It’s coming to a close. 2020 has rocked our foundations, causing destruction (of life as we knew it) and is presenting a new way of being, if we are open to new possibilities.
I’m calling 2020 The Year Of Profound Thinking.
Why? Well, most of us had plenty of time to think...right? In fact more time than ever before. And I feel like we had a lot to think about. In summer, Australians watched as our country was burning and by February we found ourselves witnessing, then experiencing a global pandemic.
It’s been tiring for many. As we draw to the end of 2020, I can see it and feel it when I teach yoga. It feels so different compared to every other year since I started teaching. There is a sense of hope for a brighter year ahead and an overwhelming need to put this year behind us.
The word unprecedented has been a constant. For me, 2020 has created ‘unprecedented’ fear and that is what we need to heal. Of course it has been normal to feel fear at some stage whether it is for ourselves, our loved ones, our community or for the whole planet.
Around the middle of the year, after a period in lockdown many people talked about what had changed for them or what they intended to change. The tree change and sea change numbers are (I’m going to say it again) ‘unprecedented’. People were growing vegetables for the first time (the demand for vegetable gardens and seedlings went crazy when we went into lockdown). Many people didn’t race back to the same existence as they led prior March and they have modified or changed their lives in some way. For many it has been very difficult and some have moved towards a new way of living including a new approach to work.
There is the tangible and somewhat intangible change that is going on for many of us.
I credit this to ‘The Year Of Profound Thinking’.
So, what have I been thinking?
In March I became aware of the almost palpable atmosphere of fear and panic. I wanted to acknowledge this in my yoga teaching by supporting students even though initially it was all via Zoom. I know that the opposite or remedy for fear is love. In the end, I realised that this is what I needed to embrace and provide in holding the space for a yoga class.
I also became aware of how difficult it was to have little physical contact. No hugs. (Maybe just a couple of sneaky ones with my son who doesn’t live with me!) It reminded me that as humans we are by nature very social beings. Lockdown, despite strong rational arguments to keep us safe, was and is a very emotionally and mentally harmful experience for many people.
The upside of lockdown was the time in nature for me as I fell in love with my rainforest garden. I can feel that my time in nature is healing and uplifting. It is grounding to put our hands in dirt (even a pot plant) and to listen and see birds, butterflies, lizards and even rowdy possums!
I came to love my dog Baxter even more. I’ve become more and more aware of his unconditional love and loyalty along with his playfulness and appreciation for my repetitive ball chucking and walks each day. Our pets are a constant, particularly in challenging times. They’re so pleased to see us from the moment they wake up and they provide beautiful companionship until they close their eyes each night.
I’m aware of how my appreciation for my yoga practice has deepened and evolved. This year I took up more regular chanting and taught myself the traditional Surya Namaskar chant which I sometimes inflict on my students (despite the shortfall in my singing ability!). Even when I’m tired or a bit down, the mat is my refuge and I am truly grateful as it feels as though my yoga knowledge and experience is a gift from the universe that helps soothe and support me. I have realised that I am so fortunate to have a broad local and international yoga teacher community. And I have been constantly reminded by them of the power of yoga as they all appear to have managed and mostly, enjoyed their time in lockdown regardless of whether they are in Sydney on the Northern Beaches or in a big city in Europe.
But it’s not all positive. I’ve become increasingly worried and sad about the effects of the individualist culture. The United States is probably the leader in this type of culture. On top of a value system geared toward individual wealth and achievements, I have observed their responses to the management of the pandemic including rioting for freedom and ignoring health advice and I see this as purely evidence of the individualist culture. Back home, we can not ignore the signs and similarities and I live in hope that we learn by example so that we take care of the collective in the future.
For the purposes of being clear on the difference between ‘individualist’ and ‘collective’ cultures I looked up the Wikipedia definition of an individualistic culture:
An ‘Individualistic culture is a society which is characterized by individualism, which is the prioritization or emphasis of the individual over the entire group. Individualistic cultures are oriented around the self, being independent instead of identifying with a group mentality. They see each other as only loosely linked, and value personal goals over group interests. Individualistic cultures tend to have a more diverse population and are characterized with emphasis on personal achievements, and a rational assessment of both the beneficial and detrimental aspects of relationships with others.’
That doesn’t sit well with me at all!
Actually, the pandemic has highlighted to me the value of the collective good. The communities or countries that have a greater focus on the collective appear to have navigated the pandemic in a more humanistic and supportive way. Even if we look at this simplistically, for example developed countries that have good public health; witnessing the support groups providing free meals to students in Sydney or those just taking a small pack of toilet paper rather than hoarding etc, etc. One of my worst memories was the image of a couple armed in their front garden, protecting their mansion during a peaceful Black Lives Matter march in Missouri.
For me it is inherently a value - the individual or the collective?
And aside from my family and friends, the collective or community during lockdown for me was neighbours who I barely knew, arranging coffee together whilst socially distancing on our driveways.
I feel that if our society was more about the ‘Collective’ we would do a much better job of taking care of the elderly, people on social support and those with disabilities. The trend in ‘Individualist’ societies is to be less generous towards supporting the elderly or disadvantaged.
