Friday, March 20, 2020

Teaching Yoga During a Pandemic

Cloud Study by John Constable
by Jivana Heyman

I lived through one epidemic already—AIDS killed most of my friends and much of my community in the 1990s. In fact, AIDS is still one of the top ten killers around the world, so it’s not over yet. But one thing I learned from the AIDS epidemic is that people don’t like using condoms! It true, none of us like to change our lifestyles or to do anything that reduces our pleasure or fun.

I’m seeing some of that tendency again as we are faced with a new epidemic, the novel coronavirus. Just as with AIDS, marginalized communities will be most directly impacted by this virus. That includes people without resources or health insurance, people with compromised immune systems, and the elderly. It’s painful to see those who have resources play down the importance of a proactive, informed response because it might interfere with their lifestyle in some way.

Nicole Cardoza, founder of Yoga Foster and Reclamation Ventures, wrote an informative article about this in Medium. She explains, "Wellness is the fastest growing industry worldwide, and as we head into Q2 2020 the hot new workout is the twenty-second hand washing routine. In just a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has knocked the wellness industry off its feet, creating a swift reckoning with our relationship between “health and wellness” and "privilege and access". Now, coronavirus itself isn’t responsible for the inequities that persist in wellness. Instead, it’s merely exacerbating them; mirroring systemic inequities that are persisted in this industry — and throughout society."

The challenge here is to think of others and not just our own needs, which is the definition of karma yoga. We can consider our reaction to this challenging moment as an opportunity to practice yoga in action: to act with the benefit of others in mind. But that’s especially difficult for yoga teachers when it’s unclear what is best for our students.

Yoga is so helpful for dealing with the stress, anxiety, and fear that so many of us, and our students, are experiencing. But yoga isn’t a going to keep us from getting this virus. Yoga can help us stay calm, and that’s essential in this moment of worldwide panic. But we also need to take responsibility for our students’ health and wellbeing in practical ways.

News from China and Italy make it clear that improved hygiene will not be enough, and social distancing is needed to slow the spread of the virus. According to the CDC: “Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” The challenge facing yoga teachers is that most of us are self-employed and don’t have the resources to cancel classes or teach less. But that is what we are being called to do.

In a recent announcement, Yoga Alliance suggested that in-person yoga instruction should cease to help prevent the spread of the virus. “Yoga Alliance is strongly recommending, for communities where social distancing has become required, recommended, or the community norm, that all in-person yoga instruction be canceled until the need for social distancing has passed, at which time we can evaluate the safety of resuming regular or modified practice schedules.” You can check out their COVID-19 resource page here.

Accessible Yoga teachers often work with populations who are at greater risk from the virus, so we have added responsibilities and face a number of hard decisions. Canceling classes is clearly the way forward, but our students may risk increased social isolation, which can lead to other serious medical issues. The other option is moving classes online, which so many of us are rushing to do. But this can be challenging for those of us who don’t have a system set up for online teaching or if our students aren’t able to access online classes.

Amber Karnes and a group of volunteers for Accessible Yoga have put together a COVID-19 Resource Guide for Yoga Teachers, which includes best practices for online teaching, as well as other resources that can be helpful at this time. Amber and I are also hosting daily Facebook Live conversations on our Accessible Yoga Community Facebook group with different community leaders and teachers talking about how to respond to this crisis. This blog also has a multitude of resources for yoga teachers and practitioners who are looking to practice at home or to spend time studying new aspects of yoga during this time.

Although it’s often the source of our feelings of separation, social media is also a potential way for us to feel more connected. Maybe we can take this opportunity to rethink the way we use social media to help build connection and community, using these platforms for healthy interactions and mutual support. That might begin with simply checking ourselves before we respond to a post or it could mean posting questions that invite constructive discussions and education. It also means being careful not to share misinformation about the virus. If you don’t recognize the source of the information than don’t share it, or do some research to understand more about this source. Facebook has a little “I” icon on the bottom right corner of all articles that are posted. This will give you access to additional information about the nature of this source.

In the end, I wonder if social distancing can actually make us closer. Is it possible that this disaster will bring the world together as we face a shared challenge and help us open to the shared experience of others? For now, each of us needs to reflect on how we can protect ourselves, our families, our students, and our communities in general.

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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To order Jivana Heyman's book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore. People in other countries who want the order the book see How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.

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