By Joan R. Shepherd, FNP
PYR Board Member
For being something invisible to the eye, SARS-CoV-2 is impacting all of us enormously. Our minds have so much grist for our overloaded mills…and rightly so, as it is the mind’s job is to judge, decipher, clarify, choose. It’s a busy time for that industrious organ, with volumes of predictions and ominous data to sift through and from which to draw conclusions and make decisions.
In a unique way, we are called to practice Ahisma as never before.
Ahisma, the first of Patanjali’s Yamas, or observations for living, is to do no harm, an intent toward universal benevolence.
Just a few short weeks ago, in what we all perceived to be a judicious response to Covid-19, yoga studios encouraged students to wash their hands, their mats, and their props. Many who historically borrowed the studio’s props, went above and beyond by buying/bringing their own proppage. Anti-disinfectant wipes became widely available. Students spaced themselves apart from each other…
But the specifics of practicing Ahisma have morphed as the profile of this virus continues to reveal itself.
We are called to isolate at home, and possibly keep space from those with whom we live. We may be carriers, but, of course, there is no readily available test (at this writing) to tell us if we are one of the symptomless-affected. So we wash our hands, disinfect our doorknobs, our electronics, our grocery bags, our delivered packages and mail, we wear gloves and masks, and we assume SARS-CoV-2 is imminently surrounding us.
Most of us are on lock down. Only essential personnel are allowed to work, and thankfully—again, at this writing, in Virginia—we are able to take advantage of this magnificent spring season, and exercise outside.
In my day job as a medical professional working with people who have substance use disorders (SUD), I often refer to a concept popularized by Johann Hari in his TED talk: Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong. In a video with over 15 million views he posits: The opposite of addiction is not sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection.
How much self-harm is happening as we isolate at home and become unwitting victims of our own addictive and frenetic thoughts? Have you found yourself fusing with urgent, in-your-face, fearful thoughts which vie with the pesky but persistent smaller ones?
Using our minds to make responsible decisions and plans is essential; being caught in a mind loop of fear, anger, and anxiety creates harm to self and others.
When I was a mom at home with young children, I either rose by 5 to practice yoga before the whirlwind days began, or else attempted to practice in their presence while they crawled below my down dog like a tunnel, riding me in table top, and emulating me as best they could in triangle. A very different kind of yoga than the serene setting of a studio.
While I cannot know the specific complexities of others’ lives during the Pandemic of 2020, I do believe that most of us can carve out at least a little time for yoga. Not only is yoga intended to quiet the fluctuations of the mind, it provides essential connection to a larger consciousness. We are able to step back from our minds and notice our thoughts from the observer perspective: we have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts. This is a powerful way to practice Ahisma.
Project Yoga Richmond is now using Patreon for people who wish to join at a very reasonable rate. They are building a portfolio of high quality classes, with excellent video quality. The sense of connection is real as we practice at home with the wonderful PYR ambassadors-on our schedules.
If we can entertain the idea that everything happens for us, not to us, we will find many opportunities to build our practice of Ahisma.