I also found that the interconnectedness of the world became apparent during the pandemic. There were so many beautiful examples of interconnection in the arts and entertainment world but one of my favourites became ‘View from my window’ a facebook page with 2.2m members and posts being just that, an image and a few words from individuals in lockdown across the world. Heartfelt and interconnected with big doses of kindness!
We cheered for other societies when they came out of lockdown and we celebrated the freedoms that brought people back together. And it continues.
Close to home, at our yoga studio, I learned that people crave fun, joy and community. A mention of a Bollywood course initiated an eager and excited response from so many in our community. What a relief to do something that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel joyful!
Finally, if I bring all of my thinking back to my yoga, I’m left with some last simple thoughts:
We all want a healthy, happy and peaceful life.
Our existence is impermanent.
How a dramatic world problem opened the door to a recalibration of our priorities.
We can all remember the days and nights when we first started to notice that we were worried, fearful or upset about the pandemic as it started to sweep through countries like Italy and the USA. Do you remember first feeling it? At home, we were getting reports of outbreaks in Sydney and other parts of Australia. Apart from the relentless media coverage, it became rare to talk to anyone without discussing aspects of this frightening and extraordinary ‘dystopian’ situation we found ourselves in.
Around the time of the lead in to the first lock down, I cried almost daily for about a week. All of my yoga teaching gigs were cancelled, media coverage was frightening and I was contemplating being locked down alone in my home. There was talk about going online although most teachers had never done this. What equipment was needed? What were the studios and gyms going to do? How could we make any living from online? With all my classes disappearing, I spent a lot of time researching how to prepare an online offering. The technology set up was daunting and frustrating. I’m a yoga teacher, not a technology guru! I even tried to build my own website and got as far as designing most of the home page. Great! Almost a whole day designing one (pretty) page which had no click thrus, no transaction platform and no storage solutions for my content. Was I biting off more than I could chew? Oh yeah!
In the background I was staying in touch with my lovely ‘Meru Danda’ course group who were all in Europe. We studied together at the Krishnamacharya Mandrem in Chennai, India in October 2019. Four Italians, two Germans, one Slovenian, one French and one Australian (me). Eight women and one male. All yoga teachers. We had experienced such a special time together and subsequently set up a WhatsApp group to stay in touch. I was deeply worried about them at that time (back in March), particularly due to the grim stories coming from Italy. But my enquiries were met with “I’m OK…I’ve got my yoga” or “I’m fine…I am regularly chanting each day…here is a chant for you all (attached)”. Having practiced yoga for over 25 years and teaching for more than five years, I had experienced the benefits of my practice on my mental and emotional wellbeing many, many times. After the first week of lockdown and feeling stressed by my need to do ‘something’ but feeling grossly lacking in technology skills coupled with an emotional state that was fragile at times, I woke up on Sunday morning (day seven) and knew I needed to get a grip on myself.
My typical day starts with a morning practice. This can range from 20-60 minutes and can be any combination of dynamic hatha, vinyasa, pranayama, chanting and/or meditation. This morning, I felt I needed to really move my body. I played energizing music during a strong vinyasa practice. I momentarily opened Facebook at the end of my practice and noticed that Deva Premal and Mitten were live streaming chanting. Perfect! I needed to use my voice. 40 minutes later, I rose from my mat feeling joy in my heart and positive energy lightening my whole being. I was ready for breakfast and the day and I knew in that moment that this is how I can and do feel from a full yoga practice and it was also a strong reminder of the benefits of yogic chanting. I was glowing and I intended to hold on to that and fill up my well with my yoga, more so than ever before. This began my journey of lockdown. My daily practice and 30-40 minutes of chanting almost daily. I also committed to a strict media blackout for most of the time allowing only for daily headlines from The Guardian and SMH online. I was feeling calm, centred and quite happy albeit a little alone at times.
The other practices that I incorporated into my self-management regime included daily photography of beautiful flowers and plants throughout my garden which I uploaded to my Facebook page where I had set up a ‘Finding Joy Challenge’. I continued this challenge for 42 days. Of course having Baxter (a French bulldog x pug) with me encouraged me to discover new walks and places for him to run free and swim every day. I cooked loads of healthy food and baked every week (I eat a lot!) and this contributed to my feelings of strength and wellbeing. I did several online courses with Krichnamacharya Mandrem (Chennai). Including one on one chanting with a teacher. She was very patient (and needed to be!) as my pronunciation was amateur at best. We chanted together using a call and response technique over Skype. All of the initial KYM teachings which include meditation, asana and pranayama remained free whilst in lockdown. It was absolutely joyful to connect with some of my Indian teachers in this way!
So what have I learned so far during these strange times? I have my yoga. It always allows me to reconnect with my inner world, rebalance and preserve peace, good health and joy! It has helped my friends in far more dire situations to cope and thrive.
I have never felt so truly grateful for yoga.
Liz is a partner and teacher at Dee Why Yoga and teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, Yin, Pranayama and Meditation in studio, privately and online. Her formal qualifications include a Diploma in Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga training and a Diploma in Energetic Healing as well as a Meditation Facilitator’s certificate.