The year 2020 has been full of changes and challenges, for businesses and individuals alike. We all have been forced to pivot on our feet, which has impacted hugely upon most of our habits – sometimes positively, sometimes rather negatively. Most of the time we have had two choices: go with the flow – embrace the opportunity, and rise to the challenge – or accept defeat.
It is undeniable that our yoga practice had to change drastically. Yoga went from being collective, synchronised movement to being an isolated, individual experience. If you were used to going to your favourite yoga studio, you probably knew the teachers, met friends in the changing room and gave your mat neighbour a smile before class. Walking into my studio of choice always felt like coming home. Upon entering, I could smell the incense, feel the heat radiating from the classroom, see beautiful mandalas and other art around me, and hear calming music.
I spent so many hours flowing, sweating, crying, laughing, and sitting in bliss in that studio space. It was my sanctuary; the only place where I left all of my problems at the doorstep and walked into one hour of safety. There was no phone to break my focus, no device calling for my attention, and nobody who wanted or needed anything from me. The outside world only existed as a faraway concept. At those times, it was just me; and my mind was the only challenge I faced. Stepping foot into the outside world again afterwards, I always felt cleansed, relaxed, re-energised and ready to tackle the world’s challenges once again.
Immediately, we were robbed of our ritual that kept us sane. Studios closed and we were locked up inside, with a choice to practise alone or stop entirely, for the time being. For those who had never done self-practice before, this presented a real challenge. Cultivating your own practice at home requires commitment and willpower. It is also tough to stay focused, as it is tempting to grab the phone and respond quickly to a text or a call. Even choosing the right playlist can be stressful and distracting. Lastly, it is a lonely experience – perfect for some, depressing for those who thrive on collective energy. Do not be mistaken, I am an advocate of having a self-practice and think it is important to generate the discipline to get onto your mat by yourself and move in a way that suits your body. But I find that it takes a certain level of experience for yogis to reach that point.
This is where online yoga really changed the way many of us experienced lockdown. Suddenly, studios created virtual classes, and not only did we have someone to guide us through creative and safe sequences again, but we also had the opportunity to do yoga together, in groups. With that came a certain amount of accountability to persevere throughout the full length of the class and avoid distractions. You could see, and be seen, by others and got the feeling of being part of a community again.
As life slowly returns to a new normal, studios are beginning to open their doors again. A lot of us have waited anxiously for this moment, when we can finally put foot in a studio environment again. In many cases, however, the anticipation exceeded the actual experience! Entering a studio is no longer a blissful experience. The first thing you smell now is hand sanitiser; in the changing rooms your thoughts revolve around possible germs lurking on every surface, and a smile is covered up by a face mask that definitely does not add value to your pranayama practice.
The classrooms are no longer seen as a sanctuary and breeding ground to create connection, but a breeding ground for microbes. Masking tape defines how close you may get to your mat neighbour, and every deep breath out through the mouth seems to impose a huge risk on your fellow yogis. And do not even bother bringing shampoo and body wash, as taking a shower is not even an option right now.
Where yoga is supposed to be a tool for easing anxiety, stress and depression, a visit to a yoga studio currently can actually increase stress levels and feelings of isolation for some. Others will be able to look past the inconveniences, and simply thrive on the mere fact that they are being guided through their practice by a “real” person again, and can feel the energy of fellow yogis around them.
A lot of us are still hoping for the “old normal” to return, and maybe it will ... one day. Or maybe this is wishful thinking. It seems that the Coronavirus is not going to go away soon. In the meantime, however, we cannot simply sit around sulking and holding our breath. It is part of our nature, as human beings, to hang onto what is familiar. We are creatures of habit. We tend to get attached to life as we know it and try to avoid change.
If there is one thing that we have all learned during this time though, it is that we are extremely adaptable in the face of adversity. If we get stuck on the idea of waiting it out until things go back to the way they used to be, we will basically put our lives on hold. This will prevent us from living up to our full potential. Yoga teaches us that attachment is the source of all suffering, and the only way to end this suffering is by practising detachment. We need to let go. We need to learn how to embrace change and everything that comes with it.
Finding what works for you is key. Do not allow fear to stand in the way of experiencing the world outside of your own four walls again. Get out there! Support your favourite yoga studio, if you can make peace with the measures that studio owners have put in place in order to stay open. That being said, do not feel pressured if a studio visit doesn’t work for you and just makes you feel fearful, angry and sad. Check if your studio offers online classes as well, which most of them do these days. Sign up for membership of an online yoga community and practise online with them. See if your favourite teacher maybe offers Zoom classes as well. There are so many amazing options online which will enable you to keep up your practice, if you need a little more time to transition into the “new normal”. Make use of these, and mix and match whatever suits you. It is going to open up a whole new world of possibilities for you; imagine being able to practise yoga anytime, anywhere and with your favourite teacher, on demand. Facing change is not an option. How you deal with that change, however, is your choice.