, pelvic floor, shoulders and jaw. I notice what in my environment triggers sensation, or lack of sensation.

As far as moving, I snatch small opportunities between work and parenting responsibilities. There’s somehow less time now. I roll around in bed before admitting I’m awake. I roll around on the floor of the living room and my son runs past. He might stop for a little acroyoga: flying on my feet. I put my legs up on the couch and fling my forearm over my eyes despite the clutter, dishes, emails piling up. I stubbornly advocate for a few minutes to put my body and mind back in touch with each other.

We aren’t habituated to embrace our big feelings. We think we’re alone in them. I find it helpful to remember, all beings suffer. All beings desire happiness. Meditation teaches us to tolerate discomfort in the moment. This is a moment of suffering/anxiety/discomfort. As I learn to tolerate just a little bit more, resilience grows and I can show up for others with more clarity and courage. My son needs me. My students, friends and community will benefit when I can find my center. Taking care of ourselves doesn’t have to be a long, indulgent process.

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I use breath as the first line of defense when faced with strong feelings. When extremely upset, about to flip my lid, or mired in despair, I use one of the emotional triage tools from my toolbox. It isn’t necessary to sit still, only that my spine feels long and my lungs available for breath. Sometimes I lie down, walk or wash the dishes while practicing these tools. For example:

  • Balanced Belly Breathing: With a hand on your belly, count to five as you breathe in and fill your belly like a balloon. Count to five as you slowly deflate the balloon, breathing out. Repeat for 10 counts or as long as you like.
  • 4-7-8 Breath: Breathe in counting to four, suspending your breath gently for a count of seven, breathing out slowly for a count of eight. I usually feel more emotionally balanced by the fourth or fifth round. Never force any breathing practice, especially holding your breath, and stop if it makes you feel more anxious.
  • Cooling Breath for Anger: Stick out your tongue and curl up the sides like a U (if possible). Breathe through or over your extended tongue. Bring your tongue in and breathe out slowly through your nose. This one looks pretty hilarious.
  • To be honest, sometimes the best thing I can do is cry in the shower. Starting hot and ending with cold is a great nervous system reset. Crying is a physiological mechanism we evolved in order to release our big feelings. We release stress hormones through our tears.

Your practice may not look like it has in the past. That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with it. We need our meditation, yoga and self-care to be responsive to the world we live in right now. Take refuge in a few moments of stillness, a few conscious breaths, a luxurious stretch before bed. Whatever you do, may it serve your emotional balance, so that you can be present with what is.

For more emotional balance techniques, please visit my website: healthyhappyyoga.com

Image via contributor

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