Reimagining the Yoga and Wellness Commons in Uncertain Times

Dear community,

Together we are feeling and facing so much right now. I'm so grateful for you and sending out love.

Alongside rapidly emerging health and care considerations, we are reimagining the nature of wellness, capital, collaboration and the public commons. What this means for us as yoga teachers and practitioners is emerging in real time.

Here are a few practices from yoga itself to support us. Here I'm sharing of wisdom of yoga and does not replace medical or psychological support.

We can utilize and relate to yoga as a tool for healing through these uncertain and challenging times.

Feel our Feelings

We may be feeling all sorts of feelings from the range of emotions that human nature affords us. From flight, anxiety and fear to irritation, numbness, anger and grief.

I know I am feeling all of these things.

I’m balancing staying informed with staying present. As I prepare, take measured considerations, I also wonder some things.

  • What are the teachings in this moment available to us in this time?

  • How can I learn to better care for myself, others and the world?

  • What is the message of this moment?

  • Is there some wisdom we can find here?

  • How can I utilize my position and privilege to benefit and support others?

In this way we can practice svadhyaya and self inquiry and invite one another to do the same.

Locate Sensations in the Body

We can practice dharana - or mindfulness. When I feel something I can feel in my body and notice the physical sensation before it becomes a thought. The tight chest, the hunched shoulders, the impulse to shut down, to contract, to turn away from others that the news of a pandemic stimulates. However, it is not a new feeling. This is what it was like for me as a young, brown immigrant girl who lived with daily assaults verbally and even physically through young adulthood from a society that often - literally and metaphorically - said “go home.”

I know enough about this reaction to understand it is common - some of you may be feeling it now - however your body translates fear, anxiety, worry, uncertainty.

And I know it is upon us, even in a time of social distancing and as we consider social isolation and even quarantine, to learn how to support ourselves and one another even more fully.

Hand Washing Blessing / Meditation

We can practice hand washing as an act of meditation. As we wash our hands we can recite a blessing:

“Water is precious. It comes from high mountain streams and deep in the earth. Water keeps me healthy. I am so grateful for this beautiful natural resource. Thank you.”

Customize yours to your own preference.

Space, Care and Consent. We are learning to be around one another in new and sometimes awkward ways. In our yoga asana class last week we laughed as we decided not to hug but to instead bow to one another, wave hi, or do air high fives as greetings. Consent and respect for one another are a key practice of ahimsa. What is comfortable for me may be different for someone taking care of an elderly parent in their home, or someone who works directly in food service.

Interconnection, Equity and Diversity. Tat Tvam Asi, is one of the Mahavakyas, or great truths of Vedic thought. Thou art that. We are all interconnected. If nothing else, this current pandemic has shown us how absolutely connected we are. Love and honor our interconnected diversity. Our differences can and will make us stronger through this challenge.Embracing difference is an essential part of building the lifeblood of a healthy ecosystem. Within a well and healthy culture, living interconnected equity and diversity isn't a luxury.Its a necessity.

Compassion. Beginning with compassion for ourselves as we move through many cycles of emotion throughout a day. Rather than ignoring, numbing or denying through spiritual bypass or other methods how we are feeling - ee can offer compassion to ourselves and all we are feeling. This is a scary time. Feel it. Let it come. Even if it's overwhelming. It will recede and change. Practicing the yogic Yama (ethic) of Aparigraha teaches us not to hold and to be available and open to uncertainty.

Creative Connection. We need to collectively re-imagine ways of being. We will need to find ways to create a new or re-create a global, digital wellness and yoga commons. What this common and collective space can look like is going to emerge through our creativity.

Personal Pilgrimage - Retreat

We can take this time of potential social distancing, isolation and solitude as a personal retreat. Deep in yoga practice is the beauty of individuality and solitude. In the Himalayas many sannyasis find solitude and silence for themselves so a deeper voice of the soul can speak. Instead of finding the quarantine as imposed from circumstance are there ways that we can find freedom and choice from within the smaller space we inhabit? The yogic practice of aparigraha or sense withdrawal can support us in bringing calm and balance to our minds. This practice is here for us to harmonize with our own inner truth and wisdom without the constant barrage of sense input from the outside world. We can take solace in knowing so many of us are doing this together.

Connection to Ancestors, Future Generations, Spiritual and Higher Power

We can open up to the greater forces at play in the world, find connection and love anywhere it is available. Listening to our intuition and our ancestors is a way to connect past, present and future. How can we be with the nature of old age, sickness and death? What is death and fear of death teaching us at this time? We can also ask ourselves, what would future generations wish for us and for us to create for them? How can we make that a reality now?

Personal Co-regulation. Human touch and physical connection can be profoundly healing and regulating. We can offer this to ourselves if we are not comfortable with being in close proximity to others. Placing a (washed) hand on one's own heart, or belly or somewhere on the body and wishing ourselves well can provide ease for the nervous system.

We can relate to the parts of ourselves who are scared, who are fearful, who are worried, and care for ourselves. In this way we offer co-regulation to ourselves.

Even from across the room we can breathe together. Last night in meditation, my puppy Harmony kept taking deep breaths. Each time she did, it signaled me to breathe a bit deeper. My breath was constricted and shallower than usual because of physical manifestations of fear in my body. My puppy enabled me to co-regulate even from the corner of the room, through her calm, deep breaths.

Opening ourselves up to yogic self and co-regulative possibilities and imagining them in new ways is a powerful way to anchor ourselves and our practices and each other during this time.

With love, unity, honor and fire,

Susanna Barkataki

If you'd like to stay in touch then you can download the Yoga Equity Manifesto and subscribe to my email list. I send out yoga, diversity, equity and wellness notes about once or twice a month.

Note: This article stays within my lane as a yogic and Ayurvedic practitioner and does not purport to give health advice. Please consult your own doctor or healthcare practitioner, and reputable sources such as WHO and CDC for updates and healthcare advice.

I will update and share resources as often as I can. Sending care and love.


"Let's work together to realize yoga as unity and make yoga fully inclusive and diverse."
- Susanna Barkataki

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