Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Practical Yoga Philosophy During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Ram Rao

The COVID-19 virus brought the world to its knees. The tumbling economy, cancellation of events, closure of businesses, health concerns, and changes in our daily routine have created fear, anxiety, anger, and other emotional disturbances in people across the globe like never before. While the pandemic is a disaster for the world, one question that is on many people’s mind is if there is anything good that will emerge from this viral disaster.

We can find some answers in the Bhagavad Gita by putting ourselves in Arjuna’s shoes. Just before the onset of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna loses his courage at the thought of fighting and killing his own kinsmen. Arjuna implores to his charioteer, Lord Krishna, "What is the outcome of all this suffering, killing and death, will there be anything good from this war?”

The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna is the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna advises Arjuna that his focus needs to be only on the actions, fighting the war, without any thoughts of results—good or bad. Remaining open to success or failure while performing actions, or the quality of equanimity, is an important aspect of human existence. Cultivating this equanimity in our daily lives by active engagement together with accepting the outcome allows us to do our work and be at peace with the results.

Based on this lesson from the Gita and focusing attention on the pandemic situation that is filled with suffering, pain, and death, let us be mindful of another aspect of humanity that is on display during this time and which defines several aspects of yoga philosophy. This may be obvious to people who have cultivated equanimity in their daily lives.

1. Selfless Service (Karma yoga): According to yoga philosophy, Karma yoga is acting selflessly in service of others. Selfless service and the importance of giving back is the prime essence of Karma yoga. Through selfless service we also cultivate compassion without any expectation. Turn your attention to the world and you will hear countless stories of how the necessities from this dreaded infection hane brought out the best in humanity. We have become more caring and everyone is yearning to help in some form. Anyone wanting to know about practical Karma yoga can draw their lessons from these altruistic heroes who have defied the dangers from the virus and are working courageously to help and save mankind.

2. Violence (Himsa): One of the Yamas of the yoga philosophy, Himsa means violence and is defined as the intentional use of force or power on self or against another living being, resulting in physical and/or psychological harm. While there is still a debate about the Wuhan wet market selling live and butchered animals and COVID-19 virus jumping from bat to humans through meat consumption, it has definitely raised awareness about preserving our wildlife, birds, and animals in general. Birds, animals, and insects play a monumental role in the ecosystem in which all of us live, and humans are directly dependent on the contributions of these species. Following the virus attack, people are more vigilant about peaceful co-existence and are taking steps to not endanger the birds and animals. There are several discussion forums about techniques to conserve these species and protect their habitats including forests, trees, plants, and other wild places.

3. Cleanliness (Saucha): While this Niyama calls for cleanliness and purification at the level of both body and mind, thanks to the virus, people are now more attentive to the importance of hygiene and cleanliness of the body. All they need to do now is cultivate pure thoughts to bring clarity and purity to the mind and thereby foster equanimity.

4. Self-Study (Svadhyaya): One of the five Niyamas, Svadhyaya actually means education of the true self or self-realization of your true nature. In the present scenario, a lot of online book clubs have been established and a lot of people are joining these book clubs and exchanging information mostly about good health and wellness. Whatever the nature of the study groups may be, self-study and realization do help the mind to become clear and develop deeper mind/body awareness. The path to self-study is also through introspection and contemplation of our own life’s lessons. When we reflect on our flaws and allow our mistakes to serve as learning lessons, we have the opportunity to grow. Thanks to our current isolation and being indoors, many of us are practicing more than the usual self-study that helps empower us.

5. Loving-Kindness (Maitri-Karuna): In the yoga sutras, Maitri-Karuna is defined as tender, soft, good-natured, pleasant, cheerful, and kind-hearted among others. Thanks to the virus, we are witnessing exceptional acts of loving-kindness in numerous scenarios. Basically, the term "loving-kindness" connotes a deep sense of respect, appreciation, and regard. This can be witnessed as an act of compassion, an intention to mitigate suffering and lighten the sorrow. At the core of this trait is the desire to be happy, peaceful, and selfless and extend that peace and happiness to others.

6. Practical Self-Realization (Viveka): At the highest level, practical self-realization is about knowing and recognizing our true nature. At the micro level, thanks to the crisis and the social distancing, it has allowed us to witness something profound: our desire to be connected with one another. An example that comes to mind is how Italians have been singing together from their separate apartment windows in a show of national solidarity. These events have helped us to think through about how we relate to ourselves and how we relate to others. This introspection of our own self and our relationship to others allows us to become a better partner, sibling, son, daughter, teacher, or friend.

In summary, thanks to the virus we all agree that there is no shortage of empathy, loving-kindness, and heroism as the world battles this novel virus. While much of it is happening behind closed doors of hospitals and senior living homes, some of these virtues are also in display outside for all of the world to see. Thus, all kinds of boundaries we create are only artificial; we, as a species, are interconnected and dependent on each other. Just as Yoga philosophy professes.

Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.


  1. Amazing. We were only seeing the dark nature, suffering, pain of this pandemic. Never did I realize that so many positive aspects would result from this pandemic. Did we refuse to see it ourselves, were our brains so clouded, were we all in denial and just soaked in all that suffering. Finally it required a Yogi to tell us to observe the "other side".

    1. Thanks for the comment. Equanimity is about seeing both aspects of life (positive/negative; light/dark; success/failure etc). It's like the glass being half empty or half full or both.