Yoga in a Time of Crisis

We live in interesting times.  Who knows what the future of the yoga business is?  It is hard to say what it will look like once restrictions are lifted and life gets back to normal.  And we can expect that things will start to recover, given enough time.  I am reminded of the uncertainties after 9/11 and after the 2008 financial crisis.  We made it through those crises.  We will make it through this one too.

I have been digging more into Western philosophy, particularly Stoicism, in the past few years, and I believe that Stoicism offers some good insights into how we can deal with times of uncertainty.  One of the great teachers in Stoicism was Epictetus, a 1st century philosopher whose ‘former’ life constituted being a slave to a member of Emperor Nero’s administration.  His teachings were preserved by Arrian the historiographer in the form of Discourses and a Handbook.  My favorite edition was published by Penguin Classics and can be purchased here.

The foundation of Epictetus’s teachings is distinguishing between what is within our control and what is not within our control.  When we try to control things over which we have no power, then we suffer frustration, anxiety, and disappointment.  When we refuse to control things over which we have power, then we abdicate our agency, our self-reliance, and our fortitude. The key, then, is to assent to what we can control and to accept what we cannot control.

So: can you control when yoga studios will open up?  No.  But you can control when you wake up and whether you step on your mat.  Who knows what a post-crisis yoga industry will look like?  But in the meantime, you can still practice  yoga because you are still breathing, thinking, and moving.

Here are some ideas about how you can get stronger in your practice during this crisis:

  1. Embrace a home practice.  Until studios re-open, you are on your own.  Accept it.  Dedicate part of your apartment or house to your health and well-being.  A space big enough to unroll a mat and stretch out.
  2. Invest in props.  Get a few yoga blocks, a yoga strap, a few yoga blankets.  For less than $200, you can set up your own home studio. (I’ve compiled a list on Amazon you can use as reference.
  3. Commit to a consistent practice.  Commit to practicing at the same time each day.  This will make it easier to keep up the habit of doing the practice by yourself.
  4. Seek instruction from online resources. Maybe your favorite studio or teacher has some classes online.  Subscribe to these classes as a way to enrich or inform your yoga practice.  Plus, you are helping the yoga teacher or the studio make a living during these difficult times!
  5. Memorize a sequence.  Yes, it take a little bit of effort upfront to commit a sequence to memory.  However, once you have memorized a sequence, then you can focus on the more subtle aspects of the practice, like your breathing, your sensations, and your alignment.  Yoga videos and online classes are great resources for learning sequences.  The consistency and the repetition will also possibly bring a sense of order and control to your situation.
  6. Read a book.  Dive into some of the classics of modern yoga.  BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga is a good start.  I am particularly fond (and biased!) of Ashtanga Yoga As It Is and Vinyasa Krama, both by Matthew Sweeney. Both can be found online as e-books from Matthew’s website.  I also also partial to Yoga Self-Taught by Andre Van Lysebeth.
  7. Take breathing breaks.  It can be very easy right now to get caught up in the uncertainty and the anxiety about what is going on worldwide.  Remember that practice is not something you do for an hour and then forget for the rest of the day.  If you’ve been sitting at your computer for several hours, get up, stretch a bit, take a few minutes to walk around and get some fresh air.  Practice conscious breathing.  Focus on relaxing your face and your belly as you are breathing silently and deeply.  Let go of unnecessary tension.  Do this frequently throughout the day, so that it becomes a habit.  You may find that it has deep-reaching effects on how you are able to handle stress and anxiety.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out or comment on the post.

Breathe deep, relax, and focus on what is within your control.  What you cannot control, acknowledge it and let it go.  Then do what you can to move forward.

man using incense while doing yoga
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on