A Covid-19 Pandemic and Ashtanga Yoga.

by Aug 19, 2020

Random Thoughts on Practicing and Teaching through a Global Pandemic:

Time is a fluid thing. It wasn’t that long ago, back in February, when I, like many people was saying, “It’s just a bad strain of the flu. Nothing to worry about”. The next thing you know we are a “Level 3” and heading in to “Level 4” and total lockdown for 4 weeks minimum. That feels like a life time ago.

Now, of course, I am so glad that we had the sort of leadership who could see that we needed to go fast and go hard and who could communicate that need with clarity and without drama. The whole thing became very surreal but we were wonderfully lucky to have the people in power urging us to be kind to each other through the whole experience. How refreshing to be hearing the leader of a country advocating kindness! It’s like we’re being told that ahimsa is the answer, which of course it is.

My family and I did the rahui/lockdown pretty easily actually. We live in a large enough house that our kids have separate bedrooms and there is enough space to have some alone time if needed. Victoria and I are accustomed to spending time together every day and we enjoy that about our lives so we had no difficulty with seeing so much of each other. We are also lucky to live in a neighbourhood with extensive bush walks just out our back door. We both really enjoyed getting to know our area on foot. Ranging wider and longer and taking the opportunity to find out where those random paths lead. We got to meet, from a safe distance, lot’s of people from our suburb who we had never seen before and everyone was so relaxed and friendly. It goes to show what happens when people have more home time and are constantly getting the message to be kind. I did not ride my motorcycle or travel in the car for the best part of 9 weeks, surely the longest I have not been in a vehicle in my life. I was happy to go for a ride on my motorbike when we went down a level, but I really enjoyed the slowness of life without having to drive anywhere. (I was lucky that Victoria didn’t mind going to the supermarket once a week).

At the beginning of “Level 4” I, like many people I suspect, thought “fantastic. I’ll really dive into my practice. I’ll wake up early and start the day right”. I didn’t set my alarm, thinking I’d just naturally wake up and was surprised to discover that it was 7.30. I slept in. I didn’t realise how tired I was and I slept in! This was the longest time in all my working life that I slept until 7.30 every morning. What a luxury to just sleep until I woke. I hadn’t realised how relentless the programme I have at Te Aro Astanga is and how nice it was to have a break. Mind you, I also didn’t realise how much I’d miss being at TAAY and teaching.

I loved having some extra energy to give to my own practice but also discovered that it is still the same. Some days it felt like wading through concrete while other days felt like slipping through warm oil.The challenge that you have to rise to, and how to do that remains the same no matter what series of asana you practice. The method and the learning is the same. The importance of practising with tristana, Breath, Bandha, and Focus, remains the key. And I still love this practice as much as I did when I first started 26 years ago.

I decided to offer classes via “Zoom” while the shala was closed. I did this because so many people had generously continued to pay their memberships and also because I received the subsidy from the Govt. so felt I should give something in return. I am not at all comfortable in front of a camera so this was a challenge for me. I think that I did okay with it. I learnt that this was a fantastic way to keep the TAAY community connected. People would take the opportunity to say “hi” to each other before and after the sessions and that was great. I also learnt that this is not the way I want to teach Yoga. It is so important to me to have that human connection, that exchange and intermingling of energy that comes from in person classes. There is a place for virtual yoga classes, but it can never replace direct contact with your teacher.

I really missed being in the room and that connection with people while we were closed and was super happy when allowed to re-open. Then a strange thing happened. Things still felt a little surreal. There was a feeling almost of anticlimax, like something big and strange had happened but now everything was just slipping back to normal. It was a similar feeling to the one I always got when returning home after 3 or 4 months in Mysore studying with Guruji.

I think a bit of my depression was generated by the fact that we were given a little window into a different reality and there was this feeling that perhaps we could hold on to a better, more caring way of living. Then things returned so quickly back to normal that it felt a little like a bubble had been burst. There was this sense of deflation. I am still optimistic. I never thought there would be a massive shift due to the pandemic and what we all went through. Instead I remember when my children were young and would get sick with flu or something. It always felt like when they recovered they had grown up a little. Matured a little. The difference was subtle but still there. Maybe mankind has caught a little flu and this is part of our process of growing up. Maybe we’ll learn that we are actually all in this together and the best way through it to practice kindness. Kindness to each other and kindness to the environment in which we live.

Now we have a re-emergence of the virus and a little sense of doubt has returned. With that we have seen a rise in suspicion that we haven’t been told the whole truth, a rise in all sorts of theories about what is actually happening. And in the meantime, those on the front line and those charged with making the difficult decisions about how to handle this, continue to do their best, for our benefit. Yes, mistakes will be made, but I think we should all remember to “stay calm and be kind” and Te Aro Astanga is open so, of course, come in and practice some Yoga.

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  1. Merel

    Thanks Mike. I’m taking that with me as my newest mantra: “Stay calm and be kind”

  2. Di Tracey

    Well that was all very beautifully written Mike and all so true, kia kaha. Di

  3. Deb

    Beautiful and wise words Mike – thank you we all need to stay calm and be kind and be aware

  4. Linda

    Thank you for your thoughtful, beautifully compiled words. Kia kaha everyone