Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pandemic Times: Has Yoga Helped You and How Can the Yoga Community Help Others

Here are some thoughts on yoga's role in the COVID-19 pandemic from responders to our recent call for interviewees on Accessible Yoga's Community Page on Facebook. 

Read what Sarah Birger from Whidbey Island, Washington, and Cynthia Chasteen from Columbia, Missouri, shared with us.

Priya: Where are you located and how would you describe your personal yoga practice?

Sarah: I am located at a rural crossroads on Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington in the Salish Sea. There are approximately 14,000 people living on South Whidbey.

My personal practice includes 31 minutes of Kundalini yoga chanting every day, bare minimum. On top of that, I have added pranayama and ice-cold showers to start the day since mid-February. Since I have hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I’m a yogi who never needs to stretch—I focus less on asana and more on strength building, chanting meditation and yoga lifestyle practices.

Priya: How has yoga helped you during the COVID-19 pandemic (please be specific)?

Sarah: The ice-cold morning showers come from a yoga practice called Ishnaan and it provides a shock to the system to help develop hardiness and resilience, both physically and mentally. It also lifts my spirits to feel So Alive at the start of my day, and serves as a reminder that I am alive and vital, able to serve, despite all the death, grief, and sorrow that are present on our planet, energetically speaking.

Priya: How can the yoga community help those who are suffering the most right now?

Sarah: We are all here to serve each other and connecting via the practice of yoga, all eight limbs of yoga, is a nourishing way to build our capacity for seva, service. In helping others, you help yourself. Also, the physical benefits of yoga, such as increased muscle strength, tone, flexibility, and vitality plus reduced muscle tension and inflammation are available even via livestream classes. For people who are sitting too much during quarantine, yoga can be a great practice for moving your whole body. Also, mindful movement is so good for mental health; yoga has been shown to sharpen attention and concentration as well as calm the nervous system and improve sleep as well as general mental well-being. I recommend more Kirtan Kriya, especially for those who are anxious and/or stretched thin taking care of others, as the research on this particular practice is compelling.

Sarah Birger, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist and a T’ai Chi instructor as well as a Buteyko Breathing Educator and senior fitness instructor. Certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists in 2017, Sarah has been practicing tai chi chuan since 2004 and yoga since 1994. In the intervening 25 years, she has focused on deepening her knowledge and developing her skills to support others through the lens of her top five values: JOY. GRATITUDE. EDUCATION. SERVICE. SPIRITUAL INQUIRY. Deeply curious, Sarah is a life-long learner and empathic connector who has been variously described as “an inspiring instructor” who “radiates kindness, not ego” and has “the vibe of a female Mr. Rogers.” She specializes in working with people who want to age gracefully and especially those who experience anxiety, sleep apnea, chronic pain, particularly in the hips, knees and feet. Her goal is to help people achieve “Better Balance” in all aspects of their lives.


Priya: Where are you located and how would you describe your personal yoga practice?

Cynthia: My name is Cynthia Chasteen and I live in Columbia, Missouri. My personal yoga practice emphasizes the physical and I enjoy hot Vinyasa and Ashtanga, however, the other seven limbs of yoga are interwoven into my daily life and habits. When I teach, I try to sprinkle in little bits of all limbs for students, planting those proverbial seeds to explore yoga outside of asana.

Priya: How has yoga helped you during the COVID-19 pandemic (please be specific)?

Cynthia: Yoga has helped me cope with the restlessness I have—I love traveling and am always on the go—and also has enabled me to tolerate being alone for the last six weeks. Thankfully, I know that everything is practice and I will never be perfect, but gain proficiency at being more resilient and patient, and I am okay with the fact that some days will be much better than others. All of the classes offered online during this time have also allowed me to move my body and learn from different teachers and traditions.

Priya: How can the yoga community help those who are suffering the most right now?

CynthiaFor those who are suffering the most, whether directly affected by Covid-19 physically, having lost a job, or just experiencing the loneliness of sheltering at home alone and physically distancing, yoga can be a refuge. The asanas can provide opportunity for movement, exercise and building/maintaining strength and flexibility; the breath work can help bolster health and strengthen breath which can be helpful when fighting or fighting off a respiratory illness; and, the breath is so calming.

When I teach children, I share how powerful and impactful three breaths can be, and that is the same for adults. Yoga can be done at home, without a mat or fancy yoga clothes, or in a studio. There is empowerment in doing yoga at home, and, perhaps, more access for some people who cannot go to studios or classes. It is a tool that has the power to transform body, mind, and spirit, and when teachers break all the limbs/parts down, a student can access one chunk at a time based on what they need the most at the time.

My name is Cynthia Chasteen, I began practicing yoga merely for the physical and realized that there was so much more, so I took a 200-hour teacher training and never intended to teach. Well, that was eight years ago and I teach part-time at three different studios and I have now traveled to numerous continents to study yoga: prenatal yoga in Uganda, yoga en español in Medellin, Colombia, and I visited India last November and studied Vedanta philosophy at the Vedanta Academy ashram. I also work with Yogiños Yoga for Youth, a trilingual (English/Sanskrit/Spanish) kid's yoga organization and have taught yoga in Kindergarten-12 grade school settings. I am currently studying with Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes in Yoga for All and was supposed to attend an Accessible Yoga training with Jivana Heyman in Kansas City in April, but will now take the training in August.

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

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