No one is a stranger to feeling lonely. Whether it’s just for a moment or months at a time, feelings of isolation are part of the human experience – and it’s something we can feel even if we are surrounded by people. During physical distancing, however, loneliness has become particularly acute for a vast amount of people across the globe, and most especially if they live alone.
The effects of the 2020 pandemic have impacted the global population in almost every way imaginable and our mental health has certainly not been immune. Alongside anxiety and uncertainty, loneliness is yet another symptom that many of us are dealing with during lockdown and quarantine. There are many people who are having to go through quarantine completely alone – bereft of the company of loved ones, friends, partners or parents – while others can feel lonely even if they have company, especially if their relationships are struggling.
Coping with the mental health effects of loneliness can be a difficult burden to bear. Whether we are feeling cut off from the world whilst still living with our families, or have become truly isolated during quarantine, it is so important that we use the tools at our disposal to support our wellbeing. Yoga is well known for its physical and mental health benefits (with yoga therapy even being applied in the treatment of mental health issues) but most of the dialogue surrounding the practice concerns conditions such as stress or anxiety, when in fact, it’s benefits prove to be much more universal.
Coronavirus has had an unprecedented impact and has affected not just the world at large, but has entered our homes, our daily routines and the small, insignificant details that we all took for granted. Even if we haven’t been and will not be infected personally, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t live with us every day.
Unlike some other global trials that we may have lived through, this is an event that not only manifested itself very suddenly, but affected us on an individual level. Switching off the news doesn’t change the fact that we can’t leave the house. Life cannot carry on as normal.
Because of this, it’s very easy for us to spend our days feeling like we have no real purpose now that our daily lives look so different. Getting swept up in the mentality of what life will be like after lockdown is all too addictive, when really, we should be focusing on what’s right in front of us to reinforce that positive energy. When was the last time the world was collectively forced to stop and rest, to feel at peace with the “now” rather than be allowed to charge forward?
Yoga helps to reestablish that connection between our minds, our bodies and the present moment through mindfulness. Mindfulness offers us a way to accept our feelings and observe feelings of loneliness in a non-judgemental fashion, which helps us to process them and move on. Mindfulness also gives us the opportunity to halt and focus on the moment, putting a circuit breaker in that cycle of rumination which can worsen any negative feelings.
A Compassionate Approach
Yoga is a layered, multifaceted practice that connects the mind and the body to give us countless benefits. Through breathing techniques and the necessity of small, precise and deliberate movements, it trains our nervous system to be meticulously intune with every other part of ourselves. By focusing our mind and channeling our energies into this single practice, studies have shown that we are able to increase our capacity for compassion through the positive thoughts that we develop through techniques such as mindfulness. In other words, compassion is a little like a muscle and can be trained to be stronger with time.
During periods of loneliness, it can be tempting to be both critical of ourselves for feeling this way, but also fall into bad habits of self pity, especially if we have no one to talk to on a regular basis. By increasing our capacity for compassion using yoga, we’re better able to see the bigger picture and turn our attention to other people’s needs rather than feeling as trapped in our own thoughts. After all, there are plenty of ways in which we can help and aid others even while in quarantine and turning our efforts to those thoughts when feelings of loneliness creep in can be a positive outlet.
On the other hand, compassion also means compassion for ourselves and not despairing when lonliness does occasionally set in. Yoga calms the nervous system and creates a sense of connection that allows us to acknowledge that feelings such as loneliness may occasionally creep up on us, but that it’s okay. That we’re all experiencing this struggle together and there is a solidarity in that joint compassion for ourselves and for the entire human family that can feel comforting during those moments.
Yoga doesn’t always have to be a group activity. In fact, its quiet and peaceful nature lends itself perfectly to solo practice if that is your preference. But for some, yoga is and has been a part of their social life; a vital part of their routine that enriches their lives and is a positive influence just by being a part of that group.
Unfortunately, classes such as these are no longer an option under our current lifestyle changes. But there’s no reason why a lockdown should prevent us from feeling the same experiences that we did when we were free to attend yoga classes on a regular basis. Technology has enabled us to stay connected emotionally, even if not physically, in a way that is truly an achievement all on its own and exercise is no different. If you are someone that thrives on group exercise and prefers to practice yoga with other people, then online classes can mimic that same friendliness that you are used to.
Even if you have never set foot inside a yoga studio before, trying an online course could even help introduce yoga into your life from the comfort of your own home, but with all the benefits of a live instruction from a teacher. If you are living by yourself and do not have the opportunity to connect with friends and family on a regular basis, then this could also provide you with that vital human connection that can become a part of your routine and combat those feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Patience and Resilience
While it is true that yoga is a practice for anyone and everyone, it still takes a considerable amount of discipline and patience in order to practice correctly. Cultivating that sort of patience and resilience is important for difficult moments when our emotions feel like they want to get the better of us. Yoga teaches us to focus on positive emotions even during times of extreme psychological hardship. A very apt skill to possess during a time of self isolation.
B.K.S. Iyengar has been quoted as saying, “Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” During a time of loneliness, life can certainly feel like a bag of broken pieces, but yoga forces us to reject that notion. If mindfulness is the first step to helping us live in the here and now, then the next stage is accepting and inviting each and every emotion of ours as honestly as we can – and sometimes, that means loneliness.
There is a sense of emotional freedom that comes with being patient with our own thoughts and feelings and yoga gives us a solid foundation for how to function that way. During yoga practice, we’re asked to be introspective and intuitive with ourselves in a way we may not be used to. It’s far easier to bear moments of loneliness when you have the tools to step back and ask yourself why you’re feeling this way, accept it for what it is and move on.
Because even if yoga can teach us coping mechanisms, improve our productivity to keep us busy and provide us with a new hobby, it can’t necessarily cure the loneliness that is a natural part of being isolated from others for so long. But what it can provide us with is the wisdom and the strength to know that it’s okay to not always be okay, especially during times of collective stress.