Monday, March 30, 2020


Morning by Edvard Munch
by Jivana Heyman

As I woke up this morning and regained consciousness from the blissful ignorance of sleep, I noticed myself going through a rapid series of extreme thoughts and emotions. My first thought was about the pandemic: a thought that felt more like a punch in the gut. Fear of the unknown and of untold suffering for people all over the world, as well for me and those I hold dear. The feeling came so fast, filling me with a sense of dread, worry, and fear.

Then, in the next moment, a very different thought came. As I lay in bed, I noticed how comfortable and warm I was. I was overcome by a feeling of coziness and comfort. I was filled with a sense of appreciation that flooded my body. I felt so lucky to have this warm bed, a safe place to sleep, and a roof over my head. A small smile came over my face.

That was all in the first minute of being awake! It’s no wonder I’ve been so tired the last few weeks. This emotional journey has been exhausting, and I’m still mostly affected at a distance. I can only imagine the physical suffering of those who are ill, and the pain of their family and friends. I think of the bravery of frontline healthcare workers, and of the physical and emotional stress they’re experiencing.

But then I returned to the feeling of my warm bed. And I remembered a powerful meditation I once read by Thich Nhat Hanh, which he called, “The Un-Headache Meditation.” In this meditation, he asks us to pause and recognize those moments when we are not in pain and not suffering, the times we don’t have a headache.

He asks us to appreciate those moments of feeling okay. What a gift to stop and appreciate the things that I used to take for granted: going out for dinner, giving hugs, and teaching yoga in person. Also, an opportunity to appreciate the things I still have: my warm bed, homemade granola, and lots of buds on the plants in my garden getting ready to bloom.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s personal example of practicing peace in the face of the Vietnam War can be a guide for us all in this challenging moment. He experienced the pain and suffering of his country and used those experiences to share a message of internal and external peace. He taught us how to find peace in ourselves, even when the world was painful and challenging. He said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.

In the face of darkness and fear, it feels like bravery to smile, especially if it allows me to smile at my husband or someone on the street as I try to avoid them. It’s not spiritual bypassing to try to focus on the little things that bring me joy or peace. Meditation feels especially hard for me right now. It feels like wallowing in the worry, but I know meditation is creating space for other thoughts to come. Space to acknowledge those moments when I don’t have a headache or when I don’t have fear, and then I can choose to smile.

Lifting myself up in this way is a big part of my practice. Living in quarantine with my family, I can feel those moments when my frustration and my impatience arises, and how I tend to take my feelings out on the people around me. Yoga practices give me a space to process my feelings. That is an essential service to myself and those around me, and it allows me to be of service in other ways—mostly because I’m not giving someone else a headache! When there is spaciousness, when I can bring my mind back to the safety of a warm bed, then I can offer support to my family, friends, students, and community. When I allow myself to smile, I can share the peace and also the pain of this journey. The smile becomes a gateway to sharing myself with the world.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog and co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.

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