The onset of the COVID-19 has generated so much fear and distress, and has impacted on our health and well-being in harmful ways. I- like many others- feel angered, fatigued and frustrated by what is happening around me, and would like nothing more than to completely disengage from this nightmarish time. And I would like to tune out and ignore the things and people that ask me to continue as though the time we live in is normal.
While periods of retreat and rejuvenation are crucial to our overall well-being, ignoring the world and everyone in it is not an effective or sustainable response to the crisis we face. More than ever, we must devote this time in lockdown to tending to our health- physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. My yoga practice has been an invaluable resource and refuge for me during this time. It has helped me release the tension and anxiety induced by the looming threat of a fatal virus. It has helped me release negative emotions and quieted my mind. It has supported me as I sought to connect to a power and energy bigger than me or my fear or today’s headlines. It has renewed and rejuvenated my mental and physical energy, and replenished my spiritual strength. The skepticism surrounding yoga as a domain reserved for white, skinny and able-bodied women is well-deserved.
And the cynicism expressed against it as a colonized and hyper-commercialised form of spirituality is legitimate. Too often, the representation of yoga we see on television, in magazines and even in yoga classes depict a very one-dimensional yogi or yogini. The person is often white and toned and super flexible, with dewy skin and a youthful look. This is what is sold by advertising agencies, but it is not the whole story. In fact, it is a false narrative that pushes an unattainable and anti-yogic goal.
Yoga is for everybody, literally. Yoga is for the flexible and the inflexible; it is for both fat and skinny people; yoga can be tailored to accommodate able-bodied people and those who live with disabilities. Yoga should and does include black and brown bodies, women and men, genderless and gender non-conforming folks.
For those of us who have been systematically excluded from yoga spaces- because classes are expensive or unsafe and thus, exclusionary and inaccessible- yoga as a practice and way of life and being can be hugely beneficial to releasing somatic trauma as a result of racism, or patriarchy and queerphobia.
Yogic philosophy asserts that the mind, body, spirit and emotions are interconnected, and as a result, the stress of emotional and traumatic events affect the central nervous system and can cause changes in the body that result in physical pain or discomfort. If you live with anxiety, for example, notice how an attack can cause severe pain in your jaw, shoulders and/or stomach area.
If you develop an awareness of the mind-body-emotional connection using specific yogic interventions, you will be better equipped and able to release tension, anxiety, anger and other emotions that have stuck with you after a traumatic experience. If you are able to do this, you are able to lead a life in which you are less overwhelmed and more mindful, and where you are able to think and act from a place of consciousness and clarity.
You can begin living more mindfully by incorporating small yogic exercises into your daily life. These include:
- Meditation- as little as 10 minutes a day can ground you and foster clarity of thought and action.
- Deep and deliberate breathing that will help quell anxiety and other negative emotions.
- Having and enjoying regular meals that nourish and sustain your body.
- Detaching from practices that may be addictive, like binge-watching series or scrolling mindlessly through social media.
- Daily affirmations that encourage self-love and self-acceptance, or a gratitude journal to raise positive vibrations that manifest in feelings of joy or peace or confidence.
- Speaking kindly to yourself and being patient with yourself.
The above mentioned exercises are simplistic, but not easy. We are conditioned to find and obsess over flaws (ourselves and others). Additionally, the capitalist machine demands that we produce, produce, produce until we burn out and die. And we are so preoccupied with distracting ourselves rather than tending to ourselves, that time away from our screens seem almost impossible to do.
However, I encourage you to be a little self-centered and, whenever you can, retreat into a quiet place where you are able to focus on grounding and renewing yourself. This can be a physical space or in your mind- whatever is doable for you.
I hope that you find peace, joy and healing during this uncertain time, and remember to check-in and connect with yourself at all levels and do not forget to breathe and let flow.
Danielle is the Wholesome Feminist creator on Instagram. She is a black queer woman living in the Cape colony, and works on issues related to gender justice, anti-racism and inclusion, and youth identity in South Africa. She believes that the injustices we face are not only attitudinal or behavioural, but also systemic, and of such a great magnitude that it affects us physically, mentally and spiritually. As such, she is an ardent advocate for holistic self-care.
The reclamation of pleasure and the prioritisation of rest and recuperation is not only an act of indulgence, but of political defiance in a hetero-patriarchal world that denies marginalised bodies our right to pleasure and self-preservation. Self-care can take various forms, including yoga, meditation, and connecting with others, yet it is always continuous and necessary to include into your day-to-day life.”